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Dioscorea villosa


Dioscorea villosa


No documentation

Vernacular Name

Wild Yam, Colic root, Rheumatism root, China Root, Devil’s Bones, Yuma


Dioscorea villosa is thin, woody, many-branched roots yield a reddish-brown stem that grows to be roughly 5m in length. The cordate leaves borne of the stem are roughly 5 to 10 cm in length, roughly 3cm in width glabrous on the topside, and pubescent on the underside. Between the months of June and July, small, green or greenish-yellow flowers grow from the vine. The flowers are dioecious, with the male flowers growing in clusters of 3 to 5 as compound, loose spikes. The female flowers grow roughly 1- 2 cm apart as simple drooping spikes.

Origin / Habitat

 D. villosa is a tuberous vine native to North America growing readily across the eastern half of the North American continent. Ranging from Ontario to Texas; from Vermont to Florida, D. villosa flourishes well in the southern half of its native habitat.

Chemical Constituents

Isoquinuclidine alkaloids, Pyrridinal alkaloids, Saponins,  Ascorbic acid, beta-carotene, dioscin, dioscorin, diosgenin, Iron, Magnesium, Manganese, Niacin, Phosphorus, Potassium, Riboflavin, Selenium, Sodium, Thiamin, Zinc. (1),(2),(3),(4),(5)

Plant Part Used

Root/rhizome (7) (8)

Traditional Use

The most common traditional usage of Wild yam is as a gynecological or pregnancy aid. During childbirth, the root of D. villosa was used by the Meskwaki tribe to reduce pain.(6) Native Americans boiled the root, which was to be used to treat menopause, morning sickness and menstrual pains.(7) This is likely due to the presence of the chemical diosgenin, which was not isolated and identified until much later. During pregnancy, small, frequent doses were given to the mother throughout the gestation period.(8)

D. villosa was also commonly used to treat bilious gastrointestinal complaints. The action of the root of D. villosa is noted as prompt and effective in relieving bilious colic;(8) this reputation gave rise to one of its common names, Colic root.


Traditional use dosages and preparations would vary by tribe, preparation and indication.

Tea - 1 to 2 tsp. dried root to 1 cup boiling water up to three times per day.

Tincture - 40-100 drops three times a day.

Topical Creams - Contain 10-15% of D. villosa extract



D. villosa is a source of the saponin diosgenin, a steroid used in the manufacturing of contraceptives and other hormonal treatments.(9) In its raw form, D. villosa is used in many over the counter topical preparations as a treatment for menopause. However, there is controversy over its effectiveness and in general; there is no evidence to support its use as a natural product for this purpose.

In a laboratory setting, one study determined that D. villosa exhibits mild antiestrogenic activity.(10) D. villosa has been found to demonstrate moderate calpain regulating potential in a laboratory setting in ovariectomized rats.(11) A separate study indicated that an extract of this plant demonstrated mild phytoestrogenic effects on mcf-7 human breast cancer cells.(12)


In a laboratory analysis, over 350 natural plant extracts were examined for their tumorcidal activity against neuroblastoma of malignant origin. Of the scores of plants examined, most demonstrated no activity. Of those that did demonstrate activity,the tumorcidal of D. villosa effect was the strongest leading researchers to suggest that it may hold potential for future drug development.(14)


In a human study using D. villosa extract, 23 menopausal women were treated for menopausal symptoms but there was no significant difference between the placebo group and the group using the extract.(13)

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

Drug interactions have not been reported, but due to the phytoestrogenic properties of the herb, it should not be taken in combination with any hormonal therapies including contraceptives.

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

D. villosa is generally considered to be safe and free from side effects when used as directed for short-term use.(2),(13)

Oral use in large doses may result in vomiting and diarrhea.

D. villosa contains the phytoestrogen, diosgenin and should be avoided by anyone with hormone dependent conditions. This includes breast, uterine and cervical cancer; uterine or breast fibroids; endometriosis.

Not to be used by patients with kidney disease or renal complications, or those taking medications that may further stress kidney function.(15),(16)


Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women and not to be used with children.

Age limitation

No documentation

Adverse reaction

No documentation

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  1) Western Herb


  1. Duke, James A. Handbook of phytochemical constituents of GRAS herbs and other economic plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1992.
  2. Tada Y. Novel effects of diosgenin on skin aging. Steroids. Jun. 2009;74(6):504-511.
  3. Yoon KD. Preparative separation of dioscin derivatives from Dioscorea villosa by centrifugal partition chromatography coupled with evaporative light scattering detection. J Sep Sci. Jul. 2008;31(13):2486-2491.
  4. Chao-Chin H. A Spirostanol Glycoside from Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) Extract and Its Cytostatic Activity on Three Cancer Cells. JFDA. 2007;15(3):14.
  5. Hayes PY. Complete H and C assignments of the four major saponins from Dioscorea villosa (wild yam). Magn Reson Chem. Nov. 2007;45(11):1001-1005.
  6. Nelson W. Native American Garden Plants. Herb Society of America: New England Unit; 2003.
  7. Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Inc; 2000.
  8. Hutchens, A.  Indian Herbalogy of North America. Boston, MA: Shambala; 1991.
  9. Rosser A. The day of the yam. Nurs Times. May 1-7, 1985;81(18):47.
  10. Rosenberg. Effects of natural products and nutraceuticals on steroid hormone-regulated gene expression. Clin Chim Acta. Oct. 2001;312(1-2):213-219.
  11. Hsu KH. Effects of yam and diosgenin on calpain systems in skeletal muscle of ovariectomized rats. Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol. Jun. 2008;47(2):180-186.
  12. Park MK. Estrogen activities and the cellular effects of natural progesterone from wild yam extract in mcf-7 human breast cancer cells. Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(1):159-167.
  13. Komesaroff PA. Effects of wild yam extract on menopausal symptoms, lipids and sex hormones in healthy menopausal women. Climacteric. Jun. 2001;4(2):144-150.
  14. Mazzio EA. In vitro screening for the tumoricidal properties of international medicinal herbs. Phytother Res. Mar. 2009;23(3):385-398.
  15. Wojcikowski K. Dioscorea villosa (wild yam) induces chronic kidney injury via pro-fibrotic pathways. Food Chem Toxicol. Sep. 2008;46(9):3122-3131.
  16. Wojcikowski K. An in vitro investigation of herbs traditionally used for kidney and urinary system disorders: potential therapeutic and toxic effects. Nephrology (Carlton). Feb. 2009;14(1):70-79.

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