False Unicorn Root

There is only one species in this N American genus, which is closely related to Helonias. Chamaelirium luteum is an elusive plant that grows in damp woods and bogs, and is seldom seen in cultivation. Chamaelirium comes from the Greek chamai, "slow-growing", and leirion "lily". The name luteum means "yellow", and inappropriate description for a white-flowered plant, which was given when the species was first described from a rather poor dried specimen. First used by native N Americans to prevent miscarriage, C. luteum won favor with settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries for depression and "derangements of women". According to John Bartram's appendix to Medicina Britannica (1751) it is "a great resister of fermenting poisons", Chamaelirium luteum was listed in the U.S. National Formulary (1916-47) and is still regarded by medical herbalists (who often refer to it as "helonias") as invaluable for gynecological problems. Chamaelirium luteum is also called "false unicorn root" to distinguish it from true unicorn root. Aletris farinosa (See, true unicorn root).

Tuberous, summer-flowering perennial, with a basal rosette of obovate to spoon-shaped leaves, to 20cm (8in) long. Flowering stem is erect, bearing smaller, linear-lanceolate leaves and a dense, cylindrical raceme of tiny white, star-shaped flowers, yellowing with age. Male and female flowers occur on different plants; female plants are leafier.

Common Name:
False Unicorn Root
Other Names:
Helonias, fairy wand, devil's bit
Botanical Name:
Chamaelirium luteum syn. Helonias dioica
Eastern N. America
Moist to wet, well-drained, rich, neutral to acid soil in partial shade.
By seed sown in autumn; by division in spring.
Rhizomes with roots are lifted in autumn and dried for use in infusions, liquid extracts, tablets and tinctures.
30-90cm (1-3ft)
15-38cm (6-15in)
Parts Used:
Rhizomes, roots
An astringent, bitter, diuretic herb that acts mainly as an ovarian and uterine tonic. It expels intestinal worms.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for menstrual and menopausal complaints, infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, fibroids, threatened miscarriage, and morning sickness. Excess causes vomiting. Often combined with Trillium erectum (See, bethroot). Also as a tonic for digestive and genito-urinary complaints, and to expel intestinal parasites. For use by qualified practitioners only.
Encylopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright ©: 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited pg 164