Dionaea / Venus flytrap

Medicinal Properties of the Venus Flytrap

The Venus flytrap contains compounds that can benefit human health, including naphthoquinones, phenolic acids, and flavonoids.30

According to a 2013 review by Gaascht et al., more than 15 compounds have been isolated from the Venus flytrap, although most of these are also found in other plants. At the time of the review, only one compound thought to be unique to the Venus flytrap with medicinal potential had been isolated: diomuscipulone. This naphthoquinone, however, has apparently not been tested for its biological activity.

Many of the compounds found in the Venus flytrap, including the naphthoquinone plumbagin (also present in Plumbago zeylanica [Plumbaginaceae] and other plants) and the phenolic acids ellagic acid (also present in pomegranate [Punica granatum, Lythraceae] and many other plants) and salicylic acid (also present in Salix spp. [Salicaceae]), have been shown to modulate the NF-ĸB cell-signaling pathway. This may be significant because this pathway is involved in the development and progression of many types of cancers.

Several of the compounds found in the Venus flytrap, including salicylic acid and the flavonoids quercetin and kaempferol (which are both present in Ginkgo biloba [Ginkgoaceae] and many other plants), have been the subjects of pharmacokinetic studies and clinical trials. Though most studies show that these compounds have poor bioavailability, it has been shown that co-treatment with a natural compound like quercetin or kaempferol and a chemotherapeutic drug like cisplatin or etoposide is more efficient than a single treatment, probably because of the ability of the natural compounds to block a specific drug resistance mechanism used by cancer cells.

Plumbagin may be one of the most promising anticancer compounds present in the Venus flytrap.30 It has demonstrated anticancer and antiproliferative activities in animal models and cell cultures and has been shown to target a wide range of cancer types, including breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, acute promyelocytic leukemia, and prostate cancer.

In addition, plumbagin and its derivatives appear to have antibacterial properties. A 2013 in vitro study showed that the plumbagin derivatives maritinone and 3,3’-biplumbagin (isolated from a plant other than the Venus flytrap) were 32 times more potent than the antimycobacterial drug rifampicin against a strain of Mycobacterium tuberculosis that was pan-resistant (i.e., resistant to all five first-line anti-tuberculosis drugs). The authors concluded that these two derivatives have the potential for development as new anti-tuberculosis drugs, especially against resistant strains.

In the 1970s, the German physician Helmut Keller, MD, observed a Venus flytrap while in a flower shop in Maine and wondered if the plant contained substances that could be used selectively against tumor cells. He eventually developed a patented extract of the Venus flytrap called Carnivora. Although some anecdotal evidence suggests that Carnivora may be an effective cancer therapy, it does not appear to have been the subject of any human clinical trials. According to the Carnivora website, its manufacturing process does not use any Venus flytraps from wild habitats.

Daniel Moerman’s Native American Ethnobotany, a highly respected compilation of the ethnobotanical uses of North American plants by Native American peoples, does not indicate that the Venus flytrap was used medicinally by Native Americans, but it does state that the Cherokee used a “small piece of plant chewed and spat on bait for fishing.”

Although the Venus flytrap does not seem to be a major part of the commercial herb trade, the plant does contain compounds with demonstrated anticancer effects and other potentially beneficial biological activities.

  1. Gaascht F, Dicato M, Diederich M. Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula Solander ex Ellis) Contains Powerful Compounds that Prevent and Cure Cancer. Frontiers in Oncology. 2013;3:202. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2013.00202.
  2. Jamal MS, Parveen S, Beg MA, et al. Anticancer compound plumbagin and its molecular targets: A structural insight into the inhibitory mechanisms using computational approaches. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(2):e87309. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0087309.
  3. Uc-Cachón AH, Borges-Argáez R, Said-Fernández S, et al. Naphthoquinones isolated from Diospyros anisandra exhibit potent activity against pan-resistant first-line drugs Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains. Pulmonary Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2014;27(1):114-20. doi: 10.1016/j.pupt.2013.08.001.
  4. Carnivora: Pharmacology and clinical efficacy of a most diverse natural plant extract. WeeksMD website. Available at: http://weeksmd.com/2008/12/carnivora-pharmacology-and-clinical-efficacy-of-a-most-diverse-natural-plant-extract/. Accessed April 3, 2017.
  5. Walker M. German Cancer Therapies. New York, NY: Kensington Books; 2003.
  6. FAQ. Carnivora website. Available at: www.carnivora.com/faq.html. Accessed April 3, 2017.
  7. Moerman D. Native American Ethnobotany. Portland, OR: Timber Press; 1998.