Wednesday, 30 November 2016


Birthwort: Aristolochia

For centuries, birthwort has been used in traditional medicine in China (and ancient Greece before that) to treat arthritis and ease childbirth, among other conditions. (The flower is shaped like a uterus.) Today aristolochic acid is found in supplements for weight loss, menstrual symptoms, and rheumatism. It’s widely used in Asia, where it’s added to medicinal wine, ointments, and diet pills. One study found that between 1997 and 2003, fully one-third of Taiwanese were prescribed birthwort supplements by a Chinese medicine practitioner.

[The use of birthwort is] One of the best examples of the problems arising from the belief that the look of a plant determined its use medicinally[(because it is shaped like a uterus, it was assumed that it could help with childbirth amongst other related things)]. May have been responsible for many thousands of deaths since, at least, Roman times. Its poisonous component, aristolochic acid, continues to kill as a result of upper urinary tract cancers resulting from its use in Chinese medicine.

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