Part Used: Root.
Wild Yam is valued as an anti-spasmodic herb for muscles, tendons and
muscular organs in conditions marked by tension.. Colic, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome; abdominal pain in general. Hiccups. Gallbladder pain. Leg cramps. Knee pain. Pain of
arthritis, fibro-myalgia, rheumatism, tendonitis. Liver congestion. Painful menstruation, PMS, spasmodic ovarian and uterine pain. Threatened miscarriage. Morning sickness. Post-partum
pain. Menopausal symptoms. While Wild Yam seems to have hormonal effects, the so-called Wild Yam creams contain semi-natural progesterone (actually soy compounds taken through
several chemical processes) with Wild Yam added to give it a more natural-sounding name.
Wild Yam is a good example of an herb that is widely known and yet undervalued; with a much wider range of action than its modern designation as a "hormonal" herb, and even in this respect there are misconceptions. The Wild Yam (Dioscorea villosa) is the rhizome of a delicate vining plant that grows on the edges of woods and thickets in the eastern U.S. It is a cousin to many more tropical species, including those Mexican Yams from which hormones were synthesized, and only distantly related to edible yams. The tough, knobby root of our Wild Yam would hardly make a delectable meal.
Its actions include anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic and muscle-relaxing effects and mild hormonal effects. Some of these properties are due to certain steroidal compounds and pre-cursors from which its anti-inflammatory and hormonal effects are derived. Wild Yam's hormonal effects is a good point of departure for a brief discussion of our conceptions of herbs and female hormones. It is widely thought that Wild Yam has an obviously progesteronic effect, including lay use as an aid in birth control; and yet research has shown, and some effects suggest a partially estrogenic effect. This would speak to how herbs can more safely be used without completely disrupting the body's balance of hormones. After all, when the ovaries are stimulated by the pituitary, they produce a balance of both hormones, with levels varying according to what is going on in the cycle.
Women should note that most of the Wild Yam creams out there may contain some Wild Yam root in them, but their strong hormonal effects are due to "progesterone" which one can ususally find in the ingredients. This is derived instead from Soy compounds taken through several chemical processes in the labaratory. One can only say it is semi-natural (or semi-synthetic), and is actually a pretty good dose of progesterone similar to what an MD would prescribe, only absorbed more slowly through the skin. Some women benefit from their use; but there is the potential for side-effects just as with pills or shots. Calling these Wild Yam creams is more a marketing technique as many people are familiar with the Yam's formerly being used in the manufacture of birth control pills; in reality they are no longer used as there have been cheaper, synthetic, or more productive sources found. It is doubtful that pre-cursors in Wild Yam, rubbed in the skin, could have much if any profound hormonal effect without the added "natural" progesterone.
That said, and the still mysterious question of herbs and hormones left hanging, an herbalist will turn to the observable effects of the herb. Beginning with some of its uses for the female organs: PMS with cramps before flow; oversensitivity and irritability. Cramping of the menstrual period esp. with lumbar, leg pain. Colicky or cramping pain during ovulation. Crampy pains with long or irregular cycles. Pelvic inflammatory disease and endometriosis. Muscle and joint pains in menopause. These would be indications for the type of person who may benefit from its use as a hormonal balancer, but can no doubt be of benefit used in a number of types of hormone-balancing formulas.
In pregnancy its use is reserved for acute conditions including vomiting and morning sickness, muscle and joint pain and threatened miscarriage (in conjunction with Black Haw Bark); but its use in pregnancy not long continued. Also for cramping type pains in labor and post-partum pains.
There are a substantial number of women who claim success using Wild Yam as a birth control agent; a cup of tea or a dropperful of tincture taken 3 x a day regularly. I would not wish to make any guarantees myself. In our discussion of hormones we might see this as tending toward imbalance, but would be safrer than some other alternatives; its effects are said to wear off when it is discontinued. At the same time, it has also been added to formulas to promote fertility, esp. taken the last two weeks of the menstrual cycle. Wild Yam, perhaps more than most hormonal herbs, seems to be somewhat dose-dependent in its effects.
Herbalists in other parts of the world consider the Wild Yams to be a nourishing, sexual tonic for men, used to aid in men's fertility as well.
The Chinese recognize Wild Yam's anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties, particularly where there is tension, "restrained or constrained Chi". This holds admirably well in tense conditions of the digestive tract with cramping of the stomach and/or intestines, Irritable Bowel, Colitis, and Diverticulitis. Eases gas pains, vomiting, hiccups. For tense and colicky pains of the gall bladder. Liver tension and pain, and is considered a mild liver tonic. Hypertension and arterial spasms.
In the urinary tract it can relieve spasm and pain, and as an aid in strengthening the bladder sphincter in incontinence.
Finally Wild Yam's anti-inflammatory, nervine and anti-spasmodic properties make it a valuable adjunct for muscle, joint and tendon pain: Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibro-myalgia, joint and muscle-pain in general. I have found it particularly valuable where joints and tendons are both involved esp. for elbow and knee pain. Tendonitis. Leg pains and cramps.
Wild Yam is little understood even in its one-dimensional modern designation as a "hormone balancer".