Wild Yam: A valuable antispasmodic and anti-inflammatory remedy

There are many species of yams in the genus Dioscorea. Many of them are used as foods, but certain species have also been used as medicines. The Western remedy, wild yam, typically refers to Dioscorea villosa, a species native to North and Central America. Yams are also used in traditional Chinese medicine. My favorite Chinese herb reference lists seven different species.

Wild Yam Plate

Wild Yam as a Female Remedy

Wild yam has several beneficial properties for the female reproductive system. It is antispasmodic, which makes it good for muscle spasms, so it has been used to relieve menstrual cramps and ease pain during childbirth. It is also anti-inflammatory. It has a cortisol-like action similar to that of licorice and yucca, which also helps ease painful periods.

Even though it doesn’t contain progesterone, it may have a progesterone-like effect. I say this because it seems to be a valuable remedy for PMS type A, which is characterized by excess estrogen and deficient progesterone. It also seems to be a good remedy for estrogen dominance in women, especially when combined with chaste tree. It has also been used with herbs like black cohosh, chaste tree, and other female tonics in formulas for menopause.

Wild Yam Myths and Legends

While there have been claims that wild yam could be used as birth control, this is not true. Some women have said they've used it and there are stories of some Native Americans using it as such, but there isn't any serious documentation that supports it actually working for all women. And, I recommend sticking with proven methods for birth control.

It appears the claim was based on the idea that wild yam contained natural progesterone. And while there is a compound in wild yam called diosgenin that was originally used to synthesize progesterone for birth control pills, there is no way for this to happen in the human body. There are no metabolic pathways for converting diosgenin to progesterone. Progesterone is created in the adrenal and reproductive glands from cholesterol.

Wild Yam from Adobe Stock

Using Wild Yam

Wild yam isn’t a remedy that's just for women. It’s a very good herb for problems in the GI tract. It can be helpful for any kind of spastic or cramping pain in the abdomen. It can help relax the gallbladder when it is inflamed and constricted during a gallbladder attack. It can ease intestinal inflammation and cramping pains where gas is trapped and not moving. It may also be helpful for hiccups and nausea during pregnancy.

Wild yam is used in formulas for muscle and joint pain, colitis and other inflammatory problems in the bowels, skin problems, gas and bloating, and liver detoxification. It’s one of the three herbs I use as an alternative to corticosteroids. I use wild yam primarily for abdominal inflammation and pain, licorice for respiratory and general inflammation, and yucca for joint and muscle pain and inflammation.

Wild yam is often taken as part of a formula, which is how I've typically used it. If you want to take it in capsules, a good dose is 1 capsule two or three times daily. It is more commonly used as a tincture, the dose being about 20-30 drops two or three times a day. You can also make a decoction from the dried roots, which should be dried for a year before use.

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