Dioscorea villosa L.

Last updated: 08 Aug 2016

Scientific Name

Dioscorea villosa L.


Dioscorea cliffortiana Lam., Dioscorea glauca Muhl. ex L.C.Beck, Dioscorea hexaphylla Raf.,Dioscorea hirticaulis Bartlett, Dioscorea lloydiana E.H.L.Krause, Dioscorea longifolia Raf., Dioscorea magaptera Raf., Dioscorea paniculata Michx., Dioscorea paniculata var. glabrifolia Bartlett, Dioscorea pruinosa Kunth, Dioscorea quaternata Walter, Dioscorea quaternata var. glauca (Muhl. ex L.C.Beck) Fernald, Dioscorea quinata Walter, Dioscorea repanda Raf. [Illegitimate], Dioscorea sativa L., Dioscorea villosa var. glabra J.Lloyd ex A.Gray, Dioscorea villosa var. glabrifolia (Bartlett) S.F.Blake, Dioscorea villosa var. glabrifolia (Bartlett) Fernald, Dioscorea villosa var. glabrifolia (Bartlett) W.Stone, Dioscorea villosa subsp. glauca (Muhl. ex L.C.Beck) R.Knuth, Dioscorea villosa subsp. hirticaulis (Bartlett) R.Knuth, Dioscorea villosa subsp. hirticaulis (Bartlett) H.E.Ahles, Dioscorea villosa var. laeviuscula Alph.Wood, Dioscorea villosa subsp. paniculata (Michc.) R.Knuth, Dioscorea villosa subsp. quaternata (Walter) R.Knuth. Dioscorea villosa f. villosa, Dioscorea villosa var. villosa, Dioscorea waltheri Desf., Merione villosa (L.) Salisb. [1]

Vernacular Name

English Wild yam, wild yam root. [2]

Geographical Distributions

Dioscorea villosa has been found grow naturally from New England to Minnesota and Ontario, then south to Virginia and Texas. The plant grows best in moist woods, swamps, thickets and hedges. The plant was commonly used throughout its range in North and central Americas. [3]

Botanical Description

D. villosa is a member of Dioscoreaceae family. [2] This plant is a thin, woody, many-branched roots yield a reddish-brown stem that grows to be roughly 5 m in length. 

The cordate leaves borne of the stem are roughly 5-10 cm in length, roughly 3cm in width. Leaves have very prominent veins which run lengthwise from the center top of the ehart shape out into a fan outer. They are usually alternate, but sometimes grow in twos and fours near the base of the plant.

The root runs horizontally beneath the surface of the ground, it is long, branched, crooked, and woody, forming tubers which are light brown outside and white fibrous inside.

Between the months of June and July, small, green or greenish-yellow flowers grow from the vine. The flowers are dioecious, with the male flowers growing in clusters of 3 to 5 as compound, loose spikes. The female flowers grow roughly 1- 2 cm apart as simple drooping spikes. [4]


No documentation.

Chemical Constituent

Saponin-rich extract of D. villosa extract has been reported to contain prosapogenin A, dioscin, deltonin, and diosgenin 3-O-[alpha-L-rhamnopyranosyl(1 --> 2)]-[beta-D-glucopyranosyl(1 --> 3)-beta-D-glucopyranosyl(1 --> 4)]-beta-D-glucopyranoside. [5]

Methanolic extract of D. villosa roots has been reported to contain methyl protodeltonin, methyl parvifloside, zingiberensis saponin I, and deltonin. [6]

D. villosa extract has been reported to contain diosgenin, dioscin, and spirostanol glycoside. [7][8]

Plant Part Used

Roots and rhizomes [9][10][11]

Traditional Use

The most common traditional usage of D. villosa plant is as a gynecological or pregnancy aid. During childbirth, the root of D. villosa was used by the Meskwaki tribe to reduce pain. [12] Native Americans boiled the root, which was to be used to treat menopause, morning sickness and menstrual pains. [9] This is likely due to the presence of the chemical diosgenin, which was not isolated and identified until much later. During pregnancy, small, frequent doses were given to the mother throughout the gestation period. [10]

D. villosa was also commonly used to treat bilious gastrointestinal complaints. The action of the root of D. villosa is noted as prompt and effective in relieving bilious colic. [10] 

Preclinical Data


Anti-estrogenic activity

In a laboratory setting, one study determined that D. villosa root extract that contain active ingredient of diosgenin exhibits mild anti-estrogenic activity. [13]

Hormonal regulatory activity

D. villosa root extract has been found to demonstrate moderate calpain regulating potential in a laboratory setting in ovariectomized rats. [14]

Antiproliferative activity

A study indicated that D. villosa extract has been demonstrated mild phytoestrogenic effects on mcf-7 human breast cancer cells. [15]

Antitumor activity

In a laboratory analysis, over 350 natural plant extracts were examined for their tumoricidal activity against neuroblastoma of malignant origin. Of the scores of plants examined, most demonstrated no activity. Of those that did demonstrate activity,the tumorcidal of D. villosa effect was the strongest leading researchers to suggest that it may hold potential for future drug development. [16]


Acute toxicity

D. villosa rhizome extract was study in vivo to evaluate their reno- or hepato-toxicity effect on Sprague-Dawley when administrated orally. From the result, it has been demonstrated that no acute reno- or hepato-toxicity associated with administration of D. villosa. [17]

Ethyl acetate, methanol and 50% aqueous methanol extract of D. villosa has been demonstrated a significant toxicity on normal renal mammalian fibroblast (NRK49F) and tubular epithelial cells (NRK52E). [18]

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

Menopausal activity

In a human study using D. villosa extract, 23 menopausal women were treated for menopausal symptoms but there was no significant difference between the placebo group and the group using the extract. [19]


No documentation.

Side effects

D. villosa is generally considered to be safe and free from side effects when used as directed for short-term use. [7][19]

D. villosa contains the phytoestrogen, diosgenin and should be avoided by anyone with hormone dependent conditions. This includes breast, uterine and cervical cancer; uterine or breast fibroids; endometriosis. [11]

Not to be used by patients with kidney disease or renal complications, or those taking medications that may further stress kidney function. [17][18]

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women and not to be used with children.[11]

Age limitation

No documentation.

Adverse reaction                                                                                                                                                                                              

No documentation.

Interaction & Depletion

Interaction with drug

Drug interactions have not been reported, but due to the phytoestrogenic properties of the herb, it should not be taken in combination with any hormonal therapies including contraceptives. [11]

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation.


No documentation.


Dosage Range

D. villosa root is available as a decoction, tincture, and liquid extract.

As a tincture, the common dosage is 2-10 ml, three times daily.

The decoction of dried root of D. villosa may be taken in a dosage of 2-4 g, three times daily.

As a liquid extract, it should be taken at a dosage ratio of 1:1, 2-4 ml, three times daily. [20]

Most Common Dosage

No documentation.


No documentation.

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing

No documentation.


  1. The Plant List. Ver1.1. Dioscorea villosa L. [homepage on the Internet]. c2013 [updated 2012 Mac 23, cited 2016, Aug 08]. Available from: http://www.theplantlist.org/tpl1.1/record/kew-241123.
  2. Quattrocchi U. CRC world dictionary of medicinal and poisonous plants: Common names, scientific names, eponyms, synonyms, and etymology. Volume II C-D. Boca Raton, Florida: CRC Press, 2012; p. 724
  3. North American Native Plant Society. Dioscorea villosa, Wild Yam. [homepage on the Internet]. No date [cited 2016 Aug 08]. Available from: http://www.nanps.org/index.php/gardening/native-plants-to-know/122-dioscorea-villosa-wild-yam-5-4.
  4. Alternative Nature Online Herbal. Wild yam herbal use and medicinal properties. [homepage on the Internet]. No date [cited 2016 Aug 08]. Available from: https://altnature.com/gallery/wild_yam.htm.
  5. Yoon KD, Kim J. Preparative separation of dioscin derivatives from Dioscorea villosa by centrifugal partition chromatography coupled with evaporative light scattering detection. J Sep Sci. 2008;31(12)2486-2491.
  6. Hayes PY, Lambert LK, Lehmann R, Penman K, Kitching W, De Voss JJ. Complete (1)H and (13)C assignments of the four major saponins from Dioscorea villosa (wild yam). Magn Reson Chem. 2007;45(11):1001-1005.
  7. Tada Y, Kanda N, Haratake A, Tobiishi M, Uchiwa H, Watanabe S. Novel effects of diosgenin on skin aging. Steroids. 2009;74(6):504-511.
  8. Hu CC, Lin JT, Liu SC, Yang DJ. A spirostanol glycoside from wild yam (Dioscorea villosa) extract and its cytostatic activity on three cancer cells. J Food Drug Anal. 2007;15(3):310-315.
  9. Duke JA. The green pharmacy herbal handbook: your comprehensive reference t the best herbs for healing. Emmaus, PA: Rodale Inc, 2000; p. 223-224.
  10. Hutchen A. Indian herbalogy of North America. Boston, MA: Shambala, 1969. p.301-302.
  11. University of Maryland Medical Center. Wild yam. [homepage on the Internet]. c2016 [updated 2014 June 26, cited 2016 Aug 08]. Available from: http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/wild-yam.
  12. Nelson W. Native American garden plants. Herb Society of America: New England Unit, 2003.
  13. Rosenberg Zand RS, Jenkins DJA, Diamandis EP. Effects of natural products and nutraceuticals on steroid hormone-regulated gene expression. Clin Chim Acta. 2001;312:213-219.
  14. Hsu KH, Chang CC, Tsai HD, Tsai FJ, Hsieh YY. Effects of yam and diosgenin on calphin systems in skeletal muscle of ovariectomized rats. Taiwan J Obstet Gynecol. 2008;47(2):180-186.
  15. Park MK, Kwon HY, Ahn WS, Bae S, Rhyu MR, Lee YJ. Estrogen activities and the cellular effects of natural progesterone from wild yam extract in MCF-7 human breast cancer cells. Am J Chin Med. 2009;37(1):159-167.
  16. Mazzio EA, Soliman KF. In vitro screening for the tumoricidal properties of international medicinal herbs. Phytother Res. 2009;23(3):385-398.
  17. Wojcikowski K, Wohlmuth H, Johnson DW, Gobe G. Dioscorea villosa (wild yam) induces chronic kidney injury via pro-fibrotic pathways. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008;46(9):3122-3131.
  18. Wocjcikowski K, Wohlmult H, Johnson DW, Rolfe M, Gobe G. An in vitro investigation of herbs traditionally used for kidney and urinary system disorders: potential therapeutic and toxic effects. Nephrology (Carlton). 2009;14(1):70-79.
  19. Komesaroff PA, Black CV, Cable V, Sudhir K. Effects of wild yam extract on menopausal symptoms, lipids and sex hormones in healthy menopausal women. Climacteric. 2001; 4(2):144-150.
  20. Pengelly A, Bennett K. Appalachian plant monographs: Dioscorea villosa L. Wild yam. Maryland: Appalachian Center for Ethnobotanical Studies, Frostburg State University; 2011.