The Virginia snakeroot is attracting increasing interest for its medicinal virtues and as a result is becoming uncommon in the wild. It merits consideration for cultivation in forest areas. It is used in a number of proprietary medicines for treating skin, circulatory and kidney disorders. 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 root is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use.
The root is antidote, anti-inflammatory, bitter tonic, diaphoretic, diuretic and stimulant[1, 2, 4, 21, 46, 200]. Traditionally it was chewed in minute doses or used as a weak tea to promote sweating, stimulate the appetite and promote expectoration[4, 222]. The native North Americans considered it to have analgesic properties and used an infusion internally to treat rheumatism, pain – but especially sharp pains in the breast, and as a wash for headaches. This plant should be used with caution, it is irritating in large doses and can cause nausea, griping pains in the bowels etc[4, 21, 222]. It should only be used internally under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.
The bruised root is placed in hollow teeth for treating toothache.
An extract of the root can be drunk to relieve stomach pains.
The boiled root, or a decoction of the whole plant, can be used to treat fevers.
The chewed root or crushed leaves was applied to snakebites[207, 213]. This species was the most popular snakebite remedy in N. America. It has also been applied externally to slow-healing wounds and in the treatment of pleurisy.