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True unicorn root (Aletris farinosa)
Natural Standard Bottom Line Monograph, Copyright © 2011 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.
While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.
Ague grass, ague-root, aletris (Spanish), Aletris farinose, aletris farinseu (French), aloeroot, bettie grass, bitter grass, black-root, blazing star, colicroot, colic-root, colicweed, crow corn, devil's bit, diosgenin, gentrogenin, Liliaceae (family), mehlige Aletria (German), saponins, stargrass, star-root, starwort, unicorn root, white colic root.
Note: True unicorn root (Aletris farinosa L.) should not be confused with false unicorn root (Helonias luteum or Chamaelirium luteum). These herbs differ in chemical composition and claimed uses.
True unicorn root (Aletris farinosa L.) is a low-growing perennial herb native to eastern North America. Found in old growth forests, the true unicorn root plant is currently thought to be at risk due to destruction of its habitat. The rhizome, an underground stem, is commercially processed into dried pieces.
True unicorn root has been used in Native American traditional remedies for stomach aches, colic, dysentery, and menstrual disorders. Large doses of the fresh root may act as a narcotic and laxative and may induce vomiting. The dried root is also traditionally used to treat gas or hysteria, as a stomach toner, as a tonic for women, for body pain, and to prevent miscarriage; however, some advise against its use during the third trimester of pregnancy due to its uterine stimulation effects. Well-designed human studies are needed to determine if true unicorn root is safe and effective for treating any medical condition.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
No available studies qualify for inclusion in the evidence table.
*Key to grades:
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use;
B: Good scientific evidence for this use;
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use;
D: Fair scientific evidence against this use (it may not work);
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likely does not work).
The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.
- Antispasmodic, arthritis, colic, constipation, diarrhea, diuretic (improves urine flow), dysentery, gas, impotence, infertility, menstrual problems, miscarriage (prevention), sedative, tonic.
The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.
Adults (18 years and older)
There is no proven safe or effective dose for true unicorn root in adults. True unicorn root has been taken traditionally by mouth as a dried root, powdered root, tincture, tea, or fluid extract.
Children (under 18 years old)
There is no proven safe or effective dose of true unicorn root for children.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Avoid in individuals with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to true unicorn root (Aletris farinose), its constituents, or members of the Liliaceae family.
Side Effects and Warnings
Side effects are mainly gastrointestinal and include colic, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Other possible side effects are dullness of senses, loss of balance, stupor, and vertigo (dizziness).
Use cautiously in patients with hormone-sensitive cancers or conditions, as true unicorn root may affect hormonal activity.
Use cautiously in pregnant women, as true unicorn root may have estrogenic activity and may counteract the effects of the hormone oxytocin, especially in the third trimester.
Avoid in patients with a known allergy or hypersensitivity to true unicorn root, its constituents, or members of the Liliaceae family.
Avoid in patients with inflammatory or infectious gastrointestinal conditions, as unicorn root may irritate the gastrointestinal tract.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
True unicorn root may have estrogenic activity and may counteract the actions of the hormone oxytocin, especially in the third trimester.
Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.
Interactions with Drugs
True unicorn root may interact with antiulcer agents and estrogens.
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
True unicorn root may interact with antiulcer agents and estrogens.
This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).
Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.
- Bloyer WE. Chamaelirium: Eclectic Materia Medica; Helonias, False unicorn root, Blazing star. Medical Herbalism: A Journal for the Clinical Practitioner 1898;10(3):18-20.
- Rajkumar R, Srivastava SK, Yadav MC., et al. Effect of a Homeopathic complex on oestrus induction and hormonal profile in anoestrus cows. Homeopathy 2006;95(3):131-135. View Abstract
- Yarnell E, Abascal K, Greenfield RH, et al. Credentialing of practitioners of botanical medicine. Am J Med Qual 2002;17(1):15-20. View Abstract
Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)
The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.