Medicinal history of North American Veratrum

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Abstract

Plants belonging to the genus Veratrum have been used throughout history for their medicinal properties. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, phytochemical investigations revealed a host of steroidal alkaloids in Veratrum species, some of which are potent bioactives. This review discusses Veratrum species that grow in North America with a focus on the medicinal history of these plants and the steroidal alkaloids they contain. While significant reviews have been devoted to singularly describing the plant species within the genus Veratrum (botany), the staggering breadth of alkaloids isolated from these and related plants (phytochemistry), and the intricacies of how the various alkaloids act on their biological targets (physiology and biochemistry), this review will straddle the margins of the aforementioned disciplines in an attempt to provide a unified, coherent picture of the Veratrum plants of North America and the medicinal uses of their bioactive steroidal alkaloids.