Wild Yam - Dioscorea Villosa

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This Wild yam(Dioscorea villosa) monograph is an excerpt from the first edition of Dr. Sharol's book "Herbal Medicine From The Heart of The Earth." You can purchase the 2020, third edition of this book with an expanded materia medica/monograph section, herbal formulas and directions on making herbal products in Dr. Sharol's Book Store. You receive free shipping in the USA.

Wild yam - Dioscorea villosa in the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family

Part used: Root.

Taste/smell: Bitter, astringent.

Tendencies: Cooling, drying.

Dosage: Decoction: 1 teaspoon per cup of water; or 1:2.5 dry strength liquid extract: 20-60 drops 1-4 times per day.

Mental picture and specific indications: Wild yam is indicated for spasmodic, shooting, aching or shifting pain. It is specific for pains due to excited nervous system and hip joint pain that keeps the individual awake at night. Symptoms are worse in the evening and night, lying down and bending double and better standing erect, with motion in open air and with pressure.

Use: (a) Antispasmodic, (b) Carminative, (c) Diaphoretic.

Wild yam is an autonomic nerve relaxant useful in painful gastrointestinal conditions due to irritation and spasm, neuralgic conditions and restlessness. It relieves the cramping pain of smooth muscles like the gall bladder and uterus. It is used for low progesterone/high estrogen related problems and has shown results with mid-cycle spotting, premenstrual symptoms, painful menstruation, nausea of pregnancy endometriosis and spontaneous abortions. It supports the liver and nervous system.

The specific indications for this herb are paroxysmal pain due to contraction of non-striated musculature of tubular organs caused by irritation and gradually relieved by pressure. It is best given in hot water for dysmenorrhea. Wild yam contains .5-1.2% diosgenin, a constituent thought to have potential hormonal effects. However, no receptor binding has been shown in recent research. Diosgenin is manipulated chemically in laboratories to create estrone, testosterone, and progesterone as well as adrenocortical hormones. In current research on animals, it appears that in vivo, diosgenin usually turns into smilagenin due gut flora action on diosgenin. Both animals and humans poorly absorb diosgenin itself. When diosgenin was given orally to female rats they had an increase in uterine weight, vaginal opening and vaginal cornification. When injected into ovariectomized mice there was a growth of mammary epithelium. There are other Dioscorea species that contain up to 5 times as much diosgenin as wild yam but wild yam is the most commonly used species. Although many of the species have been used to manufacture progesterone, there is no evidence of the human body creating progesterone from wild yam.

Contraindications:  Although this plant has been thought to be generally recognized as safe when used appropriately, the alkaloid dioscorine has recently been found to be toxic in a small number of cases. Many Dioscorea spp. contain dioscorine in various amounts, including Dioscorea villosa. Dioscorine appears to block the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor when the ion channels are open. It can induce dizziness, nausea, vomiting and sleepiness. At large doses, convulsions result, and death usually occurs with extensor spasms. The interaction of dioscorine with the nAChR also results in local anesthetic effects: dioscorine in 0.5% solution has approximately the same activity as 0.05% cocaine. Since dioscorine is  a cholinergic receptor ligand, any stronger agonist of the nAChR may serve as a valid antidote of dioscorine, if added in a concentration higher than dioscorine, it can competitively displace it from the receptor.

Some Dioscorea spp. also contain oxalates.

If you are looking for directions on making teas or tinctures, please see our "Making Herbal Products" page.

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Copyright 1999 by Sharol Tilgner, N.D. (ISBN 1-881517-02-0) - all rights reserved.

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