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False Unicorn Root

What Is It?

Over the centuries, countless women have turned to false unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum), a tall perennial native to eastern North America, to remedy menstrual and uterine problems. (It should not be confused with Aletris farinosa, another member of the lily family, commonly referred to as “true” unicorn root.) Therapeutic compounds called steroidal saponins were identified in false unicorn root some time ago, but whether these exert hormonal activity in women that would help regulate the menstrual cycle remains unclear.

Teas and tinctures that blend false unicorn root with other so-called “female” herbs (wild yam and chasteberry, for example) are billed as tonics for fortifying the reproductive organs. Some herbalists recommend the root for menopausal symptoms and to treat ovarian cysts. It has even been recommended for normalizing hormone levels following oral contraceptive use.

False unicorn root was once popular for preventing miscarriage; Native American women reportedly chewed the root for this purpose. It was also used to treat vomiting from pregnancy. However, because of its hormonal activity and poorly understood action on the uterus, it’s best to avoid false unicorn root during pregnancy.

False unicorn root has also been used as a diuretic (to promote urination) and to rid the intestinal tract of worms.

General Interaction

False unicorn root has not been widely studied; there are no known interactions with other nutrients or drugs.

Cautions

• In very high doses, false unicorn root can induce nausea and vomiting. Be careful not to exceed recommended dosages.

• It remains to be determined whether false unicorn root is safe to take during pregnancy and while breast-feeding. Because of this lack of safety data, it’s probably wise for women in these situations to avoid it.


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