Also Known As: Dioscorea villosa, Wild yam
Dioscorea villosa is a species of a twining tuberous vine that is native to and found growing wild in North America. Its fame is based on its steroid-like saponins which can be chemically converted to progesterone contraceptives; and cortisone.
Wild Yam is believed to be helpful to the liver and endocrine system. It regulates the female system, particularly during menstrual distress and menopause,as well as used in treating infertility. Used with chasteberry and dandelion it is an effective treatment for morning sickness.
Usually found wild in the eastern half of North America, it is a perennial plant that is a low creeper, and occupies average to poor soils and full sun.
It has been hypothesized 1 that wild yam ( Dioscorea villosa and other Dioscorea species) possesses dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)-like properties and acts as a precursor to human sex hormones such as estrogen and progesterone 2. Based on this proposed mechanism, extracts of the plant have been used to treat painful menstruation, hot flushes, and headaches associated with menopause. However, these uses are based on a misconception that wild yam contains hormones or hormonal precursors - largely due to the historical fact that progesterone, androgens, and cortisone were chemically manufactured from Mexican wild yam in the 1960s. It is unlikely that this chemical conversion to progesterone occurs in the human body. The hormonal activity of some topical wild yam preparations has been attributed to adulteration with synthetic progesterone by manufacturers, although there is limited evidence in this area.