Scientific Name(s): Aletris farinosa L.
Common Name(s): Ague grass, Ague root, Aloerot, Blazing star, Colic root, Crow corn, Devil's-bit, Huskwort, Mealy starwort, Stargrass, Starwort, Unicorn root, Whitetube stargrass
Aletris is a perennial herb with linear leaves that grow in a rosette. These leaves surround a slender stem that reaches 1 m in height. These are grasslike, of a yellowish green color, and from 5 to 15 cm long. They surround the base of the stem in the form of a star, in this respect differing distinctly from another starwort (Chamaelirium luteum) with which it is sometimes confused. The plant is native to North America and is distributed widely throughout the continent. Three other species of aletris, Aletris aurea Walt., A. lutea Small, and A. obovata Nash, bear much resemblance to A. farinosa and are frequently collected with the latter.Sievers 1998
Aletris is a North American plant that is now recognized worldwide in traditional folk medicine. Aletris occurs in dry, generally sandy soil from Maine to Minnesota, Florida, and Tennessee. It had been used by American Indians in the Carolinas as an antidiarrheal tea and in Appalachia for the management of rheumatisms and as a tonic and a sedative.Leung 1980 The fabled Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, which was touted as a cure-all for female discomforts, contained aletris, among other plant derivatives.Tyler 1993 It has been included in laxatives and has been used as an antiflatulent (hence the name "colic root") and antispasmodic.
The roots and rhizomes are collected in the fall and dried for preservation.
Little is known about the chemical composition of A. farinosa with diosgenin being the only significant compound. Diosgenin has also been isolated from it, along with gentrogenin from the related Japanese species A. foliata and A. formosana.Okanishi 1975 An oil derived from A. farinosa is reported to have pharmacologic activity, but this has not been well defined.Leung 1980 The plant also contains a resin and a saponin-like glycoside that may yield diosgenin on hydrolysis.Leung 1980
Uses and Pharmacology
Aletris has been reported to have estrogenic activity, although estrogenic compounds have not been isolated nor have detailed studies confirmed this activity.
Mechanism of action
The potential estrogenic properties of aletris may be due to a diosgenin-derived steroid that has not yet been characterized.
Studies have indicated the drugs examined act on the strips of the isolated human uterus in the same manner as on the guinea pig uterus, but to a much lesser degree. Aletris farinosa, Pulsatella pratensis, and oil of valerian depress the activity of the strips.Pilcher 1917 Another pharmacological study shows similar results of Aletris farinosa on the isolated uterine tissue of the rat, the guinea pig, and the rabbit. Studies also were conducted on the in vivo uterus of the rabbit and the cat. It exerted a definite action of depression on the isolated uterus of the rat. The antagonistic action of aletris against the stimulating effect of the oxytocic principle of the posterior lobe of the pituitary (pitocin) also was studied on the isolated uterus of the rat. The results using the isolated uterine tissue of the guinea pig and of the rabbit and the in vivo rabbit uterus were inconsistent, the predominant action being stimulation. The effect of aletris on the decerebrate cat and the cat that was estrus induced by the injection of a compound estrogenic preparation was mainly pronounced sedation.Butler 1944
Research reveals no clinical data regarding the estrogenic activity of aletris.
There is no recent clinical data to justify human dosage. Classical texts recommend 2 to 6 g of root daily.
Pregnancy / Lactation
Documented adverse effects. Antagonizes some oxytocins. Avoid use.McGuffin 1997
None well documented.
No adverse events have been reported with the use of aletris.
The plant has been reported to have narcotic properties, and in small doses can induce colic, stupefaction, and vertigo.Duke 1985
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