Wild yam (Dioscorea villosa)

Traditional Indications

Wild yam is antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, hepatic, cholagogue and diaphoretic. In western herbal medicine wild yam is used to relieve intestinal colic, to soothe diverticulitis, ease dysmenorrhoea and ovarian and uterine pains. It is also used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, especially the acute phase where there is intense inflammation. Wild yam was once the sole source of the raw materials for contraceptive pill, which is nowadays made from pregnant horse’s urine. (1)

In Traditional Chinese Medicine Dioscorea is known as or Shan Yao, 山藥, or Huai Shan 淮山. Shan Yao is primarily known as a herb that drains Damp. Shan Yao is bitter and neutral and enters the Liver and Stomach, Kidney and Urinary bladder channels. Shan Yao tonifies the Spleen and Stomach Qi to treat diarrhoea, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, lack of appetite. Shan Yao tonifies and supports Lung Qi to treat chronic cough and wheezing. Shan Yao tonifies the Kidneys and binds Jing (Essence) so used to treat wasting and thirsting disorder and spermatorrhea, frequent and scanty urination, nocturnal emissions and vaginal discharge. Shan Yao nourishes Blood and calms the Shen (spirit). (2)

Pharmacognosy

Two groups of lipidated steroid saponins including seven new compounds (2, 3, 5, and 7–10) were isolated from the widely used botanical, Dioscorea villosa. (3)

Wild yam is a contemporary alternative to plant oestrogens for menopause. (4)

A study looking at oestrogen activities and the cellular effects of natural progesterone from wild yam extract in mcf-7 human breast cancer cells concludes wild yam extract acts as a weak phytoestrogen and protects against proliferation in human breast carcinoma MCF-7 cells. (5)

 

1. PFAF. Dioscorea villosa 2019 [Available from: https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Dioscorea+villosa.
2. Healing WRIo. Chinese Yams (Shan Yao) 2019 [Available from: https://www.whiterabbitinstituteofhealing.com/herbs/chinese-yams/.
3. Dong S-H, Cai G, Napolitano JG, Nikolić D, Lankin DC, McAlpine JB, et al. Lipidated steroid saponins from Dioscorea villosa (wild yam). Fitoterapia. 2013;91:113-24.
4. Geller SE, Studee L. Contemporary alternatives to plant estrogens for menopause. Maturitas. 2006;55 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):S3-S13.
5. Park MK, Kwon HY, Ahn WS, Bae S, Rhyu MR, Lee Y. Estrogen activities and the cellular effects of natural progesterone from wild yam extract in mcf-7 human breast cancer cells. Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(1):159-67.