Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation


Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:


Other Common Name:


Common names in Spanish:

Hierba de la víbora, yerba de la víbora, raíz de víbora, trencilla, encarrugada, cascabelito, barba de burro, viperina (White, 2002; Schoenhals, 1988; Ford, 1975).

Where is it found?

Various species of these low-growing and creeping herbs are found from the Southwestern United States to South America. Some are also found in Australia as well as in the Indian subcontinent (Quattrocchi, 2012; Mabberley, 2008; Khare, 2004).

Various species of the genus Zornia are used medicinally in Mexico, including Z. diphylla, Z. bracteata, Z. reticulata, and Z. thymifolia. Most of these are known by the common name of hierba de la víbora or “snake herb” (White, 2002).

Parts of the plant used:

Mostly, the stem and leaves, although sometimes the whole plant is used (Quattrocchi, 2012; Argueta, 1994).

How is it used?

The stems and leaves are boiled in water (decocted) and taken as a tea. In some cases, a poultice made from this plant is applied externally (Argueta, 1994; Martinez, 1989).

What is it used for?

The main uses include the following: to lower fevers (antipyretic), for gastrointestinal complaints, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, antimicrobial, against coughs and colds, to relieve menstrual pain and treat stomach ulcers (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Rojas et al., 1999). Z. diphylla is used in India to treat cancer as well as against dysentery, venereal diseases, as well as to induce sleep in children (Arunkumar et al., 2012). In traditional Siddha medicine of the Tamil-Nadu region of southern India, the whole plant is mixed with butter and applied externally as a body rub for chills and fever. The powdered leaf is mixed with milk and taken as a tonic; while a root decoction is given to children as a tea to induce sleep (Quattrocchi, 2012; Khare, 2004).
Arunkumar et al. (2012) studied the highly active anticancer fraction (AF) and an additional steroid bioactive principle, isolated for the first time from Z. diphylla. The Z. diphylla (AF) showed promising in vitro and in vivo anticancer activity against Dalton's lymphoma ascites (DLA) cells, as well as apoptotic (inducing programmed cell death) activity. The n-hexane extracts did not show any deleterious effects on laboratory mice in short-term toxicity evaluation. The authors concluded that Z. diphylla is a medicinal plant that shows great potential for the development of a valuable anticancer medicine.

Rojas et al. (1999), investigated the effects of chloroform-methanol extracts obtained from various Mexican medicinal plants, including Z. diphylla, on the spontaneous contractions of isolated rat ileum. The results of the study showed that all of the plant extracts induced a concentration-dependent inhibition of the spontaneous contractions of the rats’ ileum. The authors concluded that the plant has antispasmodic as well as antimicrobial action that supports its traditional use for the treatment of gastrointestinal diseases.

Safety / Precautions

  • The safety of using this plant during pregnancy and lactation has not been established.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!


Argueta A. Atlas de las Plantas Medicinales de México Vol. 2.
México, D.F.: Instituto Nacional Indigenista; 1994; p. 800.

Arunkumar R, Nair SA, Subramoniam A. Induction of cell-specific apoptosis and protection of mice from cancer challenge by a steroid positive compound from Zornia diphylla (L.) Pers.
J Pharmacol Pharmacother. 2012; 3(3):233-41. doi: 10.4103/0976-500X.99420.

Ford KC. Las Yerbas de la Gente: A Study of Hispano-American Medicinal Plants.
Ann Arbor, MI: The University of Michigan; 1975; p. 357.

Khare CP. Indian Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated Dictionary.
Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag; 2004; p. 738.

Mabberley D. Mabberley’s Plant Book 3rd ed.
London: Cambridge University Press; 2008; p. 924.

Martínez M. Plantas Medicinales de México.
México, D.F.: Editorial Botas; 1989; pp. 435-436.

Mendoza-Castelán G, Lugo-Pérez R. Plantas Medicinales en los Mercados de México.
Chapingo, Estado de México: Universidad Autónoma Chapingo; 2011; pp. 464-465.

Quattrocchi, U. World Dictionary of Medicinal and Poisonous Plants, Vol 3.
Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2012; pp. 849-850.

Rojas A, Bah M, Rojas JI, Serrano V, Pacheco S. Spasmolytic activity of some plants used by the Otomi Indians of Quéretaro (México) for the treatment of gastrointestinal disorders. Phytomedicine. 1999; 6(5):367-71.
Schoenhals L. A Spanish-English Glossary of Mexican Flora and Fauna.
Mexico City: Summer Institute of Linguistics: 1988; p. 58.

White R. Elsevier’s Dictionary of Plant Names of North America Including Mexico.
Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2003; p. 212.