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Common Names :Canadian Moonseed, Common Moonseed, or Yellow Parilla
Habitat: Menispermum Canadense is native to Eastern N. America – Quebec and New England to Georgia, west to Arkansas and Oklahoma. It grows on moist woods and hedges near streams. Deciduous woods and thickets, along streams, bluffs and rocky hillsides, fencerows, shade tolerant from sea level to 700 metres.
It is a woody deciduous climbing vine growing to 6 m tall. The leaves palmately lobed, 5–20 cm diameter with 3-7 shallow lobes, occasionally rounded and unlobed. It is in flower from Jun to July, and the seeds ripen from Oct to November The fruit are produced in 6–10 cm diameter clusters of purple-black berries, each berry is 1-1.5 cm in diameter. The seed inside the berry resembles a crescent moon, and is responsible for the common name. The fruit is ripe between September and October, the same general time frame in which wild grapes are ripe.The flowers are dioecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but only one sex is to be found on any one plant so both male and female plants must be grown if seed is required)The plant is not self-fertile.
The root is a rhizome, with a very long root of a fine yellow colour, and a round, striate stem, bright yellowgreen when young; leaves, roundish, cordate, peltate, three to seven angled, lobed. Flowers small, yellow, borne in profusion in axillary clusters. Drupes, round, black, with a bloom on them, one-seeded. Seed, crescent-shaped, compressed, the name Moonseed being derived from this lunate shape of the seed. The rhizome is wrinkled longitudinally and has a number of thin, brittle roots; fracture, tough, woody; internally reddish; a thick bark encloses a circle of porous, short, nearly square wood wedges and a large central pith. The root is the official part; it has a persistent bitter, acrid taste and is almost inodorous.
Succeeds in any moderately fertile soil that does not dry out excessively in summer, in sun or partial shade. Prefers a position in full sun. This species is hardy to about -30°c, but, due to a lack of summer heat, the plants usually produce soft growth in mild maritime areas and this can be cut to the ground at temperatures around -5 to -10°c. The plants do not require pruning, but can benefit from being cut back to ground level every 2 – 3 years in order to keep them tidy. A vigorous and fast-growing climbing plant that twines around supports, it also spreads freely by underground suckers. Dioecious. Male and female plants must be grown if seed is required.
Seed – sow late winter in a greenhouse. Two months cold stratification speeds up germination so it might be better to sow the seed as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Germination is usually good. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of mature wood, autumn in a frame. Division of suckers in early sprin. The suckers can be planted out direct into their permanent positions, though we prefer to pot them up and grow them on in light shade in a greenhouse or cold frame until they are established.
Parts Used: The rhizome and roots.
Constituents: Berberine and a white amorphous alkaloid termed Menispermum, which has been used as a substitute for Sarsaparilla, some starch and resin.
Canada moonseed has occasionally been used in the past for its medicinal virtues, though it is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. The roots are a bitter tonic, diuretic, laxative, nervine, purgative (in large doses), stomachic and tonic. A tea made from the root has been used in the treatment of indigestion, arthritis, bowel disorders and as a blood cleanser. The root is applied externally as a salve on chronic sores.
In small doses it is a tonic, diuretic, laxative and alterative. In larger doses it increases the appetite and action of the bowels; in full doses, it purges and causes vomiting. It is a superior laxative bitter; considered very useful in scrofula, cutaneous, rheumatic, syphilitic, mercurial and arthritic diseases; also for dyspepsia, chronic inflammation of the viscera and in general debility. Externally, the decoction has been applied as an embrocation in cutaneous and gouty affections.
Use with caution, see notes above on toxicity.
Other Uses:Cultivated in Britain as a hardy, deciduous, ornamental shrub. A closely allied species is indigenous to the temperate parts of Eastern Asia.
Known Hazards: All parts of these plants are known to be poisonous. The principal toxin is the alkaloid dauricine. The fruit of Canada Moonseed are poisonous and can be fatal. While foraging for wild grapes one should examine the seeds of the fruit to make sure one is not eating moonseeds: moonseeds have a single crescent-shaped seed, while grapes have round seeds. Differences in taste should also be an indicator of whether or not a specimen is grape or Moonseed, moonseeds have a taste that is described as “rank”. Also, the moonseed vine lacks tendrils, whilst the vine of the wild grape has forked tendrils.
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.