Wild Yam is a dioecious perennial vine in the Dioscoreaceae family that grows in all over Eastern North America as far west as Minnesota and Texas. It grows quickly, preferring partial to full sun, moist loamy to sandy loam soils, and tends to overcome smaller shrubs and plants in it’s way. Wild Yam can survive in some shade, but it is less likely to produce flowers and seed capsules. It’s typically found in thinly wooded bluffs, savannas, woodland borders, thickets, moist sand prairies, as well as in disturbance areas such as power-line and railroad clearances in wooded areas and on fence rows. It benefits from occasional wildfires and other kinds of disturbance that reduce competition from the overhead canopy trees. It has thin, light green to dark red stems that can grow and climb up to twenty feet in length and slender, tuberous rhizomatous rootstocks that typically grow crooked with lateral branches. The alternate leaves are broad and cordate with conspicuous depressed palmate veination. Their undersides tend to be slightly hairy, while the tops are glaborous. It blooms during the summer in small green and yellow six petaled radial flowers; male flowers bloom in drooping panicles, while the female blood in drooping racemes. The female flowers mature into three angled capsules that contain winged seeds, which are spread by wind.
Wild Yam is used as an antispasmodic, diuretic, diaphoretic, and expectorant. It soothes the nerves, benefitting neuralgia and easing pain in the urinary tract. It also eases menstrual and ovarian cramps, heavy menstrual bleeding, leg cramps, and in small doses, can ease nausea during pregnancy. It helps prevent miscarriages, and is typically given after birth in a cold tincture to ease pain. Wild yam also tones and nourished both the liver and endocrine system. In Aryuvedic medicine, Wild Yam is considered an aphrodisiac, rejuvenative, nutritive tonic, diuretic, antispasmodic, and analgesic, and is considered to have a soothing and harmonizing effect on the digestive system. Many varieties of wild yam are used in aryuvedic medicine to increase semen, breast milk, and any hormonal secretions, but the American variety is used as a tonic for the female reproductive system and as a nervine and an anti-spasmodic. The Mexican variety is a general rejuvenative herb for the male reproductive system. Wild yam is typically prepared in a milk, ghee, and jaggery decoction.
At one time, the biochemical constituents of Wild Yam were the first source of chemicals for contraceptive hormones. Wild Yam is still used as a contraceptive, as demonstrated by Sister Zeus. “Wild yam can be used to both promote and decrease fertility, the different effects are achieved by the amount taken and when and how long the herb is used each cycle. When wild yam is used in moderate doses, for the first half of the menstrual cycle, from menses to ovulation then discontinued for the remainder of the cycle, the effect is to increase fertility. When wild yam is used in contraceptive doses, and is taken daily throughout the cycle, the effect is to reduce fertility and when taken correctly, can act as a contraceptive.”
As a decoction, 1-2 teaspoons of dried herb per cup of water, simmered for 10-15 minutes and drunk three times daily. As a tincture, 2-4ml three times daily. It combines well with calamus, chamomile, and ginger for intestinal colic, and with black cohosh for rheumatic joint pain and arthritis. Avoid large doses during pregnancy.