Eryngium, Epilobium, and Fouquieria: Overlooked Men’s Health Herbs
Eric Yarnell, ND, RH(AHG)
Most naturopathic physicians are of course familiar with the use of Serenoa repens (saw palmetto) and a handful of other herbs (Prunus africanum [pygeum] and Urtica dioica [nettles] root) in men’s health. Because few naturopathic physicians focus on men’s health and because of insufficient general interest, there has been little expansion beyond this. This article aims to introduce three herbs rarely utilized in western herbal medicine to help improve the effectiveness of naturopathic physicians who work with men’s health issues, and to broaden the scope of inquiry into possible therapies in this area.
EryngiumYuccifolium (Rattlesnake Master)
This exotic-sounding, strangely silver-purple herb is indigenous to a band across the southern and southeastern portion of the United States. It is a member of the Apiaceae family, and contains strong, aromatic resins (which in turn are made of various terpenoids and coumarins) in its roots that make it a potent medicine. A relative of this herb that hails from Northern Eurasia, Eryngium maritimum (sea holly), is perhaps better known. Unlike sea holly, however, rattlesnake master has a strong affinity for the prostate and other pelvic organs.
Rattlesnake master works primarily by modulating inflammation. While little research has investigated this herb directly, several of its close relatives, such as E. campestre (field eryngo) and E. foetidum (spiritweed), have shown significant inflammation modulating effects addressing multiple pathways and chemical mediators in vitro and in animal models (Strzelecka, et al. 2005; Garcia, et al. 1999). As the common name rattlesnake master implies, this herb also has a long history of use to treat snakebite. While this effect has not been rigorously investigated, other reports support that E. creticum (eryngo) is effective against scorpion venom (Afifi, et al. 1990).
Rattlesnake master is best extracted with 80-90% ethanol to pull out the resin fraction. A typical dose is 1 ml three to four times per day. We have previously reported the case of a patient with bladder cancer whose lower urinary tract symptoms were consistently relieved by use of rattlesnake master tincture when nothing else, including phenazopyridine, was effective (Abascal and Yarnell 2003). It has also consistently been helpful in patients with chronic prostatitis or other lower urinary tract inflammatory syndromes. The only adverse effect so far noted is nausea, which is readily prevented or alleviated by taking the medicine with food.
Epilobium Angustifolium (Fireweed)
Fireweed is a member of the Onagraceae family, along with evening primrose. There are many species in the genus that are likely medicinal. The Pacific Northwest native species E. angustifolium (rosebay willow herb, or more often fireweed) is one of these. Though sometimes referred to as willow herbs, members of this genus are not related to Salix spp (willow).
This weedy plant is a highly renewable resource, vastly underutilized as a pelvic inflammation modulator. Unlike rattlesnake master, it does not contain resins, but instead flavonoid glycosides and tannins. Thus, while it too helps regulate inflammation in the pelvic organs, it likely does it by somewhat different mechanisms. At least one report suggests it acts, in part, by modulating prostaglandin formation (Juan, et al. 1988).
Beyond its potential benefits for inflammation, Eurasian species of fireweed (such as E. parvifolium, or small-flowered willow herb) were also promoted as a treatment for men with benign prostatic hyperplasia symptoms by the Austrian herbalist Maria Treben. Though this gentle herb was dismissed by some skeptics, later reports support that it has actions that may be beneficial in men with BPH (Lesuisse, et al. 1996). Other research in rats shows that fireweed can have significant androgenic effects (Hiermann and Bucar 1997). Finally, fireweed has been shown to inhibit proliferation of prostate cancer in vitro (Vitalone, et al. 2001).
Fireweed is a multifunctional herb for support of male reproductive tract health. It can be used with inflammation conditions, to help relieve BPH symptoms, and possibly even in men with prostate cancer. Typically, a 30% ethanol tincture of the flowering tops is used at a dose of 3-5 ml tid, though often it is used in formulas combined with other herbs. It is extremely safe with no observed adverse effects beyond occasional gastric upset.
Fouquieria Splendens (Ocotillo)
Few of the plants of the Sonoran desert of the southwestern US and northern Mexico are as beautiful as ocotillo. The long, spiny canes burst into fireworks of red flowers when it rains. The resinous bark, with the spikes pounded off, yields an intriguing medicine that has as yet yielded no interest to scientific researchers. Practically the only one to write anything about it is the herbalist Michael Moore.
Ocotillo bark was taught to this author by the late Dr. Silena Heron as the quintessential pelvic lymphagogue. It is used whenever there is chronic congestion. Its mechanism of action is unknown, though it likely has at least some inflammation modulating activity. Though Dr. Heron used it primarily for chronic female reproductive tract conditions including ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and recurrent urinary tract infections, it has also proven very helpful as part of a protocol for men with BPH and/or chronic prostatitis.
A high ethanol (90%) tincture of ocotillo best extracts its properties. A typical dose is just 1 ml tid. Because this is a slow-growing desert plant, higher doses should not be used lest overharvesting start to become a problem. It is actually illegal to harvest wild ocotillo in Arizona due to the pressure placed on wild populations by urban sprawl. There are no known adverse effects.
Abascal K, Yarnell E (2003) “Eryngium yuccifolium (button eryngo): case study, research, and clinical use” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 2(4):
Afifi FU, Al-Khalil S, Aqel M, et al. (1990)”Antagonistic effect of Eryngium creticum extract on scorpion venom in vitro” J Ethnopharmacol 29(1):43-9.
Garcia MD, Saenz MT, Gomez MA, Fernandez MA (1999) “Topical antiinflammatory activity of phytosterols isolated from Eryngium foetidum on chronic and acute inflammation models” Phytother Res 13(1):78-80.
Hiermann A, Bucar F (1997) “Studies of Epilobium angustifolium extracts on growth of accessory sexual organs in rats” J Ethnopharmacol 55(3):179-83
Juan H, Sametz W, Hiermann A (1988) “Anti-inflammatory effects of a substance extracted from Epilobium angustifolium” Agents Actions 23:106-9
Lesuisse D, Berjonneau J, Ciot C, et al. (1996) “Determination of oenothein B as the active 5-alpha -reductase-inhibiting principle of the folk medicine Epilobium parviflorum” J Nat Prod 59(5):490-2
Strzelecka M, Bzowska M, Koziel J, et al. (2005) “Anti-inflammatory effects of extracts from some traditional Mediterranean diet plants” J Physiol Pharmacol 56(Suppl 1):139-56.
Vitalone A, Bordi F, Baldazzi C, et al. (2001) ” Anti-proliferative effect on a prostatic epithelial cell line (PZ-HPV-7) by Epilobium angustifolium L” Farmaco 56(5-7):483-9
Eric Yarnell, ND, RH is a graduate of Bastyr University. He completed a two-year residency with Silena Heron, ND, and served as chair of botanical medicine at SCNM. He is past senior editor of the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. Dr. Yarnell is a founding member and current president of the Botanical Medicine Academy and author of numerous textbooks and articles, including Naturopathic Urology andMen’s Health, Naturopathic Gastroenterology and Clinical Botanical Medicine. His area of clinical focus is urology and men’s health. He is assistant professor in botanical medicine at Bastyr University.