Common Names

Wild Yam, Rheumatism root, Colic root
Botanical Name
Dioscorea villosa

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What is it?

The root of a long lived, curling and twisting vine that grows widely in the Eastern USA. Wild Yam root becomes very hard when dried and has a distinctive, bitter flavour with a long, lingering aftertaste.




How has it been used?

As some of the old names (Colic root, Rheumatism root) for Wild Yam amply demonstrate this is a herb that has been highly regarded for helping the pain of rheumatism and colic.

Note that these are two problems that occur in very different parts of the body (the joints and the gut) and also typically occur in two age groups that are much older or much younger. Perhaps the best way to understand just how Wild Yam could have such a range of applications is to feel what it actually does when you take it. This is a profoundly relaxing herbal medicine to the physical body.

Native American Indians used Wild Yam for colic and also to relieve the pain of childbirth. Traditional Japanese medicine (Kampo) used Wild Yam for many centuries to treat infertility. In fact high very high doses of Yams can cause infertility but lower doses have the opposite effect.


Science on Wild Yam

The many 'steroidal saponins' in Wild Yam have been used by pharmaceutical companies as the basis for manufacturing hormonal drugs such as anabolic hormones, cortisone and 'the pill'. Whilst it is proven that internal doses of Wild Yam do have mild effects on progestin there have been many exaggerated claims about its effects on women's hormones and its true virtue as an antispasmodic has been somewhat lost whilst being typecast as a natural hormone treatment.

It does help some women with the change of life when taken as an internal medicine but when it has been marketed as a cream for menopause the science simply does not add up. Several clinical trials have been performed using Wild Yam creams vs. placebo; saliva samples have been taken and analysed and have shown that there is no change in the hormones that Wild Yam creams are marketed as benefiting i.e. progesterone and DHEA. In a nutshell: do not buy Wild Yam cream, unless you want some very expensive moisturiser!

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of nearly 40 further studies and articles on Wild Yam are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Wild Yam

Wild Yam is considered very safe to use for all ages and whilst breastfeeding or pregnant however it should be noted that the presence of saponins in Wild Yam may cause upset to the stomach of sensitive individuals if taken in excess. This is a potent herb that will not yield higher benefits if taken in increasing quantities but rather should be used at the level the body can well tolerate and respond to.


Personal experiences

My main experience with Wild Yam has been for problems connected to having too much tension in the gut or the pelvis. Wild Yam reaches into the core of the body and gently releases tension at a deep 'visceral' level. Taking Wild Yam over an extended period has greatly helped a number of my patients heal long standing digestive and reproductive system disorders.

Anyone in practice reading this who has a patient come to them with acute bilious colic (from gall-stones getting stuck in the duct; a hideously painful indigestion that has little in conventional medicine to offer it apart from removing the gall-bladder) simply has to try Wild Yam as a first-aid remedy (see the note from Professor King on this at the very bottom of the page)

It is quite remarkable how quickly it relieves the spasm and once you see this working once you will never have any doubt in your mind again about how potent a physical relaxant this herb truly is.

Another very positive experience I have had with Wild Yam has been in the terribly difficult condition of rheumatoid arthritis where the famous old combination of Wild Yam, Black Cohosh and Cramp Bark has lived up to its reputation by providing a great deal of relief from pain and tension in the joints.

Not needed in great amounts to achieve this effect either. Just a few mls of the combined tinctures in regular doses over the day has been seen to give great aid.

If there is significant pain or spasm (such as in colic, period pain, muscle spasm etc.) then Wild Yam works best in small frequent doses until it is clearly working; for example just 1-2 mls every 2 hours or so. Each time you take a dose it adds to the effect of the last dose so it usually relieves the pain and spasm very quickly.

For more chronic conditions Wild Yam combines perfectly with Ginger for chronic gut congestion and with Licorice root and Devil's claw for inflammatory arthritic problems where there is an obvious connection between the digestive system and what is happening in the joints. With the longer term use of Wild Yam I would look at about 20mls a week of a tincture being ample to convey its benefits.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Wild Yam is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with herb B. There is value in this approach in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another but where it falls short is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Wild Yam might work brilliantly for one person but less well for another with the same kind of symptom picture -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This interesting and useful subject is introduced further here

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Wild Yam can particularly offer its benefits when a relaxing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898

In former editions I have termed this agent an antispasmodic, and solely for the reason that it cures bilious colic, having proved almost invariably successful if used in frequent enough doses. No other medicine is required, as it gives prompt and permanent relief in the most severe cases (Prof. J. King). In fact it is not only of value in bilious colic, but in all forms of colic and other painful abdominal neuroses, and all forms of gastro-intestinal irritation.

It has also proved valuable in painful cholera morbus attended with cramps, in neuralgic affections, in irritable conditions of the nervous system, especially when attended with pain or spasms, in spasmodic hiccough, obstinate and painful vomiting. It will likewise allay nausea, also spasms of the bowels. This root appears to exert an action especially upon enfeebled and irritable mucous tissues that become painful from spasmodic contractions of their muscular fibres

Please understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd