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illustration of May Apple from Jacob Bigelow’s American medical botany written in 1817.  
This image of may apple comes from Jacob Bigelow’s American medical botany written in 1817.   
This book, as well as the others quoted from above, are available in the John R. Martin Rare Book Room in Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.  

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Podophyllum peltatum, found in eastern North America, as been used for its medicinal properties for centuries (Singh, Fisher, Shagalov, Varma, & Siegel, 2018). Native American tribes used it to treat snake bites and warts, to induce vomiting, to destroy parasitic worms and even as a suicidal agent. The United State Pharmacopeia has listed Podophyllum peltatum as a purgative and anthelminthic since its founding in 1820 (Maatouk, 2016; Schwartz & Norton, 2002). In 1942 a paper was published on the successful use of Podophyllum peltatum to treat genital warts and since then studies have shown that it can also be used to treat psoriasis (a skin condition) and as antineoplastic (inhibit or halt the development of a cancer tumor) and antiviral agent (Bedows & Hatfield, 1982; Bohlin & Rosen, 1996; Guerram, JIANG, & Zhang, 2012; Hammonds, Denyer, Jackson, & Irving, 1996; Kaplan, 1942; Loike & Horwitz, 1976; Minev, 2011; Sharquie, Noaimi, & Al-Zoubaidi, 2015; Wantke, Fleischl, Götz, & Jarisch, 1993).

Historical Use

Historical information on the use of may apple can be found in R. Eglesfeld’s Medical Botany written in 1847. The root of this plant was commonly used by Native Americans as a powerful purgative (laxative). It was later found that small doses could be used as an emetic (causing vomiting).

This image comes from Jacob Bigelow’s American medical botany written in 1817.   
This book, as well as the others quoted from above, are available in the John R. Martin Rare Book Room in Hardin Library for the Health Sciences.  

Latest Research

  • Dangerous plants in dermatology: Legal and controlled
    by Deeptej Singh on June 18, 2018 at 10:00 am

    The plant and mushroom kingdoms have species used for intoxication, inebriation, or recreation. Some of these species are toxic. Given that many of these plants or substances are illegal and have histories of abuse, much of the research regarding therapeutic application is based on basic science, animal studies, and traditional use. This review examines Cannabis, Euphorbia, Ricinus, Podophyllum, Veratrum, mushrooms, and nightshades, along with resveratrol and cocaine as they relate to…

  • Podophyllum peltatum and observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians: William Bartram’s preservation of Native American pharmacology
    by Laura E Ray on March 28, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Historians have examined the significant contributions John and William Bartram made to 18th- and 19th-century knowledge of indigenous North American flora. However, the Bartrams’ contribution to medicinal botanical knowledge, particularly William Bartram’s compilation of Indians’ knowledge on the preparation and use of medicinal botanicals, is not well-known. In addition, while William Bartram’s contemporaries relied on his accounts of medicinal botanicals, they rarely acknowledged Bartram or…

  • Geographic information system method for assessing chemo-diversity in medicinal plants
    by Rita M Moraes on January 6, 2006 at 11:00 am

    The spatial distribution of wild germplasm of Podophyllum peltatum L. (American mayapple) has been analyzed using the Geographic Information System (GIS) with the objective to develop a method and a database for evaluation of biotic and abiotic factors influencing drug yield, and to map elite genotypes for propagation and improvement. The field assessment followed a standard procedure including geographical coordinates of each accession, leaf biomass randomly harvested, identification of…

  • Pharmacy through the ages. Podophyllum peltatum
    by Dennis B Worthen on July 3, 2003 at 10:00 am

    No abstract

  • Myths and mandrakes
    by David J Wilkinson on May 2, 2003 at 10:00 am

    No abstract


Bedows, E., & Hatfield, G. (1982). An investigation of the antiviral activity of Podophyllum peltatum. Journal of Natural Products, 45(6), 725-729.

Bohlin, L., & Rosen, B. (1996). Podophyllotoxin derivatives: drug discovery and development. Drug Discovery Today, 1(8), 343-351.

Guerram, M., JIANG, Z.-Z., & Zhang, L.-Y. (2012). Podophyllotoxin, a medicinal agent of plant origin: past, present and future. Chinese journal of natural medicines, 10(3), 161-169.

Hammonds, T., Denyer, S., Jackson, D., & Irving, W. (1996). Studies to show that with podophyllotoxin the early replicative stages of herpes simplex virus type 1 depend upon functional cytoplasmic microtubules. Journal of Medical Microbiology, 45(3), 167-172.

Kaplan, I. (1942). Condylomata acuminate. New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, 94, 388-390.

Loike, J. D., & Horwitz, S. B. (1976). Effects of podophyllotoxin and VP-16-213 on microtubule assembly in vitro and nucleoside transport in HeLa cells. Biochemistry, 15(25), 5435-5443.

Maatouk, I. (2016). History of Podophyllin. JAMA Dermatol, 152(10), 1105. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.6301

Minev, B. (2011). Cancer management in man: chemotherapy, biological therapy, hyperthermia and supporting measures (Vol. 13): Springer Science & Business Media.

Schwartz, J., & Norton, S. A. (2002). Useful plants of dermatology. VI. The mayapple (Podophyllum). J Am Acad Dermatol, 47(5), 774-775. doi:10.1067/mjd.2002.125081

Sharquie, K. E., Noaimi, A. A., & Al-Zoubaidi, M. S. (2015). Treatment of basal cell carcinoma by topical 25% podophyllin solution. Journal of Cosmetics, Dermatological Sciences and Applications, 5(03), 189.

Singh, D., Fisher, J., Shagalov, D., Varma, A., & Siegel, D. M. (2018). Dangerous plants in dermatology: Legal and controlled. Clinics in Dermatology, 36(3), 399-419. doi:10.1016/j.clindermatol.2018.03.013

Wantke, F., Fleischl, G., Götz, M., & Jarisch, R. (1993). Topical podophyllotoxin in psoriasis vulgaris. Dermatology, 186(1), 79-79.