Venus Flytrap in Health and Medicine

If you or someone you know has lymphoma, you may have encountered products containing Venus Flytrap extract that claim to have anticancer properties.

While this marvel of creation certainly deserves attention, there is no evidence that Venus flytrap extracts can be used to treat cancer, and side effects have been reported with its use, so buyer beware.

Venus flytrap close up
Aleksandar Reba / EyeEm / Getty Images

Where Does Venus Flytrap Grow?

Seemingly exotic, the Venus flytrap, or Dionaea muscipula, is actually a North American plant native to low-lying swampy areas of the southeastern United States.

Closeup on the Plant Itself

It is an herbaceous perennial that grows up to 17 inches high, with leaves about three to five inches long, with two layers modified at the end to form the trap.

The leaf sides have 15 to 20 bristles on the very edge, and three of the sensing bristles on the surface – the sensitive bristles, when stimulated by a hapless insect or the tip of a pencil, snap shut with the bristles locking closed.

The trapped insect is digested over about 6 days, after which the trap slowly re-opens.

How is it Used?

The entire fresh plant is used medicinally. Juice from the pressed fresh plant stimulates the immune system, has antineoplastic and antispasmodic uses, according to the Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines; also according to this source, the chief active ingredient is believed to be a substance called plumbagin, and unproven uses include the treatment of Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma as well as solid tumors.

Is it Helpful in Cancer?

Multiple sources indicate a lack of evidence in support of the use of Venus flytrap extract for treating cancer.

The American Cancer Society states, “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that extract from the Venus flytrap plant is effective in treating skin cancer or any other type of cancer. Some side effects have been reported with its use.”

The cancer society states, “Most of the studies done on the herbal extract were conducted by the physician who patented the drug Carnivora, who also has a large financial stake in a clinic that administers the drug and in the company that manufactures the drug.” They also note that supporters also claim that Carnivora is effective for treating colitis, Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, neurodermatitis, chronic fatigue syndrome, HIV, and certain types of herpes.

The bottom line, for now, appears to be that, although animal and laboratory studies show promise, further studies are necessary to determine whether the results of existing studies apply to humans. If such benefits exist, the active compounds may be produced using biotechnology. A recent review of compounds isolated from natural plants or plant in vitro cultures included plumbagin, a compound found in venus flytraps, among potential anti-cancer agents that could be produced in laboratory cultures.

Precautions and Adverse Reactions

According to the PDR of Herbal Medicines, Venus flytrap extract, when delivered to the body in ways other than through digestion, has led to elevated body temperature, chills, and circulatory damage, with circulatory collapse a possibility. Adverse effects may be due to contamination with ​bacterial toxin. Skin contact with the fresh plant may also cause irritation.

According to the American Cancer Society, “Liquid extracts of Venus flytrap, including Carnivora, do not appear to be toxic when taken by mouth, but not enough is known about the active ingredients for scientists to ensure that they are safe.”

They also note that most of the liquid extracts of Venus flytrap contain between 25 percent and 30 percent alcohol, which may cause harmful interactions with medicines such as disulfiram and metronidazole.

As with all herbal and alternative medicines, people are urged to consult the doctor, pharmacist and healthcare team before beginning alternative therapies sold as dietary supplements.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gaascht F, Dicato M, Diederich M. Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula Solander ex Ellis) Contains Powerful Compounds that Prevent and Cure Cancer. Front Oncol. 2013;3:202. doi:10.3389/fonc.2013.00202

  2. Bemm F, Becker D, Larisch C, et al. Venus flytrap carnivorous lifestyle builds on herbivore defense strategies. Genome Res. 2016;26(6):812-25. doi:10.1101/gr.202200.115

  3. Dionaea / Venus flytrap / Venus vliegenvanger - Kruidwis. Google Sites.

Additional Reading
  • Jeziorek M, Sykłowska-Baranek K, Pietrosiuk A. Hairy root cultures for the production of anti-cancer naphthoquinone compounds. Curr Med Chem. 2017 Aug 21. doi: 10.2174/0929867324666170821161844. [Epub ahead of print].
  • Physician's Desk Reference3 for Herbal Medicines, Fourth Edition. Thompson Healthcare.
  • References:

By Tom Iarocci, MD
Tom Iarocci, MD, is a medical writer with clinical and research experience in hematology and oncology.