What You Need to Know About Podophyllum

Podophyllum peltatum
Podophyllum peltatum. Ed Reschke/Photolibrary/Mayapple

Podophyllum is a plant long used in herbal medicine (including ayurveda). The roots of the podophyllum plant are rich in podophyllin, a resin that contains podophyllotoxin. Podophyllotoxin is a compound said to treat skin disorders when applied topically.

Uses for Podophyllum

In alternative medicine, podophyllum extract is touted as a natural remedy for the following conditions:

  • warts
  • genital warts
  • HIV-related oral hairy leukoplakia

    In addition, podophyllum extract is purported to aid in the treatment of some forms of skin cancer according to some alternative medicine practitioners.

    Benefits of Podophyllum

    To date, research on the health effects of topical use of podophyllum extract is very limited and often dated. However, there's some evidence that podophyllum extract may provide certain benefits when applied to the skin. Here's a look at some findings from the available studies:

    1) Genital Warts

    Some research suggests that podophyllum extract may be beneficial in the treatment of genital warts.

    For instance, a small study published in Sexually Transmitted Diseases in 2011 found that a podophyllotoxin 0.5% solution helped treat anogenital warts (a common sexually transmitted disease caused by human papillomaviruses).

    For the study, 45 patients with untreated anogenital warts were assigned to self-applied treatment with either imiquimod 5% cream or podophyllotoxin 0.5% solution.

    (Imiquimod cream is a prescription medication typically used in the treatment of actinic keratoses on the face or scalp.) Members of the podophyllotoxin group were assigned to four weeks of treatment, while members of the imiquimod group were assigned to 16 weeks of treatment. Results revealed that both treatments were effective in the treatment of anogenital warts.

    In addition, an earlier study (published in Genitourinary Medicine in 1997) indicates that a self-applied solution containing 0.5-2.0% podophyllin or 0.5% podophyllotoxin may be safe and effective in the treatment of penile warts. The study involved 315 patients with penile warts, each of whom was treated with podophyllotoxin or podophyllin for five weeks.

    2) HIV-Related Oral Hairy Leukoplakia

    Podophyllum resin shows promise in the treatment of HIV-related oral hairy leukoplakia, according to a small study published in Oral Surgery, Oral Medicine, Oral Pathology, Oral Radiology, and Endodontics in 1995.

    For the study, 10 HIV-infected patients with hairy leukoplakia on the tongue were treated with topical podophyllum resin 25% solution. In tests performed at days two, seven, and 30 of the study, researchers found that treatment with podophyllum was effective in clearing up leukoplakia-related lesions. Although patients reported some side effects (including burning sensation, pain, and bad or altered taste), the side effects were of mild intensity and short duration.

    Given these findings, the study's authors concluded that a single topical application of podophyllum resin 25% solution may be safe and effective in producing significant short-term resolution of HIV-related oral hairy leukoplakia.

    More recent studies on the use of podophyllum in the treatment of HIV-related oral hairy leukoplakia are not available.


    Due to a lack of research, little is known about the safety of long-term or regular use of podophyllum.

    A known toxin, podophyllum is potentially lethal when consumed orally.

    Keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances such as metals. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established. You can get further tips on using supplements here.

    Using Podophyllum for Health

    Due to a lack of scientific support, it's too soon to recommend podophyllum extract as a standard treatment of any health condition. If you're considering using it, make sure to consult your physician. It's important to note that self-treating a condition with podophyllum extract and avoiding or delaying standard care may have serious consequences.


    Gowdey G, Lee RK, Carpenter WM. "Treatment of HIV-related hairy leukoplakia with podophyllum resin 25% solution." Oral Surg Oral Med Oral Pathol Oral Radiol Endod. 1995 Jan;79(1):64-7.

    Komericki P, Akkilic-Materna M, Strimitzer T, Aberer W. "Efficacy and safety of imiquimod versus podophyllotoxin in the treatment of anogenital warts." Sex Transm Dis. 2011 Mar;38(3):216-8.

    White DJ, Billingham C, Chapman S, Drake S, Jayaweera D, Jones S, Opaneye A, Temple C. "Podophyllin 0.5% or 2.0% v podophyllotoxin 0.5% for the self treatment of penile warts: a double blind randomised study." Genitourin Med. 1997 Jun;73(3):184-7.

    Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician. It is not meant to cover all possible precautions, drug interactions, circumstances or adverse effects. You should seek prompt medical care for any health issues and consult your doctor before using alternative medicine or making a change to your regimen.

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