Scientific Name(s): Chamaelirium luteum (L.) Gray
Common Name(s): Blazing star, Devil's bit, Drooping starwort, Fairywand, False unicorn, Helonias root, Rattlesnake
C. luteum is a native lily of the eastern US. The only species in its genus, it is considered threatened because of habitat loss and effects of collection from the wild for herbal use.1, 2 C. luteum is a dioecious species (ie, the male and female flowers, which turn yellow on drying, are borne on separate plants). The roots (called starwort or unicorn root) are used medicinally and are collected in autumn.1, 3 The plant has been confused with the lilies Helonias bullata and Aletris farinosa (true unicorn root) because of shared common names. Synonyms of C. luteum are Veratrum luteum L.; Chamaelirium obovale Small.
False unicorn root was used during the Eclectic medical movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, chiefly for treating "female complaints" or as a uterine tonic in amenorrhea or morning sickness. It has also been used as an appetite stimulant, diuretic, emetic, and vermifuge, and acts as a mild GI tract tonic.4, 5 Its use in combination preparations for painful or irregular menstruation is reportedly increasing in the United States.2
Studies characterizing the chemical composition are limited.2 The root primarily contains steroidal saponins, including chamaelirin, chiograsterol, aglycone diosgenin, and other saponins with an "unusual" cholestane core, and sterols.2, 6, 7
Oleic, linoleic, and stearic fatty acids have also been isolated from the root.3
Uses and Pharmacology
There are no clinical data regarding the use of C. leuteum in cancer.
There are no clinical data regarding the use of false unicorn as a uterine tonic. As part of a combination preparation, the extract was used in a clinical study of herbal alternative therapies for menopause; however, the presence of false unicorn in the capsules could not be confirmed, and the researchers questioned the quality of the preparation.13
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.4 As part of a combination preparation, the extract was used at a 200 mg/day dosage in a clinical study; however, the presence of false unicorn in the capsules used could not be confirmed, and the researchers questioned the quality of the preparation.13
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. The extract has been traditionally used as an emmenagogue, GI irritant, and uterotonic.4
None well documented. Extracts of the root inhibited cytochrome P450 2D6 and 3A4 in 1 study, suggesting potential for interactions.14
Information is lacking. Reports of toxicity from species of the Veratrum genus, which contain toxic alkaloids, may have been erroneously attributed to C. leuteum.15 In a study conducted in the 1950s, toxicity in rats was observed at 40 to 50 mg doses of the dried plant extract.11
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