By Marisa Marciano, ND, RH
Collinsonia canadensis (Collinsonia; stone root) is a perennial plant native to eastern North America with a rich history of traditional use as a gastrointestinal tonic.
Considered one of the most valuable indigenous American medicinal plants, “Stone Root” is one of Collinsonia’s many given common names (others include heal-all, knob-root, horse-balm, rich-weed) due to its dark color, dense rhizome, and fibrous roots.1 Though all parts of the plant have been used for medicinal purposes, the root is often given internally while its leaves are applied topically to aid in wound healing.
Primary constituents that have been found with Collinsonia root and leaves include polyphenolics (e.g. rosmarinic acid), volatile oils (thymol, carvacrol and caryophyllene), saponins, tannins, and mucilage.2-4
Although the physiological actions of Collinsonia have not been sufficiently studied, its extensive historical use draws upon numerous case studies and observed effects, which elucidate its medicinal importance particularly in relation to the digestive system.5
Collinsonia for Digestive Function
According to the Eclectics (physicians of the late 19th and early 20th century using herbs in the United States), Collinsonia has a gentle stimulating effect upon all organs of excretion but particularly in relation to promoting digestion and peristalsis.6
Peristalsis is the involuntary constriction and subsequent relaxation of muscles of the digestive tract that propel the contents forward. Peristalsis occurs in the esophagus to move food towards the stomach and again in the intestines as it moves the digested food in waves, which enhances absorption.
Viewed as an important bowel tonic, its gentle warming properties and mild astringent and antispasmodic effects direct themselves upon the mucosal linings of the gastrointestinal tract to reduce spasm and cramping of the smooth muscles of the intestine.7 The root powder was commonly prepared as a warm infusion or liquid extract for its relaxing effect towards digestive sphincters, helping to facilitate the removal of waste, irritants, and calculi (kidney stones). It has been used as an effective remedy for indigestion, irritative dyspepsia, chronic gastritis, diarrhea, colic, and spasmodic conditions of the stomach and intestines. Other beneficial effects in the gastrointestinal tract include:7
- Relieving irritation
- Improving appetite
- Promoting flow of gastric juice
These uses correspond well with its use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), where Collinsonia is indicated in cases of spleen Qi deficiency and cold damp states of the intestines to help stimulate digestion and improve appetite.
Collinsonia for Constipation
Based on Eclectic use, hemorrhoids and constipation (particularly when due to portal system congestion and venous capillary weakness) are perhaps the most direct indications for using Collinsonia. Treatment either internally or with rectal suppositories would be effectively used when presenting with feelings of heaviness and/or pressure in the pelvic region.8 Collinsonia specifically targets conditions of the large intestine and rectum that are characterized by a sensation of constriction, heat, and weight with deficient secretion possibly due to poor capillary circulation in the mucous membranes.9
Evidence-Informed Use of Collinsonia for Digestive Health
Without research to elucidate Collinsonia’s mechanism of action, based on its constituent profile it can be suggested that the presence of tannins and mucilage may be responsible for some of its astringent and healing effects upon mucus membranes of the digestive tract. Volatile oils and flavonoids may also contribute towards its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects.
While more modern studies are required to better understand the therapeutic effects of Collinsonia, the herb is still effectively utilized today for many of the same conditions as it has been over the last century such as:
- Rectal pain/neuralgia (proctitis, anal fissures, fistula, and ulcers)
- Cramping and colic (gastric and biliary)
- Tenesmus (feeling the need to pass stool even though the bowels have been emptied. May involve straining, pain, and cramping).