CORN SILK
Common Names

Corn Silk , Indian Corn
Botanical Name
Zea mays
Family
GRAMINACEAE ~ Grass Family

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What is it?

In herbal medicine the part of the corn that is used are the long stigmas, called silks, which grow from the top end of the corn's 'ear'. As you can see below, once they are dried the corn silks look very different to their fresh form, becoming brown, curled, crinkly, and incredibly light-weight.


CORNSILK


DRIED


POWDERED

How has it been used?

Corn (or Maize) has been and still is the main food source for many people in the world. For example it is the most widely grown crop in America and it is the most important food crop in Africa.

The main historical and current use of the Corn-silk as a medicine is for the special action of being what is known as a ‘soothing diuretic’. The main problems that Corn Silk has been used to help with are kidney stones and bladder infections but other urinary tract problems have also seen Corn-silk being used in traditional herbal medicine including an irritable bladder, bed-wetting, prostate gland enlargement and fluid retention.

Herb author John Heinerman recounts some great experiences with Corn-silk from conversations with recently retired Texan Urologist Dr. Alxander Fischbien who started by telling Heinerman that 'when he recommended Corn-silk for kidney problems and kidney stones he hadn't gone far enough!'

Dr. Fischbien shared how he used Corn-silk and Golden Seal together for treating particularly difficult cases of chronic cystitis and that he found this simple approach always helped. He would instruct his patients to drink two or more cups of Corn-silk tea every day and with each cup to take one capsule of powdered Golden Seal root (equivalent to approx 1-2 mls of the tincture). Dr Fischbien also praised this combination of herbs for treating pyelitis (a painful inflammation of the kidneys), oliguria (diminished excretion of urine) and oedema (retention of fluid) where he says '4-5 cups of Corn-silk tea in a day moves fluid out of the body like you wouldn't believe'.

Thomas Bartram writes 'the consensus of professional opinion is that the infusion (the tea) is the best form in which to take Corn-silk'.

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Science on Corn-silk

~ Water based infusions of Corn-silk have been shown to have immune stimulating properties in animal studies with a stimulation of interferon production (a key substance in the body's response to infections ) and an observation of increased 'migration of macrophages' (meaning that there was increased activity and movement of the specialised white blood cells that engulf foreign particles)

~ Pharmacological studies (in vitro and in vivo) have shown Corn Silk's remarkable bioactivities as antioxidant, hyperglycaemia reduction, anti-depressant, anti-fatigue and effective diuretic agent. Some of the studies have confirmed the earlier findings and new research discoveries have proven that CS is safe and non-toxic (Khairunnisa Hasanudin, Puziah Hashim and Shuhaimi Mustafa Molecules 2012, 17, 9697-9715; doi:10.3390/molecules17089697)
Note: The above quote comes from a detailed research paper on Corn Silk that may be of interest to anyone wanting to really dig deep into the science on this herb; the PDF of the paper is linked here.

~ Laboratory studies have shown that Corn-silk is able to inhibit certain bacteria from sticking to the lining of cells and that it also reduces certain cancer forming compounds - tumor necrosis factor-alpha-induced (Habtemariam S: Plant Med 64(4):314-318, 1998)

~ Corn-silk diuretic action has been proven with studies with human volunteers which have showed that Corn-silk infusions increases the flow of urine beyond the equivalent amount of water by comparison (Rebuelta m et al: Plantes Med Phytother 21:2672-275, 1987)

Safety of Corn-silk
Corn-silk is a completely safe herb to use in large or frequent doses when needed. It can confidently be taken by pregnant or breastfeeding women and can be used with benefit by the young or old.

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Personal experiences

I have used a lot of Corn-silk in my practice when people are experiencing painful urinary tract problems. So long as I use it in sufficient doses I know it will rapidly ease pain and assist healing.

I think of Corn-silk as a sort of 'more liquid' version of Marshmallow root. Just as Marshmallow can rapidly ease the torments of a sore throat or a dry cough so can Corn-silk give tremendous relief to the painful passage of urine.

Corn-silk tea in particular has a marvellously soothing quality but both tea and tincture feel super silky and smooth all the way down. If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or if you have your own reasons to want to understand this plant ally at a deeper level then I warmly recommend you make a tea of Corn Silk and then drink it with a quiet and attentive mind. The palpable 'action' of the herb that I am sure you will immediately be able to feel in your body will give you a greater appreciation of how well this simple remedy can soothe and heal than anything you could learn about it in the abstract.

Corn-silk is a herb that needs to be given confidently until its benefits have obviously been received.  In acute, painful urinary tract conditions it can safely be recommended to take as much as 10-15 grams a day in divided doses.

This is a large amount of herb (approximately one large handful if you don't have a scale that measures grams) and at least one litre of freshly boiled water is needed to extract it for a good 20 minutes after which it can be strained off and drunk through the day. This treatment should be seen to be averting the crisis within a day or two at most.

When used alongside other urinary tract herbs Corn-silk may not require such high doses to receive its benefits. In my own practice I frequently use a combination of Corn-silk, Uva ursi,, Elder Flowers and Golden Rod to treat cystitis and find that just 3 heaped tsps. of this mixture in a cup of water is highly effective if taken as often as needed (once a day to prevent recurrence, 3-4 cups a day to treat acute infection)

As mentioned above Corn-silk combines marvellously well with Golden Seal and is likewise particularly helpful with Marshmallow root for pain and inflammation.

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Corn-silk is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge but it falls short in one vital area which is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Corn-silk can work brilliantly for one person but less well for another with the same symptoms-- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info to introduce this subject here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Corn-silk can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

Corn-silk has been found useful in many urinary troubles, associated with renal and cardiac disorders. It has been found of value by physicians in the treatment of cystic irritation, due to phosphatic and uric acid concretions, and in both acute and chronic inflammations of the bladder, whether traumatic or idiopathic.

Dropsy, when due to cardiac or renal origin, and particularly after such urinary disorders as those above mentioned, and pyelitis, catarrh of the bladder, and urinal retention appear to be benefited by the diuretic action of this drug, which action is said to be quite positive. Besides its diuretic effects, the drug seems to be a cardiac stimulant as well. In fact, its diuretic action is largely due to its tonic action upon the heart and blood vessels. It is especially of value in the bladder disorders of children, in gonorrhoea, and in cases where decomposition of the urine is prone to take place within the bladder.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd