Jeffersonia: Jeffersonia Diphylla, Twinleaf, Rheumatism Root, Helmetpod, Ground-squirrel pea, Yellowroot


Jeffersonia is a Perennial plant that can grow in full or semi-shade. It prefers sandy or loamy moist soil and Bears white flowers that appear in the early spring. 3  The Jeffersonia plant only grows to about 6 or 8 inches in height when in flower but reaches a height of 18 inches when in the fruiting stage. The long-stemmed, smooth leaves are almost completely divided into two leaflets and arise directly from the base of the plant. The white flowers measuring about 1 inch across and the roots are thick, knotty, yellowish-brown, horizontal root.  The Jeffersonia is very rare in the wild. 1


Jeffersonia is a bitter substance, an acrid and nauseating constituent.  It contains pectin, fatty resin, tannic acid, gum starch, sugar and mineral matters.6  The root contains berberine, which has been shown to have anti-tumor activity along with some antibacterial properties.7

Fun Fact:

Jeffersonia was named to honor Thomas Jefferson in 1792 by the “Father of American Botany”, Benjamin Smith Barton.  The flowers often appear around Jefferson’s Birthday which is April 13th   and often Jefferson had twinleaf growing in his oval flower bed. 2


The Jeffersonia, historically, has been used by the American Indians to treat a wide array of problems. The Cherokee made Jeffersonia into a Poultice for sores, ulcers and inflamed parts.  They also made Jeffersonia into an infusion to be used for dropsy, urinary problems, and gravel or kidney stones.4  The Iroquois made the Jeffersonia in a decoction of the whole plant and gave it to adults and children with diarrhea.  This method was also useful in treating gall. 5


The Jeffersonia plant is antispasmodic, diuretic, emetic, expectorant and tonic. 8 An infusion is used in the treatment of diarrhea, dropsy, gravel and urinary problems. 9 The root is emetic in large doses and expectorant in smaller doses.10 Jeffersonia is also used for rheumatism, neuralgia, headaches and feelings of tension.6 Beberine has been shown to be very useful in the body.  Berberine shows many antimicrobial properties and has shown to be active against fungal infections such as Candida Albicans, or yeast infections.  Studies have also shown organisms such as Staphyloccocus aureus, Streptococcous pyogenes, and Vibrio cholerea to be sensitive to berberine.11 Berberine that is found in Berberis species is also indicated for the treatment of various inflammatory diseases such as lumbago, rheumatism and reducing fever. 12 Many of the Jeffersonia’s medicinal uses can be attributed to the presence of Tannins in the plant.  Tannins have been shown to be good remedies for diarrhea, colds, sore throats and hemorrhages.  Tannins have also been shown in many cases to helping with menstrual cramps and to protect the kidneys in a wide variety of ways. 13


Jeffersonia can be made into a decoction and a tincture. 


1. Steep 1 tsp. root in 1 cup boiling water for 30 minutes

2. Simmer 10 minutes and strain.

3. Take 1 cup, and then follow with small frequent doses.


1. Allow to soak in your choice of alcohol

2. A dose is from 5 to 20 drops.

Contraindications/Interactions/Adverse Reactions:

There is not much research on Jeffersonia and it may be toxic. 6

References Cited:

1."Twinleaf." 3 Apr. 1998. Web. 21 Oct. 2009.  <>.

2. Betts, Edwin M., ed. Thomas Jefferson's Garden Book, 1766-1824: With Relevant Extracts from His Other Writings, 1944. Rep. 1999. Manuscript and transcription available online at

3. "Jeffersonia diphylla - Plants For A Future database report." Plants For A Future - 7000 useful plants. Web. 21 Oct. 2009. <>.

4. Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey 1975 Cherokee Plants and Their Uses -- A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co. (p. 59)

5. Herrick, James William 1977 Iroquois Medical Botany. State University of New York, Albany, PhD Thesis (p. 332)

6."Twin Leaf Root -" Medicinal Herbs | Herbal Forumlas | Disease Database - Web. 21 Oct. 2009. <>.

7. Duke. J. A. and Ayensu. E. S. Medicinal Plants of China Reference Publications, Inc. 1985

8. Lust. J. The Herb Book. Bantam books 1983 ISBN 0-553-23827-2
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.

9. Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany Timber Press. Oregon. 1998 ISBN 0-88192-453-9

10. Coffey. T. The History and Folklore of North American Wild Flowers. Facts on File. 1993 ISBN 0-8160-2624-6

11. Birdsall TC, Kelly GS (1997). "Berberine: Therapeutic potential of an alkaloid found in several medicinal plants

12. Life Sci. 2002 Dec 27;72(6):645-57.

13. Medicinal and Aromatic Plants V (Biotechnology in Agriculture and Forestry). New York: Springer, 1993. Print.

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