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False Unicorn

What is False Unicorn?

Chamaelirium luteum is a native lily of the eastern United States. It is considered a threatened species because of a loss of habitat and effects of collection from the wild for herbal use. The roots (called starwort or unicorn root) are used medicinally and are collected in autumn. The plant has been confused with the lilies Helonias bullata and Aletris farinosa (true unicorn root), because of several shared common names.

Scientific Name(s)

Chamaelirium luteum

Common Name(s)

False unicorn is also known as helonias root, devil's bit, blazing star, drooping starwort, rattlesnake, and fairy-wand.

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

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 menstrual disorders or morning sickness. Its use in combination preparations for painful or irregular menstruation is reportedly increasing in the United States.

General uses

False unicorn also has been used for appetite stimulation and to promote production of urine, expel intestinal worms, induce vomiting, and as a mild GI tract tonic; however, clinical studies to support any of these uses are limited.

What is the recommended dosage?

False unicorn doses have traditionally been 1 to 2 g of the root as a tea, or 2 to 5 mL of the tincture 3 times a day as a uterine tonic or diuretic; however, there are no clinical studies to support a particular dose. Preparations have not been standardized.


No longer considered safe.


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


None well documented.

Side Effects

Large doses may cause nausea and vomiting.


Information is lacking.


1. False Unicorn. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; October 2015.

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