What’s the Health Potential of Mayapple?

What’s the Health Potential of Mayapple?


Long history of medicinal use

Mayapple, or Podophyllum peltatum, is a flowering perennial plant. It’s also called American mandrake, wild mandrake, and ground lemon. It’s native to the northeast United States, but similar species can be found around the world, especially in parts of Asia. It grows best in lightly shaded areas. It prefers well-hydrated soil that’s rich in nutrients. It bears a yellow berry that’s poisonous when unripe.

Mayapple has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Native Americans used it to treat warts, kill parasitic worms, and relieve constipation. When European settlers arrived, they used it to treat several serious illnesses, including cholera, hepatitis, and kidney and bladder problems. In Chinese traditional medicine, a related plant is used to treat tumors, snakebites, and acne.

Modern research suggests that products derived from mayapple are useful for treating a variety of conditions, including cancer, warts, and leukoplakia.


Podophyllotoxin is a compound that’s extracted from the mayapple plant. According to researchers in the journal Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine, podophyllotoxin and its derivatives are used in chemotherapy to treat a variety of cancer types, including:

  • cervical carcinoma
  • osteosarcoma
  • nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • colon cancer
  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • testicular carcinoma
  • small cell lung cancer
  • lymphoma

For example, etoposide and teniposide are two semisynthetic derivatives of podophyllotoxin that are used to treat cancer.


Mayapple can also kill some types of noncancerous growths, including certain kinds of warts. According to the Mayo Clinic , applying podophyllum resin to a wart will kill it within 24 to 48 hours. The wart should start to slough off within three days of treatment.

Podophyllum resin is only available with a prescription. It can cause serious side effects if used incorrectly. If your doctor advises you to apply it to a wart, follow their directions carefully. More likely, they will apply it to your wart in their office.


Your doctor may also prescribe a podophyllum solution to treat leukoplakia. This condition causes white patches to form on your mouth, gums, inner cheeks, and tongue. These patches can be difficult to get rid of. The main cause of leukoplakia is likely tobacco usage.

The takeaway

Mayapple has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions. In modern medicine, your doctor may prescribe products derived from mayapple to treat certain kinds of cancer, warts, or leukoplakia. While the plant is generally safe to use topically, it’s poisonous when ingested. Always follow your doctor’s directions when using medications derived from it.

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