The Medicinal Plant Garden

of Birmingham-Southern College

  • Chimaphila umbellata
  • Chimaphila umbellata

Common Name

Pipsissewa, Rheumatism Weed, Bitter Wintergreen, King’s Cure, Ground Holly, Wintergreen, Spotted Wintergreen

Related Species

Chimaphila umbellata is closely related to a related species, Chimaphila maculata. While the two species are similar, and both referred to as Pipsissewa, they are different in appearance (Howell, 2006). C. maculata is significantly different in that its leaves consist of a darker green than C. umbellata, and tends to be fixed with a white stripe down the middle. Its leaves are more broad toward the bottom rather than the top as C. umbellata possesses (Bureau, 1912).

Geographic Distribution and Habitat

According to the Bureau (1912) and Howell (2006), C. umbellata has been known to grow in dry forests, such as pine.A Eurasian plant by origin, C. umbellata has large roots in North America (Crellin and Philpott, 1990). It grows from Nova Scotia down the Eastern coast states of the United States to Georgia and across the Southeastern states to Mexico (Bureau, 1912).

Description

It is an herbaceous stemmed-perennial growing to a possible height of around 3-4 inches to just under a foot (Howell, 2006; Bureau, 1912). Its leaves grow in whorls, or spirals, around the stem (Howell, 2006). According to the Bureau (1912) and Howell (2006), the leaves are of a leathery texture, a deep green color, and broad toward the top, narrowing as one moves down the leaf. They are anywhere from 1-2 inches in length and a little less than or about ½ inch in width at the top, or most broad, portion of the leaf. The flowers, which consist of five separate petals, tend to be white with a dark pink base and waxy in texture (Bureau, 1912).

Portion of the Plant Used

The leaves of C. umbellata are known to be the most medicinally useful, but all parts of the plant have been used in the past in some remedial way (Howell, 2006).

Traditional Uses

In the past, C. umbellata has been used to treat many types of health issues. Native Americans, such as the Cherokee tribe, used the leaves as a tea to help get rid of joint pain, colds, fevers, and urinary problems (Howell, 2006). According to Crellin and Philpott (1990), the Cherokee also used it as a diuretic remedy. They used it in a cloth-like form to hold over places of skin irritation to treat ringworm, ulcers, and cancer (Howell, 2006). Native Americans also used the plant to help alleviate snoring as well as to alleviate snake bites by swallowing the juice of the leaves, chewing the leaves and applying it to bite after bleeding out (Duke et al 2002). It was also often used for digestive problems, debility, and stimulating appetite (Howell, 2006). C. umbellata has been used to cure dropsy, or excess fluid build up in the body as it is a diuretic (Crellin and Philpott, 1990). The roots have been used to cure toothaches (Crellin and Philpott, 1990).

Currently, C. umbellata is used to treat urinary tract infections, bladder infections, kidney issues, incontinence, and kidney stones due to its diuretic ability and also for its ability to be slightly antiseptic (Howell, 2006; Crellin and Philpott, 1990).

Research

According to Oka et al (2007), extracts of C. umbellata have been used in treating rats with BPH, or benign prostatic hyperplasia. One treatment is Eviprostat, which is 1/5 C. umbellata extract. In Oka et al. (2007) studies, Eviprostat as a whole has been found to reduce swelling caused by BPH in rats by inhibiting reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Through studies by Galván et al (2008), extracts of C. umbellata led to identifying an antifungal agent, chimaphilin. Not only was it found to be an antifungal, but also posseses antioxidant properties (Galván et al., 2008). Using cells’ deleted genes and assays in the lab, the study shows that the main targets for chimaphilin include cell wall biogenesis and transcription (Galván et al., 2008). The findings of antifungal, as well as antioxidant, properties of C. umbellata by Galván et al. (2008) support folklore use of C. umbellata as a healing unit (i,e. poultices and washes) for skin problems.

Not many studies have been done for the pharmacological uses, but one study by Fera et al. (2010) suggest that it may have anti-cancer properties as it was believed to have in folklore.

Side Effects, Interactions, and Contraindications

Not many toxicological effects have been studied, but if not properly dosed and used long-term, it has been shown that it could be hazardous due to its hydroquinne glycoside content, as well as its salicylate and tannin possession (Duke et al, 2002).