Herb: Birthwort

Latin name: Aristolochia clematitis

Family: Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort Family)

Medicinal use of Birthwort:

Birthwort has a very long history of medicinal use, though it has been little researched scientifically and is little used by present-day herbalists. It is an aromatic tonic herb that stimulates the uterus, reduces inflammation, controls bacterial infections and promotes healing. The juice from the stems was used to induce childbirth. The plant contains aristolochic acid which, whilst stimulating white blood cell activity and speeding the healing of wounds, is also carcinogenic and damaging to the kidneys. The flowering herb, with or without the root, is abortifacient, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, oxytocic and stimulant. Another report says that the root is used on its own whilst a third says that either the fresh flowering herb or the dried rootstock can be used. The plant should not be used internally without experienced supervision, externally it is used in the treatment of slow-healing cuts, eczema, infected toe and finger nails etc. Use with caution, internal consumption can cause damage to the kidneys and uterine bleeding. It should not be used by pregnant women.

Description of the plant:


70 cm
(2 feet)

July to


Habitat of the herb:

Waste ground, gardens, orchards etc.

Propagation of Birthwort:

Seed - best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn. Pre-soak stored seed for 48 hours in hand-hot water and surface sow in a greenhouse. Germination usually takes place within 1 - 3 months at 20C. Stored seed germinates better if it is given 3 months cold stratification at 5C. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer after the last expected frosts. Division in autumn. Root cuttings in winter.

Cultivation of the herb:

Waste ground, gardens, orchards etc.

Known hazards of Aristolochia clematitis:

The root and stem are poisonous. The plant contains aristolochic acid, this has received rather mixed reports on its toxicity. According to one report aristolochic acid stimulates white blood cell activity and speeds the healing of wounds, but is also carcinogenic and damaging to the kidneys. Another report says that it is an active antitumour agent but is too toxic for clinical use. Another report says that aristolochic acid has anti-cancer properties and can be used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiotherapy and that it also increases the cellular immunity and phagocytosis function of the phagocytic cells.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.