Corn silks, the silky tufts emerging from the tip of a developing ear of corn, are common this time of year as people buy corn and eat it in piles (I prefer GMO-free varieties!). But the corn silks often end up in the compost pile along with the husks as people prepare piles of corn for grilling, boiling, baking, or canning. But you can save those corn silks and put them to use in your home apothecary. (To learn more about the development of corn silk, check out this resource from Purdue University Department of Agronomy.)
Zea mays (corn) is in the grass plant family, and is one of the top three most important grains in the world (rice and wheat are the other two). Corn was bred in what is now Mexico and Central America almost 9,000 years ago by indigenous peoples who knew how to get the most out of corn to maximize its nutritional and medicinal benefits. Since they wasted nothing, they also made use of the corn silk.
Eaten on their own, corn silks taste like green corn: not unpleasant but not something you want as a heaping side dish, either. And their stringiness limits some uses. But corn silks can be used in some cooking and as a tea. Dried corn silks can also be found in capsule form in many health food stores and apothecaries.
Like any plant used for medicinal purposes, educate yourself about any potential side effects in discussion with your doctor; they may also interact with your medications. And consult with a master herbalist using a resource like the American Herbalists Guild.
Corn silks have some amazing medicinal benefits. They are very high in Vitamin K, C, and B, iron, zinc, and corn silks are a great source of potassium. The many flavonols and antioxidants found in corn silks also provide many of the medicinal benefits of the silks. Both historic traditions and recent research support the role of corn silk to treat many medical conditions (refer to the source information below for more information):
- Sooth inflamed membranes and minor pain (such as honey for sore throats)
- Dilate the blood vessels, such as a treatment for high blood pressure
- Works as a diuretic
- Kidney or bladder stones
- Cystitis (urinary tract infection)
- Congestive heart failure
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Enhance blood clotting
- Reduce blood sugar levels
Corn silk tea is the traditional and most commonly known medicinal use for corn silk. To make one serving of corn silk tea, boil either fresh or dried corn silks from one ear of corn in water for several minutes (dried silks can be used). Strain and drink the tea. You can also add corn silks to soups and stews, chopped, as they can serve as a soup thickener. Dried corn silks work great for this!
Read more about corn silk as a medicinal herb from these resources (feel free to find any source you wish for the books, I provided links for the books so you can see the cover, etc):
Information on Corn Silk from WebMD
The effects of corn silk on glycaemic metabolism. Nutrition & Metabolism 2009, 6:47
Indian Medicinal Plants, An Illustrated Dictionary. C.P. Khare, 2007
The Dictionary of Modern Herbalism. S.Y. Mills, 1985
Guide to the Edible and Medicinal Plants of Britain and Northern Europe. E. Launert, 1989
A Modern Herbal. M. Grieve, 1931