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False Unicorn

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 Last updated on Dec 22, 2022.

Clinical Overview


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.

Adverse Reactions

Excessive doses may cause nausea and vomiting, possibly due to the saponin content.


No data. False unicorn is not considered safe for consumption.

Scientific Family

  • 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

Uterine tonic

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

Clinical data

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

Adverse Reactions

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.

Index Terms

  • Chamaelirium obovale Small
  • Veratrum luteum



This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

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.

More about false unicorn

Related treatment guides

Brandt D. A clinician's view. HerbalGram. 1996;36:75.
Challinor VL, Stuthe JM, Bernhardt PV, Lehmann RP, Kitching W, De Voss JJ. Structure and absolute configuration of helosides A and B, new saponins from Chamaelirium luteum. J Nat Prod. 2011;74(7):1557-1560.21692443
Challinor VL, Stuthe JM, Parsons PG, et al. Structure and bioactivity of steroidal saponins isolated from the roots of Chamaelirium luteum (false unicorn). J Nat Prod. 2012;75(8):1469-1479.22880631
Chamaelirium luteum L. USDA, NRCS. 2019. The PLANTS database (, 29 July 2019). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA.
Chandler CM, McDougal OM. Medicinal history of North American Veratrum. Phytochem Rev. 2014;13(3):671-694.25379034
Davis J, Dressler A. False unicorn or fairy wand (Chamaelirium luteum). NC State University Extension website. Published March 2012. Accessed July 29, 2019.
Duke J, Bogenschutz-Godwin M, duCellier J, Duke P. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2002.
Duke J. Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and Their Activities. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1992.
Graham RC, Noble RL. Comparison of in vitro activity of various species of Lithospermum and other plants to inactivate gonadotrophin. Endocrinology. 1955;56(3):239-247.14353034
Hill SR. Conservation assessment for the fairy-wand (Chamaelirium luteum (L.) A. Gray). Illinois Natural History Survey Division of Biodiversity and Ecological Entomology. Published November 7, 2006. Accessed August 1, 2019.
Ho SH, Singh M, Holloway AC, Crankshaw DJ. The effects of commercial preparations of herbal supplements commonly used by women on the biotransformation of fluorogenic substrates by human cytochromes P450. Phytother Res. 2011;25(7):983-989.21213356
Matovic NJ, Stuthe JM, Challinor VL, et al. The truth about false unicorn (Chamaelirium luteum): total synthesis of 23R,24S-chiograsterol B defines the structure and stereochemistry of the major saponins from this medicinal herb. Chemistry. 2011;17(27):7578-7591.21598325
Newton KM, Reed SD, Grothaus L, et al. Reprint of the Herbal Alternatives for Menopause (HALT) study: background and study design. Maturitas. 2008;61(1-2):181-193.19434890
Ng SS, Figg WD. Antitumor activity of herbal supplements in human prostate cancer xenografts implanted in immunodeficient mice. Anticancer Res. 2003;23(5A):3585-3590.14666653
Pilcher JD, et al. The action of certain drugs on the excised uterus of the guinea pig. J Pharmacol. 1916;8:110.
Pilcher JD, et al. The action of "female remedies" on intact uteri of animals. Surg Gynecol Obstet. 1918;27:97-99.
Yarnell E, Abascal K. Holistic approaches to prostate cancer. Altern Complement Ther. 2008;14(4):164-180.
Yokosuka A, Takagi K, Mimaki Y. New cholestane glycosides and sterols from the underground parts of Chamaelirium luteum and their cytotoxic activity. J Nat Med. 2013;67(3):590-598.23160794

Further information

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