The word podophyllum might sound a little intimidating, but it’s just a fancy word for a type of flowering plant that’s also known as mayapple.

Have you tried mayapple? Tell us about it »

Mayapple is a perennial plant that can grow up to 18 inches tall. It’s native to Northeast United States, but similar species can be found around the world, especially in parts of Asia. Mayapple prefers land that is shady with well-hydrated soil full of nutrients. It bears a yellow berry that is poisonous when unripe.

Today, the mayapple is an FDA-approved drug, but it’s also listed in the Poisonous Plant Database. How is this herb plant being used in modern medicine?

The use of the mayapple dates back centuries to the very first civilizations. Native Americans used the mayapple to treat warts, kill parasitic worms, and relieve constipation.

When European settlers arrived, they used it to treat serious illnesses, like cholera, hepatitis, and kidney and bladder problems.

Chinese traditional medicine uses a form of mayapple to treat tumors, snakebites, and acne.

Fighting cancer is one of the amazing modern uses of podophyllum. Podophylllum is used to treat a variety of cancer types, including:

  • uterine
  • cervical
  • colon
  • breast
  • testicular
  • lung
  • lymphoma

Of course, the mayapple in its original form isn’t put to use. Scientists create treatments, such as etoposide and teniposide, which are then used in chemotherapy. These derivatives of podophyllum inhibit cancer cells from growing and dividing. Many studies are being conducted to better understand how this happens. 

Mayapple can kill non-cancerous growths like warts. When applied topically to a wart, podophyllum will cause it to die within 24 to 48 hours. This is because the herb’s antibacterial properties kill the tissue causing the growth.

It can treat leukoplakia. Leukoplakia is a condition that causes white patches to form on your gums, inner cheeks, mouth, and tongue. These white patches are difficult to get rid of. Doctors believe the main cause of leukoplakia is tobacco usage. Topical Application of podophyllum-based medication can cure leukoplakia.

It may also have a future in rheumatoid arthritis management. Could podophyllum-based medicine be used as a drug to treat people who have rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? One study showed that derivatives of mayapple can cause a significant improvement in the symptoms of RA. However, some people showed side effects like diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Although it’s still being determined how exactly the medicine works, researchers think it has to do with the effect of podophyllum on cell kinetics.

The Takeaway

Now that you are familiar with its scientific name, keep an ear open for podophyllum. But remember, while this plant is safe to use topically, it is poisonous when ingested. Scientists are aggressively researching its uses, and it will not be long until new discoveries are made.