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In botany, the contrayerva, or contrajerva, is the root and scaly rhizome of various tropical American species of Dorstenia in the family Moraceae (D. contrajerva and D. brasiliensis[1]), a South American plant, the aromatic root of which is sometimes used in medicine as a gentle stimulant and tonic.[2] It was previously used as an antidote to snake bites.[3]

The name is used in Jamaica to refer to a species of Birthwort (Aristolochia odoratissima) still believed to have antidotal properties.[1]

The root is smaller than that of the iris, reddish outside and white inside, knotty, and fibrous. To be of use, it must be new, heavy, and of a dusky red color. Its odor resembles that of fig leaves. Its taste is aromatic, accompanied with some acrimony.[3]

The contrayerva root was formerly considered by many writers to be one of the best anti-epidemics known. Dr. Nathaniel Hodges (1629–1688), in his treatise of the Great Plague of London (Loimologia; published in 1672), had a recipe which he said was very successful, and of which this root was one of the chief ingredients.[3]


  1. ^ a b "Contrayerva". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ This article incorporates text from a work in the public domainPorter, Noah, ed. (1913). "Webster's entry needed". Webster's Dictionary. Springfield, Massachusetts: C. & G. Merriam Co. 
  3. ^ a b c  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). "article name needed". Cyclopædia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (first ed.). James and John Knapton, et al.