The herb aristolochia has been linked to cases of kidney disease and failure.

The herb aristolochia, also called birthwort or Dutchman’s pipe, has long been used as a homeopathic treatment, as Botanical.com pointed out. Over the years, the herb has been used as a diuretic, to counter snakebites, ease gout pain and speed up the wound healing process.

There is at least some evidence of the herb’s effectiveness in wound care, including a study from 2003 revealing that the herb stimulated tissue regrowth via two key antioxidant enzymes.

Yet despite its use, aristolochia might not be as beneficial as once believed. According to a new paper in the journal EMBO Reports, the herb has been definitively linked with kidney disease.

Harmful herb

Thousands of pages of research into aristolochia​ included in the paper, which was led by Arthur Grollman from Stony Brook University in New York and Donald Marcus from Baylor College of Medicine in Texas. The two found that the herb can cause either kidney failure or cancer in 5 to 10 percent of the entire global population.

The cause is aristolochic acid, to which that aforementioned segment of people have a genetic susceptibility. Prolonged exposure – up to two decades in most cases – can destroy the kidneys and cause a number of harmful mutations.

While this herb has been used for generations, the pair explained that not all herbs have been tested for overall toxicity. In fact, as Grollman and Marcus explained, people automatically assume because a treatment is traditional that it is inherently safer than most scientifically-researched medications or therapies.

Both analysts said that more research should be done into the herbal solutions, and that only empirical knowledge can truly protect public health. This is especially important because many people rely on complementary and alternative medicine: In 2009, the National Institutes for Health found that people spent $33.9 billion on various herbs and related therapies.

Greater evidence

Of course, Grollman and Marcus’ work isn’t the first to point out the dangers of aristolochia. Two studies from 2013 found that aristolochia has the power to cause more genetic mutations than UV light and tobacco smoke. One study from 2007 noted that there was a statistically significant spike in kidney disease around the Balkan peninsula, as locals from this region eat bread containing aristolochia seeds. Other herbs can be just as harmful. March 2016 data from Australia’s organ donation registry (via ABC) linked herbal supplements to six organ transplants.

The power of herbs

Not all wound care herbs are as potentially dangerous, though. Calendula, for instance, is a powerful non-toxic wound healing agent. It contains chemicals called flavonoids that destroy harmful free radicals. Other plants, like goldenrod and yarrow, are also hugely beneficial in the wound care process. The former is known for its anti-inflammatory qualities, while the latter’s flavonoids have been used to help with minor to moderate burns.

Before beginning any herbal supplement, though, it’s important to speak with your doctor. He or she will be able to discuss pros and cons of herbal supplements as well as outline the advantages of traditional wound care dressings.

For all your specialized wound care products, turn to Advanced Tissue. We deliver to both homes and long-term care facilities.