The herb false unicorn is native to North America east of the Mississippi River. It is similar in appearance but unrelated to “true” unicorn, Aletris farinose.
The root is the portion used medicinally. Native Americans and subsequently European physicians believed that false unicorn stimulates the uterus, promoting menstruation. It was used for dysmennorhea (painful menstruation), amenorrhoea (absent mensturuation), and irregular menstruation, as well as infections of the female genital tract.
Some contemporary herbalists claim that false unicorn can help “balance” the female reproductive system, normalizing hormone levels and optimizing ovarian action. On this basis, they recommend it for preventing miscarriages and treating infertility, dysmennorhea, PMS, pelvic inflammatory disease, and morning sickness. However, there is no meaningful evidence to support any of these uses. (For more information on why scientific studies are essential to determine whether folk uses of an herb are valid, see Why Does This Database Rely on Double-blind Studies?)
Some herbalists support these proposed effects by referring to the presence of the hormone-like substance diosgenin in false unicorn. They claim that diosgenin either has hormonal properties, or that the body can use it to create hormones. This concept, however, is based on a widespread misconception. It is true that diosgenin is used by industrial chemists as a raw material from which to economically synthesize sex hormones. This fact has been sufficient to lead to an association in people’s minds between diosgenin and hormones. However, diosgenin itself does NOT have any hormonal properties, and while chemists can convert diosgenin into female hormones, the body does not do so.
A typical dose of false unicorn is 1–2 grams three times daily, or an equivalent amount in tincture form.
False unicorn has not undergone any meaningful safety evaluation. Even though it is traditionally recommended for use during pregnancy, its reputation as a uterine stimulant would seem to suggest it shouldn’t be taken by pregnant women.1
Safety in young children, nursing women, or people with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.