Aristolochia infesta Salisb., Prodr. stirp. Chap. Allerton, 215. 1796, nom. illeg.
Aristolochia longa Georgi, Beschr. russ. Reich vol. 3, 5, 1274. 1800, nom. illeg. (non L.).
Aristolochia rotunda Georgi, Beschr. russ. Reich vol. 3, 5, 1274. 1800, nom. illeg. (non L.).
Habitats: Birthwort is native to east and south east Europe. Naturalized in Britain. It grows in the waste ground, gardens, orchards etc.
Description: Birthwort is a evergreen and deciduous woody vines and herbaceous perennials plant, growing to 0.7 m (2ft 4in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in). The smooth stem is erect or somewhat twining. The simple leaves are alternate and cordate, membranous, growing on leaf stalks. There are no stipules.
The flowers grow in the leaf axils. They are inflated and globose at the base, continuing as a long perianth tube, ending in a tongue-shaped, brightly colored lobe. There is no corolla. The calyx is one to three whorled, and three to six toothed. The sepals are united (gamosepalous). There are six to 40 stamens in one whorl. They are united with the style, forming a gynostemium. The ovary is inferior and is four to six locular.
It is in leaf 11-May It is in flower from Jul to September. These flowers have a specialized pollination mechanism. The plants are aromatic and their strong scent attracts insects. The inner part of the perianth tube is covered with hairs, acting as a fly-trap. These hairs then wither to release the fly, covered with pollen.
The fruit is dehiscent capsule with many endospermic seeds.
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The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil.The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils..It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade.It requires moist soil.
Prefers a well-drained loamy soil, rich in organic matter, in sun or semi-shade[1, 134]. Succeeds in ordinary garden soil. The plant has an invasive root system. Most species in this genus have malodorous flowers, often smelling like decaying flesh, that are pollinated by flies. The insects that pollinate this plant become trapped in the hairy throat of the flower. Birthwort was formerly cultivated as a medicinal plant in most of Europe.
Seed – best sown in a greenhouse as soon as it is ripe in the autumn. Pre-soak stored seed for 48 hours in hand-hot water and surface sow in a greenhouse. Germination usually takes place within 1 – 3 months at 20°c. Stored seed germinates better if it is given 3 months cold stratification at 5°c. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant out in late spring or early summer after the last expected frosts. Division in autumn. Root cuttings in winter
Birthwort has a very long history of medicinal use, though it has been little researched scientifically and is little used by present-day herbalists. It is an aromatic tonic herb that stimulates the uterus, reduces inflammation, controls bacterial infections and promotes healing. The juice from the stems was used to induce childbirth. The plant contains aristolochic acid which, whilst stimulating white blood cell activity and speeding the healing of wounds, is also carcinogenic and damaging to the kidneys. The flowering herb, with or without the root, is abortifacient, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, oxytocic and stimulant. Another report says that the root is used on its own whilst a third says that either the fresh flowering herb or the dried rootstock can be used. The plant should not be used internally without experienced supervision, externally it is used in the treatment of slow-healing cuts, eczema, infected toe and finger nails etc. Use with caution, internal consumption can cause damage to the kidneys and uterine bleeding. It should not be used by pregnant women
Used to treat: abdominal complaints, cancer, cancer (nose), depurative, leg ulcers, menstrual troubles, polyps (nose), tumor, wounds. Not used much today, birthwort was formerly used to treat wounds, sores, and snake bite. It has been taken after childbirth to prevent infection and is also a potent menstruation-inducing herbs and a (very dangerous) abortifacient. A decoction was taken to encourage healing of ulcers. Birthwort has also been used for asthma and bronchitis.
Chinese research into aristolochic acid has shown it to be an effective wound healer. Aristolochia species are used in China, but the medicinal use has been banned in Germany because of the toxicity of aristolochic acid. Chinese herbalists use the fruit when there is lung heat and inflammation, with or without deficiency, but with the presence of phlegm. For these conditions, it stops coughing and wheezing. It is also used internally to treat bleeding hemorrhoids.
The root and stem are poisonous. The plant contains aristolochic acid, this has received rather mixed reports on its toxicity. According to one report aristolochic acid stimulates white blood cell activity and speeds the healing of wounds, but is also carcinogenic and damaging to the kidneys. Another report says that it is an active antitumour agent but is too toxic for clinical use. Another report says that aristolochic acid has anti-cancer properties and can be used in conjunction with chemotherapy and radiotherapy and that it also increases the cellular immunity and phagocytosis function of the phagocytic cells
It was formerly used as a medicinal plant (though poisonous) and is now occasionally found established outside of its native range as a relic of cultivation. A recent study suggests that it is the cause for thousands of kidney failures in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia and Croatia where the plant is unintentionally consumed through flour. This has been discovered after a clinic for obesity in Belgium used Aristolochiaceae as a diuretic, after a few months some of the subjects suffered from kidney carcinoma and kidney failure.
The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.