White Bryony

Bryonia dioica

Botanical Name: Bryonia alba, B. dioica (pictured below), Cucurbitaceae

Common names: Bryonia, White Bryony, English Mandrake, Wild Vine, Wild Hops, Wild Nep, Tamus, Ladies’ Seal, Tetterbury, Snakeweed, Devil’s Turnip, Bastard Turnip.

Plant description: Bryonia is a perennial climbing vine with tuberous roots, growing up to 4 meters in length. The stems climb by means of unbranched tendrils, the leaves cordate and five-lobed, the terminal lobe being larger that the others. The flowers are whitish-green with distinct green veins, borne in axillary racemose panicles or sub-umbellate fascicles (bundles). Bryonia alba is monoecious, the calyx as long as corolla, stigmas glabrous, giving way to black fruits. Bryonia dioica is dioecious, the calyx only about half the size of the corolla, the stigmas with short hairs and the fruits red.

Habitat, ecology and distribution: Bryonia is native to temperate Europe southwards into the Mediterranean and Balkans, extending eastwards into Russia, Turkey and Iran. In North America it is an introduced species, occurring only sporadically. It prefers moist alkaline soils, in full sun or semi-shaded.

Part used: Fresh or dried root.

History: Bryonia was well known to the ancient Greeks and Romans, described by both Dioscorides and Galen, in which it was commonly used as a purgative. The Franciscan Bartholomew Anglicus (c. 13th cent.) states that Augustus Caesar wore a wreath of Bryony during a thunderstorm to protect himself from lightning (Grieve 1971, 133). According to Culpepper Bryonia “…are furious martial plants…the root purges the belly with great violence, troubling the stomach and burning the liver, and therefore not rashly to be taken; but being corrected, is very profitable for the diseases of the head, as falling sickness, giddiness, and swimmings, by drawing away much phlegm and rheumatic humours that oppress the head, as also the joints and sinews; and is therefore good for palsies, convulsions, cramps, and stitches in the sides, and the dropsy, and for provoking urine; it cleanses the reins and kidneys from gravel and stone, by opening the obstructions of the spleen, and consume, the hardness and swelling thereof.”

Constituents: The earliest isolated constituent in Bryonia was a bitter glycoside called bryonin. Since then several other glycosides have been isolated, including bryoamaride, bryoniosides A-G, bryodulcoside, cucurbitacins, dihydrocucurbitacins, bryoioside, cabenoside and chrysophanic acid. Included as well are the alkaloids bryonicine and bryonine, trihydroxyoctadecadienoic acids, ribosome-inactivating proteins (RIPs, bryodin 1-2), as well as resin, tannin, volatile oil and carbohydrates (Ukiya et al 2002; Karageuzyan et al 1998; Duke 2003).

Medical Research:
• Adaptogenic: The increases in the content of nitric oxide and cortisol in blood and saliva is a marker of strenuous physical exercise. An extract of Bryonia alba root purified from its tetracyclic tripterpenes (called “Loshtak”) was applied to several groups of athletes in a placebo-controlled double-blind study. The extract was found to decrease salivary NO and cortisol in athletes, compared to placebo (Panossian et al 1999).
• Antioxidant: The effect of aqueous and methanol extracts of “Loshtak” preparation (purified Bryonia alba roots) on exogenous and endogenous oxidative DNA damage was studied on human lymphocytes using the comet assay with endonuclease III and formamidopyrimidine DNA glycosylase. Extracts of Loshtak protected human cells against endogenous DNA oxidative damage (Nersesyan 2001). The intragastric administration of Loshtak was shown to promote a statistically significant decrease in the clastogenic effect of cyclophosphamide injected 48 h after the end of treatment in experimental animals (Mkrtchian et al 1995).
• Antiinflammatory: The triterpene glycosides, bryoniosides A-G, as well as cabenoside D, and bryoamaride, isolated from a methanol extract of the roots of Bryonia dioica demonstrated marked anti-inflammatory effects in experimental animals (Ukiya et al).
• Antidiabetic: Trihydroxyoctadecadienoic acids obtained from the roots of Bryonia alba, administered in doses of 0.05 mg/kg/day for 15 days. i.m., was shown to restore disordered lipid metabolism in alloxan diabetic rats, dose-dependently reducing thromboxane B2 generation, with a corresponding increase in prostaglandin E2 release. Researchers concluded that the trihydroxyoctadecadienoic acids from B. alba may correct major metabolic abnormalities in severe diabetes mellitus, and that they can influence the profile of the formation of stable prostaglandins by actions downstream of prostaglandin endoperoxides (Karageuzyan et al 1998). Researchers examined the action of Bryonia alba root extract on lipid peroxidation in microsomes and on fatty acid composition of individual lipid fractions in the liver of rats with alloxan diabetes. Administration of the extract was found to produce an appreciably normalizing effect on the biochemical indices of liver function (Karageuzyan et al 1981).

Toxicity: The fresh root of Bryonia is a powerful irritant and caustic agent, promoting blistering of the skin with topical exposure. Taken in too large a dose both fresh and dry Bryonia preparations will promote a violent gastro-enteritis, with uncontrollable diarrhea and vomiting, severe abdominal pain, dizziness, lowered temperature, dilated pupils, and perspiration, and cardiopulmonary collapse. Large but less than fatal doses may cause bronchial irritation, hepatomegaly, profound diuresis with tenesmus, and cardiac depression. Tannins are stated to counteract the toxic effects of Bryonia (Felter and Lloyd 1893; Felter 1922).

Herbal action: febrifuge, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anodyne

Indications: fever, pleuritis, pleurisy, pericarditis, peritonitis, hepatitis, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatism, neuralgia, neuritis, headaches, chronic constipation

Contraindications and cautions: diarrhea, mucosal inflammation, respiratory congestion; pregnancy, lactation

Medicinal uses: Bryonia is above all a remedy for serosal inflammation, equally effective in peritonitis, pleuritis, synovitis and in inflammation of the serosal tissues of the viscera. These tissues will be extremely tender upon palpation. Its use is indicated wherever there is severe bruising pain in these parts, accompanied by fever, a hard and rapid pulse, and flushed cheeks (particularly on the right cheek). Bryonia is indicated in diseases of the lung where there is a “…sharp, cutting, and lancinating pain… the cough is dry, rasping, hacking or explosive, and always attended with more or less tensive or sharp pain. Little secretion is present, unless it be a small quantity of white or brown, blood-streaked or clotted, frothy mucus” (Felter and Lloyd 1893). The patient feels cold but perspires easily, and often the symptoms are “…aggravated by motion,” having “…little inclination to go about” (Felter and Lloyd 1893). In cases of pleuritis Ellingwood states that the action of Bryonia is best facilitated by alternating the dose with Ascplepius tuberosa (1919). Bryonia is also frequently mentioned in pericarditis. Bryonia is similarly indicated in abdominal disorders, recommended by Ellingwood in acute appendicitis and acute pancreatitis, and in “…chronic disorders of the liver or spleen with deep-seated soreness and quick, shooting pains, especially if there be some elevation of the temperature” (1919). In constipation, Eli Jones recommends Bryonia when the bowels are inactive, the stools large, hard and dry, “…as if burnt,” three drops thrice daily (1911). In cirrhosis of the liver with chronic constipation, with a whitish tongue and dry hard stools Jones recommends Bryonia, five drops thrice daily (1911). Ellingwood used Bryonia in acute neuritis and neuralgia, and provided a few examples of successful treatment in particularly severe cases. In spinal inflammation the pain comes on from exposure to cold or from a draft, and is experienced as sharp catching pain upon inhalation (1919). As a topical remedy for neuralgia and inflammation Bryonia tincture can be added with Calendula succus or tincture, one part Bryonia to ten parts Calendula, in a hypoallergenic cream base, 15% v/v, apply as needed. Bryonia is an important remedy in acute rheumatoid arthritis and in muscular rheumatism, where the joints are swollen and feel stiff, given in small frequent doses, together with or in alternating doses with Cimicifuga. Several Eclectic practitioners felt that Bryonia was particularly helpful in acute rheumatism finger joints and hand (Felter and Lloyd 1893; Ellingwood 1919). In severe headaches, the pain sharp and cutting such that the head feels like it might split open, made worse by bending over, coughing or eye movement, with nausea and faintness, Eli Jones recommends Bryonia in doses of 5 drops to 4 ounces (120 mL) of water, one teaspoonful every hour (1911). Bryonia is an important remedy to eliminate excess heat, opposing dryness of the mucous membranes induced by inflammation tenderness on pressure, tiny shooting pains, or pain increased by motion. Bryonia is considered to be helpful in acute fever, as well as in chronic states, the latter marked by dry mucous membranes, cracked lips, excessive thirst, constipation, with hard, dry stools and scanty, dark colored urine (Ellingwood 1919).

Pharmacy and dosage:
Fresh Plant Tincture: fresh root, 1:2, 95% alcohol, 1-10 gtt
Dry Plant Tincture: recently dried root, 1:5, 50% alcohol, 1-10 gtt.