Mayapple, American Mandrake – Podophyllum peltatum

Parts used: root, fruit

Traditional uses: Poisonous. Root soaked in whiskey and taken for rheumatism and as a purgative. Boiled root eaten as a purgative. Powdered root used on ulcers and sores. Fruit used for food.

“Podophyllum is a medicine of most extensive service; its greatest power lies in its action upon the liver and bowels. It is a gastro-intestinal irritant, a powerful hepatic and intestinal stimulant. In congested states of the liver, it is employed with the greatest benefit, and for all hepatic complaints it is eminently suitable, and the beneficial results can hardly be exaggerated. In large doses it produces nausea and vomiting, and even inflammation of the stomach and intestines, which has been known to prove fatal. In moderate doses, it is a drastic purgative with some cholagogue action. Like many other hepatic stimulants, it does not increase the secretion of bile so much when it acts as a purgative. Podophyllum is a powerful medicine exercising an influence on every part of the system, stimulating the glands to healthy action. It is highly valuable in dropsy, biliousness, dyspepsia, liver and other disorders. Its most beneficial action is obtained by the use of small doses frequently given. In such circumstances, it acts admirably upon all the secretions, removing obstructions, and producing a healthy condition of all the organs in the system. In still smaller doses, it is a valuable remedy in skin diseases. It may either be given in infusion, decoction, tincture or substance, but it is not to be given warm. It is often employed in combination with other purgatives, such as colocynth, aloes or rhubarb, and also administered in pills, with extract of henbane or belladonna, to prevent griping. Externally applied the resin, of podophyllum acts as an irritant. If incautiously handled, it often produces conjunctivitis, and in America it has on this account, when dissolved in alcohol, been used as a counterirritant.” ~Grieve MH

***Cautions: Poisonous ***

Used as a violent purgative – “The yarb doctors are familiar with many purgatives or ‘loosenin’ weeds.’ One of the most violent and griping is the root of the May apple or mandrake, made into a thick tea or ooze.” ~Randolph OMF 96-97

For constipation – “Mayapple roots broken in between the joints and boiled in water to make tea. Drink this for constipation.” ~Parler FBA II 1897

For fevers – “May Apple…roots soaked in water was used for fever.” ~Parler FBA II 2216

Taken for liver health – “You can get good liver medicine from hog apple roots (Podophyllum peltatum) or May apples.” ~Parler FBA III 2632


Grieve, Margaret A Modern Herbal (MH)

Moerman, Daniel E. Native American Ethnobotany (NAE)

Parler, Mary Celestia Folk Beliefs from Arkansas (FBA)

Randolph, Vance Ozark Magic and Folklore (OMF)