False Unicorn

Scientific Name(s): Chamaelirium luteum (L.) Gray, Family: Liliaceae (lilies)

Common Name(s): False unicorn , helonias root , devil's bit , blazing star , drooping starwort , rattlesnake , fairy-wand

Uses

Historically, false unicorn has been used as a uterine tonic for treatment of amenorrhea and morning sickness, as an appetite stimulant, diuretic, vermifuge, emetic, and insecticide.

Dosing

Traditional doses of false unicorn root are 2 g as a uterine tonic or diuretic; however, no clinical studies have been performed to support a particular dose.

Contraindications

No longer considered safe.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

False unicorn can be emetic at high doses. Safety has not been established during pregnancy.

Toxicology

Cattle have died from consumption of the plant.

Botany

Chamaelirium luteum is a native lily of the eastern US. It is considered a threatened species because of a loss of habitat and effects of collection from the wild for herbal use. Cultivation is considered possible, but has not yet become commercially important. The root is collected in autumn. C. luteum is a dioecious species (ie, the male and female flowers are borne on separate plants). The plant has been confused with the lilies Helonias bullata and Aletris farinosa (true unicorn root), because of several shared common names. 1 , 2 , 3

History

False unicorn root was used by the Eclectic medical movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Its chief use was for female complaints or as a uterine tonic in the treatment of amenorrhea or morning sickness. It has also been used for appetite stimulation and as a diuretic, vermifuge, emetic, and insecticide. 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 , 6

Chemistry

The root contains approximately 10% of a saponin, chamaelirin (C 36 H 62 O 18 ), but neither its structure nor composition have been fully elucidated. Diosgenin was isolated from a hydrolyzate of the root extract, indicating that some components of the saponin may be based on this genin. 7 The fatty acids oleic, linoleic, and stearic acid were isolated from the root. 8

Uses and Pharmacology

Uterine tonic
Animal data

The fluid extract of false unicorn root was examined for its effects on isolated guinea pig uterus; however, no stimulant or relaxant effect was detected. 9 , 10 , 11 Similar experiments in the intact dog were also negative. 12 Nevertheless, a water extract did not block gonadotropin release in the rat. 13 A recent observation suggests, that false unicorn root may act through increasing human chorionic gonadotropin. 14 The notion that the occurrence of diosgenin might be responsible for hormonal effects is incorrect because the parent saponin is unlikely to be hydrolyzed to a free sterol in vivo. An understanding of false unicorn root's effects must await additional modern chemical and pharmacological studies.

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical data regarding the use of false unicorn as a uterine tonic.

Dosage

Traditional doses of false unicorn root are 2 g as a uterine tonic or diuretic; however, no clinical studies have been performed to support a particular dose.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

False unicorn root is emetic at high doses. The safety of the plant for use in pregnancy has not been established.

Toxicology

Cattle have died from consumption of the plant. 4

Bibliography

1. Clause E. Pharmacognosy . 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lea & Febiger, 1956.
2. Foster S. False unicorn. Herbs for Health . 1999 Jan/Feb;22.
3. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal . London, England: Jonathan Cape, 1931.
4. Meyer C. The Herbalist , 3rd ed. 1976.
5. Harding Ar. Ginseng and other Medicinal Plants . Columbus, OH: A.R. Harding Publishing Co., 1908.
6. Brinker FA. Comparative review of Eclectic femal regulators. J Naturopathic Med . 1997;7(1):11.
7. Marker RE, et al. Sterols. CXLVI. Sapogenins. LX. Some new sources of diosgenin. J Am Chem Soc . 1942;64:1283.
8. Cataline EL, et al. The phytochemistry of Helonias I. Preliminary examination of the drug. J Amer Pharm Assoc . 1942;31:519.
9. Pilcher JD. The action of various female remedies on the excised uterus of the guinea pig. J Am Med Assoc . 1916;67:490.
10. Pilcher JD, et al. The action of so-called female remedies on the excised uterus of the guinea pig. Arch Intern Med . 1916;18:557.
11. Pilcher JD. The action of certain drugs on the excised uterus of the guinea pig. J Pharmacol . 1916;8:110.
12. Pilcher JD, et al. The action of “female remedies” on intact uteri of animals. Surg Gynecol Obstet . 1918;27:97.
13. Graham RCB, et al. Comparison of in vitro activity of various species of Lithospermum and other plants to inactivate gonadatropin. Endocrinology . 1955;56:239.
14. Brandt D. A clinician's view. HerbalGram . 1996;36:75.

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