An Herbal Virucide?

From 'Complimentary Medicine' May/June 1987 Reprinted with permission


The following article is based upon a literature search and paper by Edward K. Alstat, N.D., R.Ph., and an interview with Dr. Alstat. See also, “The History and Efficacy of Therapeutic Herbs from the March-April, 1987 issue of 'Complimentary Medicine' which also features Dr. Alstat.


 Recent clinical observations, laboratory analysis and a study of Lomatium dissectum’s historic applications, have led Edward K. Alstat, N.D., R.Ph., to conclude that dissectum may be an effective herbal means of managing viral diseases. Lomatium dissectum, previously known by such names as Ferula dissoluta, Leptotaenia dissecta, Leptotaenia multifida and Toza (by American Indians), was a panacea of the native Americans of the plateau region of the western United States. The Native Americans uses for dissectum ranged from food to medicine to pesticide.


Dr. Alstat, who is a pharmacist and a naturopathic physician, became interested in dissectum after he experimented successfully on himself, using a tincture he had prepared from a single large root.


He prepared several gallons of the tincture from the 20-pound root, Dr. Alstat explained, and he used the tincture when he was awakened one night by a persistent sore throat. “I took a dropperful, and before I could get back to bed my throat had drained and the soreness was gone.”


Dr. Alstat subsequently added Lomatium dissectum to the list of tinctures available from the Eclectic Institute, a Portland, OR, botanical research, farming, and manufacturing company which he founded. Anecdotal evidence from an increasing number of physicians who have purchased the tincture for use in their practices has been positive.




Some clinicians have reported cases of full-body rashes in patients using dissectum tincture. Although the rash, which mimics measles, appears to be self-limiting, it was severe enough in several cases to negate the positive value of the herb. “It seemed that when people who were really sick took the tincture for three or four days they would feel tremendously better. They said they never felt better in their lives; they got a large bout of energy. But then some of them would get the rash afterward.”


Dr. Alstat believes the rash is a healing reaction, “some type of a cleansing,” rather than a side effect of the dissectum. However, the reaction is sufficiently unpleas­ant that Eclectic Institute has produced other forms of the remedy. Lomatium contains a significant amount of resin, Dr. Alstat explained, which seems to be what causes the rash. He isolated the active constituents, separated them from the resin and developed “a yellow, sulphur-looking powder,” which remained effective and did not cause a rash. This product is called Lomatium Isolate and is the form of choice.




Lomatium dissectum is found from Vancouver Island, southern British Columbia and Alberta, south to Southern California, Nevada, New Mexico and Colorado, ranging from sea level to the Cascade foothills and up to an altitude of about 2500 meters in the Rocky Mountains. More than half of the 75 to 80 species of Lomatium, the largest genus of Umbelliferae in the United States, are found in the high plateaus of Eastern Oregon, Eastern Washington and Idaho. The greatest diversity and largest tubers of Loma­tium grow in the dry Columbia Plateau region.


Dissectum is a spring -flowering perennial which grows on lithosol and talus zones, the rocky basalt slopes and out­croppings formed by previous lava flows. A robust plant with a large, woody taproot, it grows from 20 to 60 inches high. Several hollow, ribbed stems rise from the top of the root and culminate in finely divided leaves and large umbels of flowers ranging in color from yellow to brownish purple. The flattened oval seeds have narrow wings.




Lomatium dissectum was historically one of the most important medicinal plants of the western United States. Native Americans used the herb as an internal remedy for viral and bacterial infections, especially those of the eyes, respiratory tract and urinary tract.


Several tribes of Indians ate the shoots and roots of dissectum. Some also immersed the fresh root in streams to stun fish for harvesting. However, the most important native American use of the herb was as a medicine. Indeed, dissectum was one of the most widely used medicinal remedies of the Indians of the western United States. A decoction of the root was taken internally, and the above ground portion of the plant was smoked or burned and inhaled to treat coughs, colds, hayfever, bronchitis, asthma, influenza, pneumonia and tuberculosis. The decoction was also applied externally for cuts, sores and rashes; the oily sap was placed on skin lesions and used in the eyes for trachomal and gonorrheal infections. The raw root was chewed for sore throat and used as a poultice for swellings, sprains and rheumatism. Dissectum was also used to cure equine distemper and as a pediculicide for humans and animals.




During the world wide influenza epidemic of 1917, the effectiveness of Lomatium dissectum came to the attention of the American white man, Dr. Alstat explained, when it was observed that native Americans in the Southwest were recovering rapidly from the virus that was killing others.


“A doctor named Ernest Krebbs, who was working in the desert in Nevada, found that the Indians there were peeling dissectum root, drawing and boiling it and skimming off the oil. Using about a pound of herb, the Indians were getting well within a week’s time.” Krebbs and other doctors began using the root and found it had significant healing effects. It gained in popularity, and soon four manufacturing plants were producing the extract. Since it was a Western frontier remedy, however, dissectum never attracted the attention of the medical profession in general, and shortly after the influenza epidemic died off, interest in dissectum died as well.





Several trials throughout the years have attested to the efficacy of Lomatium dissectum as a remedy. In 1957, Lomatium dissectum (var. multifida) was found to have moderate bactericidal effects.t24’ A 1 949 in vitro test revealed that an oil extract of dissectum (var. multifida) partially or completely inhibited growth of 10 organisms, a result which was equal to that of penicillin given at a comparable concentration. (16) Susceptible organisms included Corynebacterium diptherium. Diplococcus pneumo­nia, Streptococcus pyogenes, Escherichia coli, Pseudo­monas aeruginosa, Proteus vulgaris and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.


A study of the effectiveness of extracts of the root of Lomatium dissectum (var. dissectum) in 1948 showed varying degrees of inhibition of the growth of all 62 strains and species of bacteria and fungi tested.’5~ The oil extracts exhibited bacteriostatic and bactericidal activity against three strains of Shigella, two of Pseudomonas, two of Proteus, four E. coli, three of Staphaureus, four strains of streptococcus, including viridans and pyogenes, Diplococ­cus pneumonia, Corynebacterium diptheria, Hemphilus influenza, Neisseria gonorrhea, three strain of Mycobacte­rium, including tuberculosis, five strains of Clostridium, four human dermatophytes and Candida albicans.



Identification of the specific medicinal constituents of Lomatium dissectum has not been directly undertaken. Information is available, however, on the isolation and identification of some of the chemical constituents of the herb, as well as their biological effects. The root contains essential oil, gums, resins, glycosides (coumarins and saponins), carbohydrates, protein, fatty acids and ascorbic acid.


Naturally occurring coumarins have a broad range of physiological activities. Some have estrogenic action; others have demonstrated spasmolytic, sedative, anthelmintic and/or uricosuric actions.t4’20’ They have been found to activate adrenaline and ACTH-induced lipolysis and insulin-induced lipogenesis.’7’ Coumarins have been used as vasodilating agentst2’20t in the treatment of malig­nant metastasis~2’10’ and in therapy for retinal pigment degeneration.~7’ As a group, coumarins are free of toxic side effects and may be used for years without cumulative effects (201


The furanocoumarins and pyranocoumarins in Lomatium dissectum have significant antimicrobial activity. A number of studies of the antiviral activities of both linear and angular furanocoumarins have shown them to be effective against both DNA and RNA viruses. In these investigation, both types of viruses were inactivated by exposure to long-wave ultraviolet light in the presence of furanocoumarins. Both linear and angular furanocoumarins easily permeate the virus coat as well as bacteria, yeast and animal cells, and bio-activity has been demonstrated in vitro and in vivo. Herpes simplex virus I was shown to be very sensitive to linear furanocoumarin photo-inactiva­tiOfl.1101


Herbs containing saponins have been used historically as medicinal remedies, specifically as tonics, tranquilizers, expectorants and antitussive agents. Recent research reports anti-tumor, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of saponins, as well as their ability to stimulate production of serum proteins. Water soluble triterpenoidal saponins reportedly enhance antibody production’181, sug­gesting they actively stimulate the immune system. Al­though isolation of the saponins in dissectum has not been documented in the literature, according to Dr. Alstat, it warrants investigation.


The ascorbic content of Lomatium dissectum was determined in one study to be 22.8 percent.’24’ The immune-stimulating activity of ascorbic acid is well documented, and its promotion of wound-healing is well known.


Lomatium contains volatile oils, which have been used as antiseptics.’15’ The root contains much carbohydrate, suggesting the presence of immune-stimulating polysaccharides.


“Additional chemical, biological and clinical study of Lomatium dissectum is indicated,” Dr. Alstat concluded, “especially of the use of the plant to inhibit bacteria, fungi and viruses, to stimulate immune system function and to decrease inflammation. Specific areas for clinical trials include the diseases treated by native Americans, such as influenza, colds, bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, hay fever, asthma, ocular infections, throat infections, skin lesions and rheumatic conditions, as well as the chronic viral infections and immune system suppression prevalent today (e.g., AIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Viral Hepatitis Herpes simplex I and II and system Candida albicans).”


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Complimentary Medicine May/June 1987 Reprinted with permission