Dalene Barton-Schuster, CH, Doula
One of the most popular fertility herbs we are asked about is false unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum). I think it is now time to highlight false unicorn root’s healing powers, but shed light on why we do not promote use of this herb.
Both Native Americans and skilled midwives have used this herb for hundreds of years. It is native to North America, but grows best in eastern Canada and the United States. Because of its popularity and the human desire to profit, this herb is now threatened. In fact, wild harvesting of this herb is pushing it ever closer to the endangered list. This herb goes by many names; Helonias (more popular in Europe), blazing-star, devil’s bit, and sometimes fairy wand.
Out of all of the North American territory where false unicorn root grows, the southern area from Florida to Mississippi has the greatest potential for cultivation of this herb. As this herb became marketed and sold in greater quantities, it began to rapidly decline. This plant is prized for the rhizome (root), that once harvested does not grow back. Cultivated false unicorn beds across the U.S. have shown little to no results in regrowth of the rhizome, which despite great effort is a little discouraging for potential marketing. One farm that has had some good results in cultivating this plant is Horizon Herbs in southern Oregon.
In 2001 alone, wildcrafted (harvested from the wild) false unicorn root sold for $35-$50 a pound, with annual sales of $700,000. That was 13,500 pounds of the rhizome wild crafted in one year. In 2003, this herb was selling for up to $65 a pound. As demand grows, so does the price. The continued decline of this herb drives the price up as well, making the herb more and more difficult to find. Today, most medicinal botanical companies have stopped purchasing this herb for their products.
Actions As A Fertility Herb
False unicorn root has been touted as the perfect herb for helping to regulate menstruation, as well as prevent miscarriage; this may have been what has contributed to its decline. This herb is mentioned regularly across many forums for women’s fertility health. It is an herb frequently asked about in online communities which makes me wonder where women are even hearing about it. I am part of many forums on women’s fertility and in spite of this plant’s fate, I still see women not only asking about it, but recommending it, or suggesting that other women learn about it. We need to be clear up front that while this herb may have beneficial healing properties for fertility issues, it is a plant that is struggling.
For hundreds of years this herb has been used for women with recurrent miscarriages related to uterine and cervical weakness. It has also been used to heal women with uterine prolapse (where the uterus comes through the cervix into the vaginal opening). There was a case report that showed that when given a tincture of false unicorn root every hour during threatened miscarriage, bleeding and cramping were stopped, while human chorionic gonotropin (HCG) levels rose. False unicorn may also be valuable in aiding women with low to no cervical mucous, as well as women with amenorrhea (absent menstruation). It is very helpful when there is stagnation of the uterus or ovaries present; some signs of this can be dark, sluggish, clotty menstrual blood.
This root has been shown to work in the body by interacting with estrogen receptor sites of the hypothalamus. It is said to increase estrogen, aiding the ovaries in releasing a mature egg at ovulation. False unicorn root overall has not been studied that much. It may seem that this herb sounds perfect for you, but in reality there are a variety of other wonderful herbs with similar actions that may be just as effective. Tribulus (Tribulus terrestris), vitex or chastetree berry (Vitex agnus-castus) and dong quai (Angelica sinensis) are some examples of fertility herbs with similar actions. As for aiding in prevention of recurrent miscarriage, partridge berry (Mitchella repens) is a great alternative.
Making Smart Choices When Choosing Herbs for Healing
False unicorn root should only be used under the supervision of a skilled herbalist, naturopathic physician, or midwife. It also should only be chosen when all other herbs have failed to produce desired results and has been prescribed by a qualified herbalist, ND, or midwife. If one of these practitioners suggests you use this herb or a formula containing this herb, be sure to ask them where this herb was sourced, meaning where did it come from? If they say it was wildcrafted, ask if there is another herb that could be use in place of this plant.
I am proud to say that Vitanica, makers of Pregnancy Prep and Fem Rebalance, which is formulated by Dr. Tori Hudson, ND, has modified those formulas that once contained false unicorn root. They now contain maca (Lepidium spp.)
Our world is always changing. Modernized societies are taught to consume all resources available, without much understanding about balance and sustainability. Because of over harvesting of false unicorn root and many other popular medicinal herbs, the threatened plant species list is growing. Before choosing any medicinal herb or herbal blend, first research each individual herb. Be sure that the plants were ethically wildcrafted or grown organically. As I said before, if an herb that you use often or are interested in is on the threatened, “At-Risk”, or “To-Watch” list, ask an herbalist or ND in your area for good alternatives.
Dalene Barton-Schuster is an herbalist residing in Marble, Colorado. She started her herbal medicine journey in the year 2000, under the guidance of Lynn Albers at Yarmony Mt. Herbal College. She was Senior Herbalist for The Natural Fertility Company for seven years, after which she became the creative inspiration behind her own herbal medicine practice and Earth Medicine Collective. Dalene has a deep connection to plants and their medicine.
- – American Botanical Council. (n.d.) HerbsClip Online. Retrieved from cms.herbalgram.org/herbclip/223/review42865.html
- – Carroll, C. (2011, May 02). False Unicorn Cultivation. Retrieved from https://www.unitedplantsavers.org/teststories/24-184-false-unicorncultivation
– Chevallier, A. (1996). Encyclopedia Of Medicinal Plants (First Edition ed.). DK Press.
- – Hudson, T. (2008). Alternative therapies and integrative medicine for total health and wellness. Women’s encyclopedia of natural medicine, New York: McGraw-Hill.
- – Romm, A. (2010). Botanical medicine for women’s health. St. Louis, MO: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier.