Bryonia alba, sometimes referred to generically as white bryony, is a flowered, vine-like plant that originates in England, often growing on hedgerows. White bryony grows throughout England, spreading as far as Yorkshire. Other similar species can be found in Scotland as well as elsewhere in Europe and even in the United States, where it probably was taken and cultivated as a medicinal herb. It is related to the cucumber.
As a remedy in homeopathic medicine, bryonia alba root is used as an anti-inflammatory. It is commonly used in homeopathy to treat back pain, sciatica, neck pain and other general aches and pains. In some cases, it appears to be at least as effective as, if not more effective than, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs in treating inflammation and pain. Other applications include the treatment of arthritis, and some people have even reported success using bryonia alba to treat arthritis in dogs.
It is important to know the difference between an herb remedy and a homeopathic remedy with respect to bryonia alba. Homeopathic remedies use highly diluted and specially prepared formulations of the original herb or substance. Herbal remedies use tinctures or teas from the original herb, whether using the leaves, the root or other pieces of the plant, such as the berries. Some herbs, such as bryonia alba, are safe to use in homeopathic applications, but tinctures of the root or leaves are not recommended, because they are considered poisonous. The berries of this plant are particularly toxic and are one of only 40 types of berries that can prove fatal.
Bryonia alba is used in homeopathic remedies to treat pain that is relieved by resting or lying down, irritability, dry cough, overall weakness and certain types of headaches. In the early 1900s, the root of this plant was prescribed in tinctures for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis and pneumonia as well as to induce vomiting, but this usage is no longer recommended. Modern homeopaths also use the remedy for fibromyalgia, bursitis and tendinitis.
Because bryonia alba is so common in England, the name Bryony and variations thereof has historically been a popular name for English and Scottish girls. Even the Royal Navy has made use of the name, christening at least two ships HMS Bryony. Despite its importance and popularity, it is considered a weed in some areas, because it is a tenacious plant that will take over an area from native vegetation if it is not controlled.