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True Unicorn Root Drug Information - Reported Uses and Benefits - Recommended Dosage

Taxonomic Class

Liliaceae

Common Trade Names

Aletris-Heel, True Unicorn Root

Common Forms

Available as a liquid and tea.

Source

Active components are derived from the rhizomes and roots of Aletris farinosa, a perennial herb of the lily family that is native to the eastern United States.

Chemical Components

True unicorn root contains steroidal saponins-primarily diosgenin and gentrogenin-and alkaloids, essential oil, resin, and starch.

Actions

Diosgenin has been reported to have estrogen-like activity; hence, its use as a tonic. Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound, a famous patent medicine made of A. farinosa, pleurisy root (Asclepias tuberosa), other herbs, and alcohol, was claimed to cure various gynecologic conditions. The alkaloids contribute to its CNS depressant effects .

Reported Uses

True unicorn root was popular with Native Americans. A. farinosa has been used to treat amenorrhea, colic, diarrhea, dysmenorrhea, flatulence, rheumatism, and snake bites. Other claims include its use as an antispasmodic, a cathartic, a diuretic, a narcotic, and a sedative and to prevent habitual miscarriage .

Recommended Dosage

No consensus exists. Some references state the dose as being 0.3 to 0.6 g P.O. t.i.d.

Adverse Reactions

CNS: loss of balance caused by CNS depressant effects, stupor.

GI: diarrhea, nausea, vomiting.

Interactions

CNS depressants, narcotics: May increase sedative effects. Avoid administration with true unicorn root.

H2blockers, sucralfate: True unicorn root may increase acid production in the stomach, creating an antagonistic effect. Separate administration times.

Oxytocin: May cause antagonized effects of this drug. Avoid concomitant use.

Contraindications and Precautions

Avoid using true unicorn root in pregnant patients (because of estrogenic activity and oxytocin antagonism) or breast-feeding patients; effects are unknown. Use cautiously in patients with GI disorders.

Special Considerations

  • Inquire about the patient's need to use true unicorn root.

  • Advise the patient to consult a health care provider before using herbal preparations because a treatment that has been clinically researched and proved effective may be available.

  • Caution the patient not to perform activities that require alertness and coordination until the CNS effects of the herb are known.

  • Advise women to avoid using true unicorn root during pregnancy or when breast-feeding.

Points of Interest

  • True unicorn root should not be confused with false unicorn root (Helonias luteum or Chamaelirium luteum). These herbs differ in chemical composition and claimed uses.

Commentary

True unicorn root has been used chiefly to treat gynecologic and GI conditions and rheumatism. Although little is known about the chemical components, even small doses of the herb are associated with adverse reactions. No clinical data support the use of this herb for any medical condition.

   

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