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Freeze dried specimen of yam, Dioscorea composita, United States, 1985-1995

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The wild yam, Dioscorea composita, from Central America, was used in the production of artificial hormones for early oral contraceptive pills. The yam contains substances similar to key hormones such as progesterone. All progesterone was made in laboratories from wild plants by the 1950s.

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Glossary: yam

The starchy tuberous root of various species of Dioscorea, largely cultivated for food in tropical and subtropical countries, where it takes the place of the potato.

Glossary: hormone

A substance produced in one part of the body which passes into the bloodstream and is then carried to other (distant) organs or tissues, where it acts to modify their structure or function

Glossary: contraception

The use of methods and techniques to prevent pregnancy from sex.

Glossary: specimen

Individual sample or unit that is deliberately selected for examination, display, or study, and is usually chosen as typical of its kind.