Wild Yam has a long history of usage in Central America and was popular amongst the Ancient Aztec and Maya people primarily for pain relief. In both Mexico and America Indians used Wild Yam as a birth control pill and to prevent miscarriage. They claim that if the roots are eaten every day for over 2 months, conception will not occur. Ovulation and the menstrual cycle will not be interrupted, but the woman’s eggs are resistant to fertilization during the period the Wild Yam is ingested. When the woman wanted to become pregnant, she merely stopped eating the yam and within one month, she would be fertile again.
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Shan yao has also been used medicinally for at least 2,000 years in China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. It forms part of “The Pill of Eight Ingredients” traditionally prescribed in Chinese medicine to treat hypothyroidism, nephritis, and diabetes. As with many plants, the root is also eaten as a vegetable in Asia.
Wild Yam is also known by the names Colic Root, Devil’s Bones, Bitter Yam, Barbasco, Yuma, Liver Root, China Root, and Rheumatism Root. There is no record of how wild yam came to be called devil’s bones, but the name makes sense. The roots of wild yam are thin, long, twisted roots that meander along below the surface of the soil and have a skeletal look. This plant is found across the United States (east and mid-west), Latin America, China, Africa, Peru, and India. The parts of this plant used medicinally are the root and the rhizome.
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The outer bark of the wild yam root is high in saponins, including dioscin or diosgenin, as well as such alkaloids as dioscorin. All have anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant properties that seem to work on the muscles of the abdomen and pelvis, as well as treating arthritic and rheumatic conditions.
Diosgenin was first identified by Japanese scientists in 1936. This paved the way for the synthesis of progesterone and of such corticosteroid hormones such as cortisone. Diosgenin was also the starting point in the creation of the first contraceptive pill, despite the fact that there is no suggestion that the plant was used as a contraceptive in the past.
Over 200 million prescription drugs a year are sold that contain derivatives of this herb in them. Wild yam is collected in the wild and cultivated throughout Mexico to supply the pharmaceutical industry with diosgenin. This substance is used to treat sex hormone problems, produce contraceptives, menopause, premenstrual syndrome, sexual problems, high blood pressure, prostate hypertrophy, testicular deficiency, and impotency, just to name a few. From this herb, the pharmaceutical industry also indirectly produces cortisones and hydrocortisone for Addison’s disease, some allergies, bursitis, contact dermatitis, psoriases, rheumatoid arthritis, sciatica and is used in the treatment of brown recluse spider bites, insect stings, etc.
Wild Yam is very relaxing and soothing to the nerves, for people who get excited easily. Wild Yam is a valuable anti-spasmodic used for treating abdominal cramps, bowel spasms, and premenstrual cramps.
This herb is beneficial during pregnancy for pregnancy pain, nausea, and cramping and will lessen the threat of miscarriage. It also relieves cramps in the region of the uterus during the last trimester.
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The diosgenin in wild yam is a compound that is the precursor to steroid hormones. In a laboratory, diosgenin can be converted into pregnenolone. Pregnenolone is the ultimate precursor in the human body to more than 150 adrenal steroids. Pregnenolone can participate in every biochemical action that every steroid hormone is party to. Thus, pregnenolone has anti-aging influences on cerebral function, energy level, male hormones progesterone or testosterone, the female reproductive cycle, immune defenses, inflammation, mood and memory, skin health, sleep patterns, stress tolerance, wound healing, vision, sexual enjoyment or libido and much, much more.
Pregnant or lactating women, diabetics, hypoglycemics, and people with known medical conditions and/or taking drugs should consult with a licensed physician and/or pharmacist prior to taking dietary supplements.
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Handbook of Medicinal Herbs, by James A. Duke, Pub. CRP Second Edition 2007
The Complete Medicinal Herbal, by Penelope Ody, Published by Dorling Kindersley