Benefits Of Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) For Health

Benefits Of Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) For Health


Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria)


Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) is known as other names: Snakeroot , Virginia snakeroot , Snakeweed , Serpentatiae Rhizoma, Serpentary, Sangree root , Sangrel , Birthwort , Aristolochia officinalis, Aristolochia sagittata, Pelican flower , Texas Snakeroot , Red River, Red River Snakeroot, Endodeca Bartonii, Pelican Flower, Radix Viperina, Radix Colubrina, Sangrel, Sangree, Endodeca Serpentaria, Serpentary Radix...

Virginia snakeroot is a frail perennial plant with a straight and undulating stem that usually grows up to a height of 60 cm or two feet. The plant rises from a horizontal tubular root that produces several thin roots as well as numerous thin shoots. The plant bears alternate slender green leaves that are oval and sometimes heart shaped and gradually getting thinner to a point at the apex. The Virginia snakeroot blooms during the early part of summer, especially in June and July, and bear a small number of faded purple flowers with a brownish shade.

Benefits Of Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) For Health
Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) Picture

Flowers are long and "pipe-shaped." They are purplish-brown and 3/4 inch long. Usually, people can't see them, because they are hidden in leaf litter. The center of the flower is red and resembles raw meat, and flowers also smell like rotting meat. This smell attracts flies and other insects.

When a fly enters a flower, stiff hairs inside the flower trap the insect. Since the hairs point downward, the fly must move in that direction. Deep inside the flower, the fly gets covered with pollen. Then, the hairs relax and the fly is able to escape. The hairs also relax when pollen from another flower rubs on them. This way, the plant uses insects to pollinate itself.

The genus name of the Virginia snakeroot is Aristolochia and is drawn from the Greek expression aristos denoting the finest, while locheia means delivery. Greek herbal medical practitioners in the ancient period were of the opinion that plants that belonged to the Aristolochia genus made childbirth easier and therefore, it is not surprising that the herb is commonly known as ‘birthwort'. However, it is interesting to note that the Virginia snakeroot was never used during the final stages of pregnancy, but commonly used to control the menstrual cycle.

There was a time when the Virginia snakeroot was held in high esteem for it repute as an herb that had the capability to heal rattlesnake bites and other venomous stings. However, scientists are yet to ascertain as to how the plant was associated with such therapeutic properties. Nevertheless, according to some sources, snake charmers in ancient Egypt used the roots of some associated varieties of this plant to paralyze or numb the mouths of the reptiles before performing any perilous tricks with them. Some others say that the exceptional and low-growing ‘S'-shaped flowers has a resemblance to snakes and hence the name as well as the reputation of the plant. In fact, it was the indigenous American Indians who were the first to initiate the practice of chewing the roots of the plant after sucking out the venom from a snake bite or other poisonous stings and applied it on the snake bites. The early settlers in the New World from European countries noticed this practice of these American Indians and in the middle of the 16th century, introduced it into European medicine. In fact, the rhizome of the Virginia snakeroot kept on being considered as one of the prime remedies for snake bites as well as mad dog bites till as late as the middle of the 18th century.

Virginia snakeroot was used as a cure for snakebite, hence the common name. Native Americans chewed the root and also applied it to wounds. Colonial and European doctors were said to have used virginia snakeroot for infectious fevers, malaria, and rabies. The heart-shaped leaves of the plant promoted its use as a heart tonic. Modern herbalists employ virginia snakeroot as an aphrodisiac, to treat convulsions, and to promote menstruation. None of these claims, however, have been scientifically validated.


Benefits Of Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) For Health


Although the herb has been neglected for years, there is a growing interest among the scientists for its therapeutic properties. As a result, the Virginia snakeroot is gradually becoming exceptional in the nature. In fact, the medicinal properties of Virginia snakeroot makes it worthwhile to grow the herb in forest areas. Virginia snakeroot forms an important ingredient of several patented medications that are used to treat skin disorders, circulatory problems and kidney problems. The herb encloses aristolochic acid that promotes the activities of the white blood cells and facilitates healing of wounds.

Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) Flower Picture

The rhizome of Virginia snakeroot is normally harvested during autumn, dehydrated and stored for use when necessary. The root of the plant possesses several therapeutic properties. It is an antidote, anti-inflammatory, bitter tasting tonic, diaphoretic (promotes perspiration), diuretic and a stimulant. By tradition, the root of the herb was chewed in small doses to stimulate sweating, enhance appetite as well as endorse coughing. Native North Indians believed that the root of the herb possessed pain killing or analgesic virtues and, therefore, prepared an infusion with it for internal usage to treat rheumatism and pain. They particularly used the roots to alleviate acute chest pains and a wash for headaches.

Some people crush the roots of the herb and put it in the hollow tooth cavity with a view to alleviate toothache. In addition, people also consume an extract of the herb's root to alleviate stomach aches. The entire Virginia snakeroot plant may be boiled or a decoction may be prepared with the herb and consumed to cure fevers. In earlier days, people chewed the roots of the herb or crushed the leaves of the plant and applied it topically to heal snake bites. As mentioned earlier, once upon a time, the Virginia snakeroot was the most popular medication to treat snake bites in North America. In addition, medications prepared with the Virginia snakeroot plants have also been used externally to facilitate healing wounds as well as curing pleurisy.

As mentioned earlier, when taken in appropriate dosages, Virginia snakeroot or medications prepared with it promotes appetite and digestion. However, when it is used for a long period, the herb has an inclination to disturb the digestive process, result in nausea, vomiting, grappling of the intestine as well as muscle cramps (tenesmus). When taken in full dosage, the herb invigorates to a significant level, but may, at times, result in gastronomic disorders, such as nausea, vomiting, headaches as well as dizziness. Excessive use of the herb is also likely to cause sleeping disorders or insomnia.

Ingestion of a warm infusion prepared with the herb is certain to promote perspiration. In such cases, the herb is also useful in facilitating outbreak in slow skin eruptions. When used in appropriate dosages for small periods, the herb is useful in treating atonic dyspepsia (dyspepsia with impaired tone in the muscular walls of the stomach). The herb may be used in combination with quinine or cinchona for patients suffering from periodic fevers with a view to treat depression as well as provide a tone to the weakened system. When suffering from urinary inactivity or menstrual delay owing to cold, serpentaria or the Virginia snakeroot promotes diuretic actions as well as a medication to promote menstrual discharge (emmenagogue). In fact, the best use of this herb is to treat acutely congested, but slow and aching angina of scarlatina. In addition, the herb may be used as a gargle as well as internally.

It is probable that as it does not disturb the bowels, it may often be used where Guaiacum is not easily tolerated, for stimulating capillary circulation and promoting recovery in chronic forms of gouty inflammation.

Benefits Of Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) For Health
Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) Picture

Virginia Snakeroot (Aristolochia Serpentaria) Side effects and cautions


Use of Virginia snakeroot is said to increase the risk of developing cancer (carcinogenic) and it is also believed to be detrimental for the kidneys.

When ingested in excess amounts, the herb is likely to result in vomiting, vertigo and acute riveting pains. The root of the plant contains an alkaloid, which when ingested in excess amounts, may cause acute internal injuries, such as paralysis, that may even result in coma and death.

All said and done, people using this herb ought to use this herb with adequate caution, as excessive use of the herb or medications prepared with it may cause irritation. Ingesting the herb in excess may result in gripping pains and nausea in the bowels and other places. The herb should always be used under the supervision of an experienced and qualified herbal practitioner.

The celebrated Portland powder for the cure of gout contained aristolochia, with gentian, centaury and other bitters in the dose of a drachm every morning for three months, afterwards diminishing for a year or more, but its prolonged use injured the stomach and nervous system, bringing on premature decay and death.