Cotton (Gossypium arboreum, Gossypium herbaceum, Gossypium hirsutum)

While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

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.

Scientific Evidence


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.

Breast feeding

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

Cosmetic uses

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

Malaria treatment

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

*Key to grades:


The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. 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 health care professional.

  • 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.


The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

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.


Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. 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.

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.

Author Information

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


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to Selected references are listed below.

  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  12. Qian, S. Z. and Wang, Z. G. Gossypol: a potential antifertility agent for males. Annu.Rev.Pharmacol.Toxicol. 1984;24:329-360. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract
  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. View Abstract

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.