Plant Medicine: Wild Yam for IBD

Wild Yam

Wild yam is a beautiful New England plant that grows in moist woods, swamps, and ditches. For centuries, indigenous and early Americans have taken wild yam root as medicine. Wild yam root helps to defend and strengthen many systems of the body.

Among its many uses, wild yam offers potent medicine for the digestive system. Wild yam is anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory. It is also a cholagogue, meaning it helps with bile production. It is often included as a part of a treatment plan for diverticulitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), gallstones, or gastritis. Think of using wild yam for abdominal cramping, painful gas, or whenever the liver needs some support.

Wild yam’s claim to fame is a compound it contains, called diosgenin. Diosgenin is used by the drug industry to derive steroids, like estrogen replacement therapy, or the DHEA used for muscle building, weight loss, mood balance, and more. As it turns out, the human body may not be able to convert natural diosgenin into any active steroidal compounds. So taking wild yam does not seems to offer benefits for metabolism, muscle mass, or menopause treatment, at least not as quickly and directly as the clinically-tested drugs.

Conclusion: Wild yam contains some of the building blocks for human hormones, but what may be lacking is the scientific research needed to determine to what extent the diosgenin in wild yam may give a gentle nudge to the body’s metabolic processes that normally decline as we age. (Whoever pays for that research will likely be pushing up against some pharmaceutical industry lobbyists! For more on that, consider reading “Whole” by T. Colin Campbell, PhD.)

In the meantime, you may wish to try using wild yam as a bitter tonic that supports balanced digestion, reduced gut inflammation, and improves liver function. 

There are many holistic approaches to IBD, and wild yam is just one botanical remedy to include in your plant-based medicine cabinet.

So how should one use wild yam?

  1. As a tea. For a soothing tea blend perfect for flare ups, Kathi Keville, of the American Herb Association suggests this tea: Combine 1 teaspoon each of marshmallow root, wild yam root , and licorice root, with ½ teaspoon of fennel seeds. Lightly simmer in 1 quart of water for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat, and add 1 teaspoon each of chamomile flowers and peppermint leaf.
  2. As an infusion. In a sauce pan, cover 4 ounces of chopped dried wild yam root with water. Bring to boil, reduce heat, simmer for 20 to 30 min. Let this sit for 4-8 hours. Strain and store in refrigerator for up to 3 days. Take in ½ cup doses twice a day.
  3. As a tincture. This product can be found at a natural store or made DIY. Take caution with dosing — limit to about about 2-4ml, 3 times per day. Wild yam in large doses can cause headaches, nausea, and vomiting. Your best bet? Speak with a reputable herbalist before use.

Published by Okay to Eat

Natasha Eziquiel-Shriro, MS, RDN, CDN

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