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False Unicorn Root

False Unicorn Root

Botanical Description & Habitat

Chamaelirium luteum, Helonias dioica, H. lutea


Common Names
Helonias root

A native of North America


A herbaceous perennial found in low, moist soil east of the Mississippi.
Small greenish, white flowers.

Medicinal Parts
The dried rhizome and roots

Historical Properties & Uses

Although this plant is a native of North America it is used more in Great Britain than it is here. It is primarily a uterine tonic. However, it has other uses, including a stimulating tonic, diuretic, anthelmintic, emetic (in very large doses) and sialagogue (fresh root).

Helonias root is considered by many herbalist to the best and safest uterine tonic there is. They would use to treat almost every type of problem involving the reproductive organs (of both women and men), believing the herb restores function no matter which direction it may be currently deviating from the norm. The herb is said to have a very gentle action on the stomach, and is well tolerated even under the most serious circumstances.

Method of Action

The Pharmacology of Helonias Root
False Unicorn, or Helonias root contains a variety of saponins, including chamaelirin, which are responsible for its tonic properties. The folklore claims for this plant have not been investigated. This is a serious oversight given the potential usefulness of Helonias root to treat uterine problems. In one, maybe the only, study on helonias root, it was found to be estrogenic.

In the British Pharmacopoeia, Helonias root has one recommendation: uterine tonic. It is the only herb in materia medica with just this one particular recommendation. It is used to treat amenorrhea, ovarian dysmenorrhea, leucorrhea, and for vomiting of pregnancy and threatened miscarriage. It is combined with trillium (beth root).

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions
False Unicorn Root, insofar as its diuretic action increases the renal excretion of sodium and chloride, may potentiate the hyperglycemic and hyperuremic effects of glucose elevating agents.

In sub-laxative and sub-emetic doses this herb should have no drug interactions. At higher doses, interactions similar to those involving diuretics and cathartics may occur.

Possible Interactions
The use of diuretics may require dosage adjustments of antidiabetic drugs. Mineral oil, by sequestering this herb, may reduce its anthelmintic effect. The same may be true, to a lesser extent, of antacids.

The presence of estrogen like substances may increase the production of procoagulant factors which, in turn, may inhibit the anticoagulant action of heparin or coumarin. The estrogenic constituents of the plant may potentiate oral antidiabetics, folic acid antagonists, and some corticosteroids.

The presence of estrogen can inhibit antihypercholesterolemics by inducing hyperlipemia. It can also inhibit the activity of most parenteral medications by reducing the rate of spreading.

The estrogenic activity of this herb may be inhibited by meprobamate and phenobarbital.

Due to the presence of estrogenic substance, oxytocin may augment the electrical and contractile activity of uterine smooth muscle.

The estrogen in this herb may raise blood glucose levels enough to alter insulin requirements in the diabetic.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Very large doses may cause nausea and vomiting.

Preparation & Administration

Use three times daily

use 1-2g of dried rhizome and roots

Liquid Extract
use 1-2ml of 1:1 in 45% alcohol

use 2-5ml of 1:5 in 45% alcohol

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


British Herbal Pharmacopoeia, British Herbal Medicine Association, 1983.

Costello, C. & E. Lynn. Estrogenic substances from plants. I. Glycyrrhiza. J. Am. Pharm. Assoc., 39, 177-180, 1950.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Schauenberg, P. & F. Paris. Guide to Medicinal Plants, Keats Publishing, Inc., New Canaan, Connecticut, 1977.


Helonias dioica

? Southwest School of Botanical Medicine


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