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Endangered Plants and Women’s Health: Fertility Herbs At Risk

Written by Susan Leopold, PhD

It was early this spring in 2021 when visiting a friend in southern Virginia that I came across a rare encounter with a small colony of just emerging False Unicorn root (Chamaelirium luteum). This sacred fertility herb was thriving in the woods nestled throughout a graveyard of rusty old farm equipment. Hiding in plain site along a winding creek there were about 20 or so plants spread out in small clusters with the tricking sound of a winding creek. I was in awe of these divine forest beings. A part of me deeply hoped that the digger’s hand would never find this population and that the rusty old farm equipment would be a deterrent, a strategic decoy. We don’t yet understand how to successfully cultivate this plant. It can be germinated from seed, but it takes years to grow. It needs a certain type of soil to thrive, and it produces both male and female flowers, which complicates its ability to reproduce under cultivated circumstances. So, ironically, we do not know how to propagate and cultivate a plant that is highly desired for women’s reproductive health. If there were one plant that I feel strongly about taking out of commerce in Appalachia, this is the plant I would choose.

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