Herb: Snakeroot


Latin name: Aristolochia rotunda


Family: Aristolochiaceae (Birthwort Family)



Medicinal use of Snakeroot:

The root is antitussive, diuretic, emmenagogue, pectoral, vermifuge and vulnerary. This herb should only be used internally with expert advice since large doses can provoke abortions as well as poisoning with inflammation of the mucous membranes, resulting in respiratory paralysis. 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. Externally the plant is used to treat a variety of skin complaints including eczema and difficult to heal ulcers. The root is harvested in late spring and dried for later use.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Perennial


Height:
60 cm
(2 feet)

Flovering:
April
to June

Habitat of the herb:

Found amongst shrubs and herbaceous plants along the sides of roads, in fields and in meadows.

Propagation of Snakeroot:

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:

Found amongst shrubs and herbaceous plants along the sides of roads, in fields and in meadows.

Known hazards of Aristolochia rotunda:

The plant is poisonous in large quantities. 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.