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Corn Silk

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Background & General Info

Corn silk refers to the stigmas of female flower of maize. These elongated stigmas are soft strands that resemble silk thread or a tuft of hairs and appear light green in color at first and then yellow, red, or light brown eventually. [1][2] Corn silk is actually a widely available waste material from corn cultivation but nonetheless has been utilized for a very long time as an alternative natural treatment to a variety of disorders and as a cost-effectively and nutritionally important staple food. [2][3]


Atop the corn plant (Zea mays) is its male flowers that produce the yellow pollen, whereas the female flowers that produce corn silk are located in the leaf axils. [2] Corn silk serves as the means of the plant to capture the pollen for pollination, with each corn silk capable of being pollinated to form one corn kernel. It can reach a length of about 30 centimeters or longer and tastes somewhat sweet. [2]

History & Traditional Use

For several years, the Chinese and Native Americans traditionally used corn silk as remedy to a number of diseases. [2] Many countries around the world including the United States, Turkey, and France regard it as a traditional medicine. [2] Based on Chinese medicinal system, corn silk has been used for decades as an oral antidiabetic agent. [4]

General Herbal Uses

In several countries, corn silk is used as treatment of edema, cystitis, gout, kidney stones, prostatitis, nephritis, and urinary infection. [2][5] Supplementation of extract from corn silk has also been claimed to be helpful in inflammatory diseases associated with oxidative stress. [5] A number of studies have also reported its potential use as antioxidant, diuretic, hypoglycemic, antidepressant, and antifatigue agent. [2] As a medicine, corn silk is harvested prior to pollination and can be used either fresh or dried. [2]

Constituents/Active Components

Corn silk is a source of proteins; vitamins; carbohydrates; fixed and volatile oils; calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium salts; steroids such as sitosterol and stigmasterol; alkaloids; saponins; tannins; and flavonoids. [4] El-Ghorab, El-Massry, and Shibamoto (2007) carried out gas chromatography and mass spectrometry (GC–MS) in the volatile dichloromethane extract obtained from corn silk. From the 36 compounds identified, which compose 99.4% of the extract, the following were considered the major components of corn silk: cis-alpha-terpineol (24.22%), 6,11-oxidoacor-4-ene (18.06%), citronellol (16.18%), trans-pinocamphone (5.86%), eugenol (4.37%), neo-iso-3-thujanol (2.59%), and cis-sabinene hydrate (2.28%). [6]

Medicinal/Scientific Research


In a 2007 Egyptian study, petroleum ether, ethanol, and water extracts from dried corn silk showed apparent antioxidant activities in the 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH)/linoleic acid assay at levels of 50–400 μg/mL. The ethanol extract, in particular, suppressed the activity of DPPH by 84% at a level of 400 μg/mL. In the beta-carotene bleaching assay, all tested extracts also displayed satisfactory antioxidant activity with obvious dose responses. [6]


Maysin, a major flavonoid of corn silk, had been confirmed by Lee et al. (2014) to display anticancer activity in androgen-independent human prostate cancer cells (PC-3) and to inhibit the growth of cancer cells by triggering apoptotic cell death. This flavonoid decreases the viability of PC-3 cells in a dose-dependent manner (87% reduction at a concentration of 200 μg/mL) and considerably induces apoptotic death of cells, depolarization of mitochondrial membrane potential (MMP), DNA fragmentation, and reduction in levels of Bcl-2 and pro-caspase-3 expression. Phosphorylation of Akt and ERK has also been significantly diminished by maysin. Overall, these mechanisms indicate maysin’s potential as a therapeutic agent against either chemo-resistant or androgen-independent human prostate cancer. [7]

A more recent 2017 study explored the anticancer activity of corn silk extract in human colon cancer cells and human gastric cancer cells, which was found to encourage apoptosis via the mitochondria-mediated pathway. Treatment with corn silk extract led to apoptosis-related events, including inhibition of cell proliferation, loss of mitochondrial membrane potential, release of Ca2+, and release of cytochrome c from the mitochondria into the cytosol. Corn silk extract also hampered the proliferation of cancer cells and concentration-dependently increased the level of apoptosis. [3]


Wang et al. (2012) investigated the anti-inflammatory effect of corn silk extract using a rat model of carrageenin-induced pleurisy (inflammation of tissues that line the lungs and chest wall). According to the study, pretreatment with corn silk extract led to a reduction of pleurisy exudate, number of leukocytes, oxidative stress, C3 protein level, and O2 levels at the inflamed site; caused an inhibition of tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β), vascular endothelial growth factor-alpha (VEGF-α), and interleukin-17A (IL-17A); and prevented the occurrence of inflammation-associated events by activating nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB). [5]


Findings from the study of Lee et al. (2016) indicated the ability of corn silk extract high in maysin content to reduce body weight and fat deposition in mice by suppressing the expression of genes associated with adipocyte differentiation, fat accumulation, and fat synthesis and by encouraging the expression of genes involved in lipolysis and fat oxidation. In this study, C57BL/6J mice orally receiving high-fat diet and high-maysin corn silk extract at a concentration of 100 mg/kg body daily were characterized with significantly lower kidney fat and epididymal fat pad weights and overall body weight after 8 weeks of intake than those on high-fat diet only. It had also been shown that there was considerable decrease in mRNA expression levels of CCAAT/enhancer binding protein-β, PPAR-γ1, and PPAR-γ2 in the epididymal fat pad. Additionally, significant elevation of mRNA expression levels of AMP-activated protein kinase, hormone-sensitive lipase, and carnitine palmitoyltransferase-1 was observed. [1]


Findings of Mahmoudi and Ehteshami (2010) pointed out the excellent antidepressant effect of corn silk in models of depression, as evaluated through forced swimming test and tail suspension test, and demonstrated its ability to significantly shorten the immobility period in both tests. At a dose of 1500 mg/kg, corn silk extract exhibited antidepressant activity that is comparable to that of 10 mg/kg of imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant used in the treatment of major depression. [8]


A 2010 Chinese study evaluated the anti-fatigue activity of purified flavonoids from corn silk using the swimming exercise in mice, which was performed in an acrylic plastic pool filled with 30-cm depth of water. Results from the swimming exercise test associated the anti-fatigue effect of corn silk flavonoids with their effective inhibition of lactic acid production in the blood, which slows down the formation of blood urea nitrogen and increases the concentration of glycogen in the liver. Mice treated with corn silk flavonoids had remarkably longer swimming time than the control group and exemplified elevated exercise tolerance. [9]


Corn silk extract had been demonstrated by Guo et al. (2009) to markedly diminish hyperglycemia in alloxan-induced diabetic mice by increasing their insulin level and recovering the injured β-cells. Oral administration of corn silk extract to hyperglycemic mice appeared to significantly reduce the blood glucose and the HbA1c and to gradually increase their body weight. Pancreatic β-cells of mice damaged by alloxan were partially recovered increasingly as well following administration of corn silk extract 15 days later. [4]


Choi et al. (2014) were the first to report the neuroprotective benefits of maysin from corn silk and its anti-apoptotic action and ability to elicit the expression of intracellular antioxidant enzyme systems in SK-N-MC cells (human neuroblastoma cells). Maysin pretreatment resulted in a reduction of hydrogen peroxide’s cytotoxic effect on SK-N-MC cells, a dose-dependent decrease in intracellular level of reactive oxygen species (ROS), and an inhibition of poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase (PARP). A significant attenuation of DNA damage and apoptotic cell death by maysin pretreatment was also noted. Overall, it has been determined that maysin protects the human brain cells from apoptotic death caused by oxidative stress through its antioxidative action. [10]

Urinary Disorders

Corn silk has been described to be helpful in reducing irritation in the urinary tract and in increasing urine secretion by soothing and relaxing the lining of the bladder and urinary tubules. [11] Moreover, it appears to possess diuretic and uricosuric properties. In the study of Maksimović et al. (2004), daily oral administration of 5% corn silk decoction for 8 days at a dose of 10 mL/kg produced a significant and acute diuresis in male Wistar rats. The peak value was achieved within the first 24 hours of treatment. Treated rodents also manifested a substantial reduction in plasma levels of sodium and chloride and a marked increase in creatinine clearance. [12]

Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

Corn silk is generally considered safe and harmless as a natural traditionally used herbal medicine. The study results of Wang et al. (2011) confirmed an absence of adverse events from consumption of corn silk, supporting its safety for humans. In this subchronic toxicity study, Wistar rats were fed with dietary corn silk at concentrations of 0.5%, 2.0%, and 8.0% (w/w) for 90 days. The level at which no adverse effect was observed was at least 8.0%, corresponding to the mean daily corn silk intake of around 9.354 and 10.308 g/day/kg body weight for males and females, respectively. [13] Corn silk extract was regarded as safe also in the study of Mahmoudi and Ehteshami (2010) at least up to 4000 mg/kg. [8]


[1] E. Y. Lee, S. L. Kim, H. J. Kang, et al., "High maysin corn silk extract reduces body weight and fat deposition in C57BL/6J mice fed high-fat diets," Nutrition Research and Practice, vol. 10, no. 6, p. 575–582, 2016.

[2] K. Hasanudin, P. Hashim and S. Mustafa, "Corn silk (Stigma maydis) in healthcare: a phytochemical and pharmacological review," Molecules, vol. 17, no. 8, p. 9697–9715, 2012.

[3] H. Guo, H. Guan, W. Yang and e. al., "Pro-apoptotic and anti-proliferative effects of corn silk extract on human colon cancer cell lines," Oncology Letters, vol. 13, no. 2, p. 973–978, 2017.

[4] J. Guo, T. Liu, L. Han and Y. Liu, "The effects of corn silk on glycaemic metabolism," Nutrition & Metabolism, vol. 6, p. 47, 2009.

[5] C. Wang, T. Xu, X. Bu and B. Liu, "Anti-inflammation effects of corn silk in a rat model of carrageenin-induced pleurisy," Inflammation, vol. 35, no. 3, p. 822–827, 2012.

[6] A. El-Ghorab, K. El-Massry and T. Shibamoto, "Chemical composition of the volatile extract and antioxidant activities of the volatile and nonvolatile extracts of Egyptian corn silk (Zea mays L.)," Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 55, no. 22, p. 9124–9127, 2007.

[7] J. Lee, S. Lee, S. Kim, et al., "Corn silk maysin induces apoptotic cell death in PC-3 prostate cancer cells via mitochondria-dependent pathway," Life Sciences, vol. 119, no. 1–2, p. 47–55, 2014.

[8] M. Mahmoudi and S. Ehteshami, "Antidepressant activity of Iranian corn silk," European Neuropsychopharmacology, vol. 20, no. 3, p. S392, 2010.

[9] Q.-L. Hu, L.-J. Zhang, Y.-N. Li and e. al., "Purification and anti-fatigue activity of flavonoids from corn silk," International Journal of Physical Sciences, vol. 5, no. 4, p. 321–326, 2010.

[10] D. Choi, S. Kim, J. Choi and Y. Park, "Neuroprotective effects of corn silk maysin via inhibition of H2O2-induced apoptotic cell death in SK-N-MC cells," Life Sciences, vol. 109, no. 1, p. 57–64, 2014.

[11] V. Steenkamp, "Phytomedicines for the prostate," Fitoterapia, vol. 74, no. 6, p. 545–552, 2003.

[12] Z. Maksimović, S. Dobrić, N. Kovacević and Z. Milovanović, "Diuretic activity of Maydis stigma extract in rats," Die Pharmazie, vol. 59, no. 12, p. 967–971, 2004.

[13] C. Wang, T. Zhang, J. Liu and e. al., "Subchronic toxicity study of corn silk with rats," Journal of Ethnopharmacology, vol. 137, no. 1, p. 36–43, 2011.

Article researched and created by Dan Albir for © 2018

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