HomeHerb DatabaseVirginia Snakeroot Monday, July 22, 2024  
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Virginia Snakeroot

  • Aristolochia serpentaria L.
  • Aristolociaceae
  • Birthwort family

Common Names

herbsPelican flower
herbsRed river snakeroot
herbsSangree root
herbsTexas snakeroot
herbsThick birthwort

Parts Usually Used


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Virginia snakeroot is a delicate perennial plant; its fibrous, horizontal rootstock produces many thin roots, as well as a wavy stem that reaches 1-3 feet in height. The alternate thin, green leaves are ovate and cordate, tapering gradually to a point at the apex; strongly arrow-shaped. A few solitary purple flowers, calabash-pipelike, with an S-shaped calyx inflated at both ends, bloom on short, scaly branches near the bottom of the plant, often under the litter, during June and July.

Where Found

Grows in rich, dry woods of the eastern United States. Connecticut to Florida; Texas to Missouri, Ohio. Too rare to harvest.

Medicinal Properties

Anodyne, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, bitter tonic, nervine, stimulant


Small doses will stir a poor appetite, and promote proper digestion, but large doses will cause vomiting, diarrhea , vertigo, and other unpleasant effects. In proper doses it is said to stimulate blood circulation, reduce fever, stomachache, smallpox, scarlet fever, pneumonia, croup, flatulence, suppressed menses. The tea gargled for sore throats. At one time, this herb was perhaps the most highly valued of snakebite remedies, various other species of its genus also being used in different parts of the world for the same purpose. Native Americans treated snakebite by cutting into the bite and sucking out the poisonous venom, then applying the chewed root of the plant to the wound.

Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: steep 1 tsp. dried rootstock and roots in 1 cup boiling water. Take 1 tbsp. 3 to 6 times per day.

Tincture: a dose is from 1 to 20 drops, taken in cold water. Use with caution.


Virginia snakeroot contains an alkaloid which, in pure form, can paralyze the respiratory system. Use only small doses of the plant; and with medical supervision if possible. Too rare to harvest.

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