Herb: Wild Yam

Latin name: Dioscorea villosa

Family: Dioscoreaceae (Yam Family)

Medicinal use of Wild Yam:

Wild yam roots, and the roots of many other members of the genus, contains diosgenin. This is widely used in modern medicine in order to manufacture progesterone and other steroid drugs. These are used as contraceptives and in the treatment of various disorders of the genitary organs as well as in a host of other diseases such as asthma and arthritis. The roots are anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, cholagogue, diaphoretic and vasodilator. They are also a visceral relaxant. This plant affords one of the best and fastest cures for bilious colic, it is especially helpful in treating the nausea of pregnant women and has been used to ease the pain of childbirth. It is also taken internally in the treatment of arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, gall bladder complaints, painful menstruation etc. The root is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. The root should not be stored for longer than 1 year, since it is likely to lose its medicinal virtues. Caution is advised in the use of the this plant, when taken fresh it can cause vomiting and other side effects. The root, harvested in September, is used to make a homeopathic remedy. Its main use is in the treatment of infant colic.

Description of the plant:

Perennial Climber

3 m
(9 3/4 foot)

to October

Habitat of the herb:

Wet woods and swamps, thickets and hedges.

Edible parts of Wild Yam:

Tuber - cooked. Some caution should be exercised with this plant. See "Medicinal Uses" for more information.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow March to April in a sunny position in a warm greenhouse and only just cover. It germinates in 1 - 3 weeks at 20C. Prick out the seedlings as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow on in a greenhouse for their first year. Plant out in late spring as the plant comes into new growth. Basal stem cuttings in the summer. Division in the dormant season, never when in growth. The plant will often produce a number of shoots, the top 5 - 10 cm of the root below each shoot can be potted up to form a new plant whilst the lower part of the root can possibly be eaten. Tubercles (baby tubers) are formed in the leaf axils. These are harvested in late summer and early autumn when about the size of a pea and coming away easily from the plant. They should be potted up immediately in individual pots in a greenhouse or cold frame. Plant out in early summer when in active growth.

Cultivation of Wild Yam:

Wet woods and swamps, thickets and hedges.

Known hazards of Dioscorea villosa:

Edible species of Dioscorea have opposite leaves whilst poisonous species have alternate leaves. Use of the fresh plant can cause vomiting and other side effects.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.