Wild Yam Benefits

Wild Yam
Latin Name

Dioscorea villosa

Also Known As

Colic Root, Rheumatism Root, China Root, Devil's Bones, Yuma, Mexican Wild Yam

Origin

North America

Parts Used

Dried rhizome and roots

Traditional Use and Health Benefits

Used for centuries by the Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments, Wild Yam has a relaxing effect. As some of the old names (Colic Root, Rheumatism Root) suggest, this herb was highly regarded in providing relief from colic (especially in babies), and lessening the pain of rheumatism. It has a persevering history in Japanese medicine where it was used as a treatment for infertility and for the pain of child birth.

Wild Yam Benefits

PMS/Menstruation/Menopause

Wild Yam root is perhaps most famous for its ability to support women in the health of their reproductive systems. With powerful antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, Wild Yam is often prescribed by herbalists to relieve menstrual cramps and chronic pelvic pain. Helping the uterus to work more efficiently during menses, this uterine support allows for proper function of the uterus whilst working to prevent cramping and spasms.  

There is much controversy over the effectiveness of this herb for the menopause - Wild Yam has long been promoted as a source of natural progesterone. It is thought to aid in menopausal symptoms due to its containing a precursor to the steroid hormone “diosgenin”, however diosgenin does not have any hormonal activity and cannot be converted to any hormones the body can use. Despite the debate, there does seem to be some credible research that Wild Yam is beneficial for menopausal women. One study of 22 menopausal women who ate this tuber for 30 days showed improved status of sex hormones, lipids and antioxidants. The researchers speculated this may reduce the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women, although they admitted “the mechanism is not clear”. Sometimes we just have to trust that nature really does know best.

Digestive Health

Whilst rigorous scientific testing is scant, some herbalists believe that Wild Yam boosts digestion by improving the function of the gall bladder and the liver. These two organs are vital in the digestive process by encouraging the production of bile and breaking down food. Historically it was used to ease the passage of small gallstones.

Arthritis

The aforementioned steroidal glycoside, “diosgenin” has been found in scientific studies to have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. This validates the traditional use of Wild Yam as an aid to reduce the painful inflammation in the joints brought on by rheumatoid arthritis. 

Typical Use

Suggested Dosage
Wild Yam / Dioscorea Herbal Tincture
Take 2-4ml up to three times a day
or as recommended by a herbal practitioner.

Folklore and History

The history of Wild Yam as a medicinal herb stretches back for hundreds of years. It was popular in Central America among the Aztecs and Mayan peoples as a pain reliever and digestive aid.

Diosgenin was identified by Japanese scientists in 1936 and paved the way for the synthesis of progesterone and other corticosteroid hormones such as cortisone. Diosgenin was the starting point in the creation of the first contraceptive pill - despite the fact there is no suggestion that this herb was used as a contraceptive in the past!

Wild Yam
Constituents

Wild yam contains alkaloids, steroidal saponins, tannins, phytosterols and starch

Precautions

Women with hormone-dependent conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and cancers of the breast, ovaries, or uterus should not take or use wild yam due to its possible estrogenic effects. Men with prostate cancer should also avoid taking wild yam.

Pregnant women should not take wild yam because it may stimulate the uterus to contract, possibly causing a miscarriage.

Because very little information is available on how wild yam might affect an infant or a small child, its use is not recommended while breast-feeding or during early childhood.