SCIENTIFIC NAME(S): Aristolochia serpentaria L., Aristolochia reticulata Nuttall. Family: Aristolochiaceae (birthwort family)

COMMON NAME(S): Snakeroot, Virginia snakeroot, snakeweed, sangree root, sangrel, birthwort, pelican flower, Texas snakeroot, Red River snakeroot


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 snakeroot for infectious fevers, malaria, and rabies. The heart-shaped leaves of the plant promoted its use as a heart tonic. Modem herbalists employ snakeroot as an aphrodisiac, to treat convulsions, and to promote menstruation. However, none of these claims have been scientifically validated.One source mentions that A. serpentaria was grown in England as far back as 1632.

Botany :- Aristolochia is a genus comprising approximately 300 species of herbs and vines. A. serpentaria is a low-growing perennial (up to 0.6 m tall) found primarily in the rich woods of central and southern US, including Connecticut to Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas. Snakeroot possesses a foul, fruit-like odor that attracts insects. Its exotic, brownish-purple flowers are tube-like and lined with hairs. Insects caught in this area become covered with pollen while struggling to escape and carry it to pollinate other flowers. The leaves of the plant are heart-shaped. The medicinal parts of the plant are the dried rhizome and the roots. A. reticulata differs from A. serpentaria in having a larger rhizome with fewer, thicker root­lets and thicker leaves with more prominent reticulations and petioles.

Uses of Snakeroot

Do not use snakeroot because of its toxicity. Snakeroot stimulates gastric secretions and smooth muscle contractions. In small doses, snakeroot can promote appetite and tone digestive organs, and larger doses promote arterial action, diaphoresis, and diuresis.

Side Effects of Snakeroot

Aristolochic acid, a component of snakeroot, can affect the kidneys and irritate the GI tract, and may also cause genetic mutations. Do not use snakeroot, especially in those with diseases of the GI tract and in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Do not use snakeroot in humans. Aristolochic acid is a known kidney toxin in rodents. Several articles confirm aristolochic acid's nephrotoxic and carcinogenic effects in humans as well. Aristolochic acids from A. fangchi, A. clematitis, and others have been found to cause kidney damage or "Chinese herb nephropathy." Cases of interstitial renal fibrosis, urothelial lesions, malignancy, Fanconi syndrome, and end-stage renal failure all have been extensively reported. A review with 108 references discusses this further.

The Structural basis for mutagenicity of aristolochic acid has been reported.In large doses, constituent aristolochine also can affect the kidneys and irritate the GI tract, leading to coma and death from respiratory paralysis.

No one should take snakeroot, especially those with any disease of the GI tract, including ulcer, reflux, or colitis, as well as those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, Aristolochic acid also may cause genetic mutations; some Countries ban the plant's sale. A case report explains acute hepatitis from a tea mixture (including A. debilis) containing toxic aristolochic acids.

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