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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

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 19, 2023.

Clinical Overview


Aletris has been used as a sedative, laxative, antiflatulent, antispasmodic, and as a treatment for diarrhea and rheumatism. Its potential estrogenic properties may account for its use in treating female disorders. However, there are no clinical trials to support these potential uses.


There is no recent clinical data to justify human dosage. Classical texts recommend 2 to 6 g of root daily.


Contraindications have not yet been identified.


Documented adverse effects. Antagonizes some oxytocins. Avoid use.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

None are known.


Aletris reportedly has narcotic properties and can induce colic, stupefaction, and vertigo.

Scientific Family


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

Estrogenic activity

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.

Animal data

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

Clinical data

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.

Adverse Reactions

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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This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

Butler CL, Costello CH. Pharmacological studies. I. Aletris farinosa. J Am Pharm. 1944;33:177-183.
Dobelis IN, ed. Magic and Medicine of Plants. Pleasantville, NY: Readers Digest; 1986:144.
Duke JA. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1985.
Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York, NY: J. Wiley and Sons; 1980.
McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A, eds. American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1997.
Meyer JE. The Herbalist. Hammond, IN: Hammond Book Co; 1934:244.
Okanishi T, et al. Steroidal components of domestic plants. LXVI. Steroidal sapogenins of 16 liliaceae plants. Chem Pharm Bull. 1975;23:575-579.
Osol A, Farrar GE Jr. The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott; 1955:1535.
Pilcher JD. The action of the several (female remedies) on strips of the excised human uterus. Arch Intern Med. 1917;19:53-55.
Sievers AF. The Herb Hunters Guide American Medicinal Plants of Commercial Importance. Washington, DC: US Dept. of Agriculture; 1930. Miscellaneous Publication No. 77. Accessed April 8, 1998.
Tyler VE. The Honest Herbal: A Sensible Guide to the Use of Herbs and Related Remedies. Binghamton, NY: The Haworth Press; 1993.

Further information

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