Scientific Name(s): Chamaelirium luteum (L.) Gray
Common Name(s): Blazing star, Devil's bit, Drooping starwort, Fairywand, False unicorn, Helonias root, Rattlesnake, Star grub root, Stargrass, Starwort
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Dec 22, 2022.
False unicorn has been used in traditional medicine as a uterine tonic for treatment of amenorrhea and morning sickness. It has also been used as an appetite stimulant, diuretic, vermifuge, emetic, and insecticide; however, clinical data are lacking to support use, and false unicorn is not considered safe for consumption.
Traditional doses of false unicorn have included 1 to 2 g of the root as a tea, or 2 to 5 mL of the root tincture 3 times a day as a uterine tonic or diuretic; however, there are no clinical studies to support a particular dosage. Preparations have not been standardized.
Not considered safe for consumption.
Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
Excessive doses may cause nausea and vomiting, possibly due to the saponin content.
No data. False unicorn is not considered safe for consumption.
- Liliaceae (lily)
C. luteum is a member of the Liliaceae family and is native to the United States, naturally growing from Florida to New York and the eastern shore to the Mississippi River. The only species in its genus, it is considered threatened in New York and endangered in Massachusetts, Indiana, and Connecticut because of habitat loss and effects of collection from the wild for herbal use.Davis 2012, Matovic 2011, USDA 2019 C. luteum is a dioecious species (ie, the male and female flowers, which turn yellow upon drying, are borne on separate plants). The leaves of false unicorn form a basal rosette, flowering between May and June. The roots (called "starwort" or "unicorn root") and rhizome are used medicinally and are collected in autumn.Challinor 2012, Davis 2012, Hill 2006, USDA 2019 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. and Chamaelirium obovale Small.
False unicorn has been used by North American Indians to prevent miscarriage, manage menstruation problems, and enhance fertility. It has also been used in Western medicine to treat ovarian cysts,Davis 2012 and as an anti-inflammatory, appetite stimulant, diuretic, emetic, vermifuge, and mild GI tract tonic.Davis 2012, Duke 2002, Yarnell 2008 Its use in combination preparations for painful or irregular menstruation has been reported in the United StatesMatovic 2011; however, use of false unicorn for any indication is not considered safe.
Studies characterizing the chemical composition of false unicorn are limited.Matovic 2011 The root primarily contains sterols and steroidal saponins (including chamaelirin, chiograsterol, and aglycone diosgenin), as well as other saponins with an "unusual" cholestane core.Challinor 2011, Davis 2012, Matovic 2011, Yokosuka 2013
Oleic, linoleic, and stearic fatty acids have also been isolated from the root.Duke 1992
Uses and Pharmacology
Animal and in vitro data
The chemical constituents extracted from the root of false unicorn have been tested for cytotoxicity in human leukemia cells in vitro and in prostate cancer in mice.Ng 2003, Yokosuka 2013 In an in vitro study involving several cancer cell lines (cervical, colon, breast, melanoma, and leukemia), components derived from C. luteum demonstrated antiproliferative effects.Challinor 2012
Animal and in vitro data
Animal studies were conducted in the early 1900s by a single group of researchers. No effects were observed on isolated or intact uteri. An effect on gonadotropins was also postulated.Brandt 1996, Graham 1955, Pilcher 1916, Pilcher 1918
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.Newton 2008
Traditional dosages of false unicorn have included 1 to 2 g of the root as a tea, or 2 to 5 mL of the root tincture 3 times a day as a uterine tonic or diuretic; however, there are no clinical studies to support a particular dosage.Duke 2002 Preparations have not been standardized.
Pregnancy / Lactation
Avoid use. Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. The extract has been reported to have emmenagogue, estrogenic, mastogenic, and uterotonic effects.Duke 2002
None well documented. Extracts of the root inhibited CYP2D6 and 3A4 in one study, suggesting potential for interactions.Ho 2011
Excessive doses may cause nausea and vomiting, possibly due to the saponin content.Duke 2002, Yarnell 2008
Information is lacking. Reports of toxicity from species of the Veratrum genus, which contain toxic alkaloids, may have been erroneously attributed to C. luteum.Chandler 2014 In a study conducted in the 1950s, toxicity in rats was observed at 40 to 50 mg doses of the dried plant extract.Graham 1955 False unicorn is not considered safe for consumption.
- Chamaelirium obovale Small
- Veratrum luteum
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