Last week was my first medicinal herb walk of the year and as always in the spring we were greeted with many mayapples. I love this plant because it just looks so cool! However, I never know the medicinal uses for it so I went and found out more about it for everyone. Enjoy!
Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, was one of the first plants American settlers noticed when they arrived on the east coast. This plant was noticed because of it looks so different from so many other plants. This plant looks like a little umbrella. Younger plants have just one leaf and grow this leaf directly from the ground. When the plant is 2-3 years old it will sprout a second leaf when it comes up in the spring, dividing into two leaves about 6 inches from the ground with two umbrella tops. At this node where the leaves split a flower will form, followed by a fruit when it is pollinated. This fruit is edible and was the reason settlers brought it back to England where it now also grows. The root is used medicinally and harvested when the plant is at least 6 years old, ideally 12 years old.
The medicinal root is not one to be played with. It was primarily used in the 19th century as a purgative, used for various diseases we now know are associated with inflammation, but were treated through expelling, both vomiting and diarrhea. It was even used among some Native American communities for suicides and poisonings. As a purgative it was thought to be useful for fevers, rheumatism, and syphilis.
In smaller doses it was used for lack of digestive tone and sever inflammation of mucous membranes. Topically, as a member of the Berberidaceae family with barberry, it is effective for skin lesions including genital warts. Most commonly now, as a medicine it is being looked at for treating cancer. An Asian species is more commonly harvested for this commercially due to the higher amounts of podophyllotoxin found in the roots.
Recipe: Jams and jellies
As a good note: the fruits can be harvested while still green (about golf ball size or a bit larger) and kept on the counter until they turn ripe, yellow, so that you get to them before all of the animals that want to eat them.
Jillian Carnrick, founder and manager of The Dancing Herbalist, has a Masters of Science Degree in Herbal Medicine, practices as a nutritionist, and is a Certified Personal Trainer and Exercise Is Medicine Professional through the American College of Sports Medicine. Join her for live classes and The Dancing Herbalist’s home herbalist courses online for more learning opportunities.
Medicinal information compiled from Sasha M. White, published in UPS 2015 publication