Scientific Name(s): Trillium erectum L., Trillium grandiflorum (Michaux) Salisb.
Common Name(s): Bethroot, Birthroot, Cough root, Ground lily, Indian balm, Jewsharp, Purple trillium, Snake bite, Stinking Benjamin, Trillium, Trillium pendulum, Wake-robin
T. erectum is a low-growing perennial that reaches a height of 40 to 45 cm and is native to North America. It has 3 dark green diamond-shaped leaves, each about 18 cm long. From April to June it produces a solitary, odiferous, yellow to reddish-brown flower. The unpleasant smell is the reason for the name stinking Benjamin. T. erectum produces only 1 fruit per plant.Chevallier 1996, Duke 2003, Lapointe 1998
Various trillium species have been used by American Indians to treat gynecological conditions including irregular menstrual periods, menstrual pain, excessive vaginal discharge, and to aid childbirth (hence the name birthroot), as well as for diarrhea and as an expectorant. Topical preparations were used to relieve insect bites and skin irritations. T. erectum is a popular folk remedy for bleeding, snakebites, and skin irritations. The leaves have been used as a potherb or salad green.Chevallier 1996, USDA 2016
Review of the scientific literature reveals little data about the chemistry of this plant. Tertiary literature documents trillium species containing a fixed and volatile oil, a saponin (trillarin, which is a diglycoside of diosgenin), a glycoside resembling convallamarin, tannic acid, a resin, and considerable starch.Chevallier 1996, Hufford 1988, Spoerke 1980 Steroidal saponins have been identified, some of which may possess cytotoxic activity.Hayes 2009, Yokosuka 2008
Uses and Pharmacology
There is limited pharmacological data in the scientific literature on T. erectum. Review of tertiary literature suggests the medicinal component of the plant is the rhizome. Although trillium has been used for many years as an herbal means of controlling postpartum bleeding as well as other uterine bleeding problems, a clear mechanism for this systemic effect has not been identified.Duke 2003, Osol 1955 The plant may have astringent properties that account for its ability to limit topical bleeding and irritation. This action also was the basis for its historic use in diarrhea.Osol 1955, USDA 2016 No chemical basis has been identified for its traditional use as an expectorant. There is no evidence to support the use of trillium for the treatment of snoring.
Research reveals no animal or clinical data regarding the use of trillium for any condition.
There is no clinical evidence to guide dosage of trillium.
Pregnancy / Lactation
None well documented.
Although not yet clinically observed, trillium could have potential membrane-irritating effects and induce some cardiac activity.
Although the leaves of the plant have been considered to be edible, there remains the possibility of toxicity from the plant. The saponin could have potential membrane-irritating effects and the convallamarin-like glycoside could induce some cardiac activity, although neither of these events have been observed clinically.Spoerke 1980
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