Table of Contents > Herbs & Supplements > Cotton (Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum) Print

Cotton (Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum)


Also listed as: Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum
Related terms

Related Terms
  • Algodón (Spanish), algodón americano (Spanish), algodón cimarrón (Spanish), algodonero (Spanish), coton, cotton plant, cotton root, cotton seed, cotton seed oil, cottonier, cottonseed, cottonseed oil, dimethipin (2,3-dihydro-5,6-dimethyl-1,4-dithiin 1,1,4,4-tetraoxide), fructose, G. arboreum L., G. barbadense, G. herbaceum L., G. hirsutum, glucose, glucosylceramides, Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum, gossypol, inositol, Karpasa, melezitose, mian hua gen, oligosaccharides, pectin, saccharose, thidiazuron (N-phenyl-N-1,2,3-thidiazol-5-yl-urea), trehalose, trehalulose, tribufos (S,S,S-tributyl phosphorotrithioate).
  • Note: This monograph focuses on the effects of Gossypium species. The particular effects of gossypol, a constituent of Gossypium and other plant species, are reviewed in detail elsewhere and will not be discussed in detail in this monograph.

  • Gossypium hirsutum is a cotton species native to Central America and the Caribbean. After being domesticated in the United States, this cotton species now provides over 90% of commercial cotton worldwide.
  • The dried root bark of cotton contains gossypol. This compound may cause abortion-inducing effects. Gossypol may be isolated more easily from the bark. Other parts of the cotton plant have limited gossypol content.
  • Cotton has a history of use for breastfeeding, contraception, diarrhea, female reproduction, fever, headache, pregnancy, nausea, and various other applications.

Evidence Table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. GRADE *

Early research suggests that cotton may increase the complement components (immune system activators) in breast milk. Additional research on this topic is needed.


Early research suggests cotton may improve the condition of hair. More high-quality research is needed.


An herbal combination containing cotton may improve malaria symptoms. More studies using cotton alone are needed.

* Key to grades

A: Strong scientific evidence for this use
B: Good scientific evidence for this use
C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use
D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work)
F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)

Tradition / Theory

The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider. There may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.

  • Abortion inducing, anti-fertility (male), constipation, cough, diarrhea, dysentery, fever, gastrointestinal disorders, gonorrhea (sexually transmitted disease), headache, hemorrhage (bleeding), labor induction (oxytocic), lactation stimulant, menopausal symptoms, menstrual flow stimulant, menstrual pain, nausea, neuritis (nerve inflammation), pain, placental detachment (pregnancy complication), urethritis (urethra inflammation), vaginal contraceptive.


Adults (18 years and older)

  • One teaspoon of cotton-root bark has been boiled with three cups of water for 30 minutes. One to two cups of this tea have been consumed daily. Additionally, either two grams or 10 grams of a 20% cotton decoction has been taken by mouth.
  • Sixty milliliters of a 40% cotton seed mixture has been taken by mouth. Root bark alcoholic extracts and 2-4-milliliter liquid extracts of cotton have been taken by mouth.
  • For breastfeeding, a single dose of a drink containing milk, sugar, cacao, and 20 grams of cotton seed extract has been taken by mouth.
  • For cosmetic uses, a formula with 1% cotton honeydew extract has been applied to the hair after shampooing.
  • For labor induction, 1-2 teaspoons of a cotton liquid extract has been taken by mouth.
  • For wound care, dry and washed cotton sheets (surgical patties) have been used during surgical operations.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for cotton in children.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.


  • Avoid with known allergy or sensitivity to Gossypium hirsutum or Gossypium herbaceum, their parts, or other members of the Malvaceae family, which includes ambrette, bala, chocolate, hibiscus, and marshmallow.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Cotton is generally safe when taken by mouth in appropriate medicinal doses or in amounts normally found in foods. Cotton is generally safe when the portion contains less than 450 parts per million of free gossypol.
  • Cotton may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in people with bleeding disorders or those taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.
  • Use cautiously as a male contraceptive agent or during surgery.
  • Use cautiously in people taking agents for inflammation, agents for pain relief, or agents that promote urination.
  • Use cautiously in people recovering from abdominal surgery, and people with kidney problems, low iron or potassium levels, or stomach or intestine disorders.
  • Avoid in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Avoid in people with known allergy or sensitivity to Gossypium hirsutum or Gossypium herbaceum, their parts, or other members of the Malvaceae family, which includes ambrette, bala, chocolate, hibiscus, and marshmallow.
  • Cotton may also cause altered brain inflammation when used during surgery, cytochrome P450 enzyme activity, hemorrhages, histamine release, induction of abortion or labor, inflammation, intestinal blockage, lowered potassium levels, muscle weakness or paralysis, prevention of sperm production, promotion of menstrual flow, and stimulation of the uterus.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • Use cautiously in women who are breastfeeding, due to a lack of sufficient data. Cotton seeds may increase concentrations of complement component 3 and 4 (natural antibacterial agents) in the breast milk.
  • Avoid in women who are pregnant, as cotton-root bark and seeds, which contain gossypol, may possibly induce abortion.


Interactions with Drugs

  • Cotton may interact with agents for cancer, agents for inflammation or pain relief, agents that increase urination, agents with potassium, antibiotics, antifungals, contraceptives, and iron.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Cotton may interact with antibacterials, antifungals, contraceptives, herbs and supplements for cancer, herbs and supplements for inflammation or pain relief, herbs and supplements that increase urination, herbs and supplements with potassium, and iron.

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (

  1. Ajaiyeoba, E. O., Falade, C. O., Fawole, O. I., Akinboye, D. O., Gbotosho, G. O., Bolaji, O. M., Ashidi, J. S., Abiodun, O. O., Osowole, O. S., Itiola, O. A., Oladepo, O., Sowunmi, A., and Oduola, A. M. Efficacy of herbal remedies used by herbalists in Oyo State Nigeria for treatment of Plasmodium falciparum infections--a survey and an observation. Afr.J Med Med Sci 2004;33(2):115-119.
  2. Ankrah, N. A., Nyarko, A. K., Addo, P. G., Ofosuhene, M., Dzokoto, C., Marley, E., Addae, M. M., and Ekuban, F. A. Evaluation of efficacy and safety of a herbal medicine used for the treatment of malaria. Phytother.Res 2003;17(6):697-701.
  3. Annan, K. and Houghton, P. J. Antibacterial, antioxidant and fibroblast growth stimulation of aqueous extracts of Ficus asperifolia Miq. and Gossypium arboreum L., wound-healing plants of Ghana. J Ethnopharmacol. 9-2-2008;119(1):141-144.
  4. Conway, G. A. and Slocumb, J. C. Plants used as abortifacients and emmenagogues by Spanish New Mexicans. J Ethnopharmacol. 1979;1(3):241-261.
  5. Flack, M. R., Pyle, R. G., Mullen, N. M., Lorenzo, B., Wu, Y. W., Knazek, R. A., Nisula, B. C., and Reidenberg, M. M. Oral gossypol in the treatment of metastatic adrenal cancer. J Clin Endocrinol.Metab 1993;76(4):1019-1024.
  6. Herman, D. L. and Smith, F. H. Effect of bound gossypol on the absorption of iron by rats. J Nutr 1973;103(6):882-889.
  7. Leipelt, M., Warnecke, D., Zahringer, U., Ott, C., Muller, F., Hube, B., and Heinz, E. Glucosylceramide synthases, a gene family responsible for the biosynthesis of glucosphingolipids in animals, plants, and fungi. J Biol.Chem 9-7-2001;276(36):33621-33629.
  8. Liu, G. Z., Ch'iu-Hinton, K., Cao, J. A., Zhu, C. X., and Li, B. Y. Effects of K salt or a potassium blocker on gossypol-related hypokalemia. Contraception 1988;37(2):111-117.
  9. Liu, G. Z., Lyle, K. C., and Cao, J. Clinical trial of gossypol as a male contraceptive drug. Part I. Efficacy study. Fertil.Steril. 1987;48(3):459-461.
  10. Nakayama, T., Shimazaki, K., Ono, J., Ohsato, K., and Yamaura, A. [Intracranial foreign body granuloma caused by fine cotton fibers: a case report]. No Shinkei Geka 1994;22(11):1081-1084.
  11. Oberto, G., Bauza, E., Berghi, A., Portolan, F., Botto, J. M., Peyronel, D., Dal, Farra C., and Domloge, N. Cotton honeydew (Gossypium hirsutum L.) extract offers very interesting properties for hair cosmetics and care products. Drugs Exp.Clin Res 2005;31(4):131-140.
  12. Qian, S. Z. and Wang, Z. G. Gossypol: a potential antifertility agent for males. Annu.Rev.Pharmacol.Toxicol. 1984;24:329-360.
  13. Qian, S. Z., Jing, G. W., Wu, X. Y., Xu, Y., Li, Y. Q., and Zhou, Z. H. Gossypol related hypokalemia. Clinicopharmacologic studies. Chin Med J (Engl.) 1980;93(7):477-482.
  14. Sepehri, H., Roghani, M., and Houdebine, M. L. Oral administration of pectin-rich plant extract enhances C3 and C4 complement concentration in woman colostrum. Reprod.Nutr Dev. 1998;38(3):255-260.
  15. Sunilkumar, G., Campbell, L. M., Puckhaber, L., Stipanovic, R. D., and Rathore, K. S. Engineering cottonseed for use in human nutrition by tissue-specific reduction of toxic gossypol. Proc.Natl.Acad.Sci U.S.A 11-28-2006;103(48):18054-18059.

Copyright © 2011 Natural Standard (

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.

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