The medicinal power of fallow root or ipeca root

Fallow is a plant half a meter high with white flowers and red berries. It grows in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Panama and Brazil. The plant only arrived in Europe in the 17th century. It was first prescribed by the son of the personal physician of William III of Orange. There are several types of fallow root and the root color varies from gray, red to brown. Fallow root is a strong agent that can act as a powerful poison in large doses. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.

Botanical drawing of fallow root / Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)


  • History of fallow root
  • Naming
  • Active substances
  • Fallow root for lung problems
  • Vomiting due to fallow root
  • Other medicinal activities ipeca root
  • Dose of ipeca root
  • Safety of using ipeca root
  • Visit a doctor or herbal therapist

History of fallow root

Johan Friedrich Helvetius was the personal physician of William III of Orange. The personal physician had a son, Jean Claude Helvetius. Helvetius was given the exclusive right to sell fallow root by Louis the 14th, William III’s main enemy. At the time he was the first and only trader in fallow root. In 1672, the fallow root was introduced into Europe from South America for the first time. For some years Helvetius sold his prescription as an adequate medicine for dysentery. In 1688 he decided to sell his exclusive rights to the French government. It was also used as an emetic. After taking a poison, an emetic can provide a solution. Poisoning has always been an important way to eliminate opponents. Louis the 14th had many enemies and it was useful in his time to have a means of vomiting poisonous substances. Furthermore, fallow root was used in the 17th century to treat bronchitis.


In Latin, fallow root is called Psychotria ipecacuanha . There are a number of Latin synonyms: Carapichea ipecacuanha, Callicocca ipecacuanha, Cephaelis ipecacuanha, Evea ipecacuanha and Uragoga ipecacuanha . The name ipecacuanha is derived from the Tupi language spoken by the Tupi people of Brazil. There ipecuanha means ‘duck penis’. That probably refers to the small phallus-shaped seed of this plant.

Active substances

The underground part of the plant, i.e. the root, of fallow root or ipeca root is used for phytotherapeutic purposes. This root contains the following important components: isoquinoline alkaloids in the form of emetine, cephaeline, psychotrin, O-methylpsychotrin, protoemetine, ipecoside, ipecacuanhine and ipecacuanhinic acid. The carrot also contains saponins, traces of essential oil and fatty oil, choline, organic acids and starch.

Fallow root for lung problems

Fallow root has a positive effect on the respiratory tract. In small doses it is a remedy that promotes the loosening and coughing up of mucus. The saponins help to dissolve the mucus and ensure that the mucus gland produces less secretion. Furthermore, it has a despasmodic effect on the smooth muscles of the airways. Due to these medicinal activities, fallow root is prescribed in phytotherapy for the following indications:

  • Bronchitis,
  • Asthmatic bronchitis,
  • Dry cough,
  • Tough slime,
  • Whooping cough,
  • Spastic cough,
  • Bronchial asthma.

It should be noted that a slightly too high dose of emetic root leads to nausea. This is mainly due to the emetine it contains. Because of this, herbal therapists generally prefer: golden primrose, anise seed, eucalyptus and hyssop.

Vomiting due to fallow root

As the name suggests, emetic root is an emetic. To use it as an emetic, you must take a significantly higher dose than when it is used for lung problems. It is no longer used in acute poisoning cases because vomiting only occurs 30 minutes after ingestion of the root. Vomiting is induced by a strong feeling of nausea. Emetine and cephaeline are the substances that trigger the vomiting reflex in the body.

Other medicinal activities ipeca root

  • The secretion of saliva, sweat and intestinal fluids are stimulated by ipeca root.
  • Historically, ipeca root was used to combat amoebic dysentery. Nowadays, only pure emetine, the active substance in ipeca root, is used.

Fallow root / Source: Kurt Stüber, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

Dose of ipeca root

There are a number of ways to use this medicinal plant.

For the respiratory tract :

  • Carrot powder: 10 to 100 mg per day 3 to 4 times a day.
  • Tincture: 1 gram of tincture per day.
  • Infusion or tea: 0.6 grams of ipeca root in 150 ml of water, drink throughout the day.


  • Carrot powder: 500mg to 2 grams, taken every 5 or 15 minutes.
  • Tincture: take until effective.

Safety of using ipeca root

The use of ipeca root is not without risk .

  • Ipeca root is prescribed in preparation form by herbalists. The reason you cannot experiment with this medicinal plant yourself is because the risk of side effects is too great.
  • The use of ipeca root as an emetic is not recommended because it appears that part of the toxin reaches the intestines.
  • In addition to vomiting, too much ipeca root can lead to headaches, stomach aches, fatigue and can weaken heart function.
  • Ipeca root should not be combined with alkalis, tannins and heavy metal salts.

Visit a doctor or herbal therapist

Much of the information about the medicinal plant mentioned in this article comes from the book Groot Handboek Medicinal Plants by Geert Verhelst. That is a handbook in phytotherapy. However, it is not suitable for self-healing. Anyone who suffers from something should consult a doctor or herbal therapist for a good diagnosis and choice of the best remedies, tailored to your personal situation. The knowledge and science mentioned here is of a purely informative nature.