Wild yam has been used for medicinal purposes for centuries, though traditionally it was used for female complaints and childbirth. Currently, wild yam cream is marketed for either gender and to treat a variety of disorders including arthritis and sexual problems. Wild yam creams are available at most health food and drug stores. Speak to your health care provider before taking any herb or supplement.
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There is record that wild yam was used by the Aztec and Mayan civilizations to treat several disorders, usually relating to child birth and its pains. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the physicians from the Eclectic medical movements began using wild yam for its antispasmodic proprieties, where it was used to treat biliary colic and bowel spasms.
Wild yam, officially known as dioscorea villosa, is the rhizome for a perennial vine that grows from 9 to 15 feet in length. It prefers to grow in hardwood forests that provide sandy to clayloam soils with a 5 to 6 pH value. Plants grown at higher elevations are believed to produce higher concentrations of diosgenin, which is the active ingredient. The rhizome is a brown tuber which is 1/4 to 1/2 inch in diameter with white flesh.
Traditional and Herbal Uses
Wild yam was used by early Americans to treat colic, but today it is used for treating inflammation, asthma and muscle spasms. Herbalist Micheal Tierra, author of "The Way of Herbs," suggests its use to relieve pain associated with gallbladder stones or arthritis and to relieve abdominal cramping and chronic gas. It is commonly available as an extract or cream which may have the addition of a synthetic progesterone. Wild yam is also used in East Indian traditional medicine, Ayurveda, to treat hormonal and sexual problems. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, TCM, it is commonly prescribed for rheumatism, digestive disorders, asthma and urinary complaints. The variety of wild yam used in China is one of over 600 varieties available, though not as common as those grown in the U.S., Mexico and South America.
Uses for Men
Wild yam is not normally used in traditional or herbal medicine to treat male specific problems, though it is marketed as an alternative medicine cream to treat erectile dysfunction or to increase male libido. There is currently not enough evidence available to support these claims. According to Drugs.com, wild yam lacks the ability to increase production of any hormones including estrogen or progesterone. The active ingredient diosgenin, which is considered a phytoestrogen, cannot be converted to estrogen or progesterone inside the body.
Wild yam, including the cream, has not been fully studied, and drug interactions and contraindications have not been fully documented or identified. Therefore, it should not be used by pregnant or lactating women. Side effects for taking large doses include nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Before taking any herb or supplement you should first speak to your physician.