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Chelidonium is a perennial plant frequently used in alternative medicine as an antimicrobial agent and mild pain killer, as well as a treatment for various skin rashes and ailments. Most parts of the plant, including the stem, the leaves, and the flowers can be used medicinally, and some practitioners also use the roots, usually either dried and ground into powder or brewed into a tea. The plant is native to most parts of Europe and Western Asia, and has been used in traditional medical practices there for centuries. It has adapted well to growth in North America, too, and has quite a following in that region today as well. The plant is sometimes also used in streamlined pharmaceuticals, usually as a secondary ingredient. It made headlines in the 1990s when a European pharmaceutical company claimed drugs made almost exclusively from the plant could cure cancer, but those claims were subsequently debunked. In small doses, general supplements made from the plant are usually safe, but there are a number of side effects. Anyone interested in using this or related compounds is usually wise to talk to a healthcare provider in order to better understand the possible risks and more personalized benefits.
The plant is known scientifically as Chelidonium majus, and is part of the Papaveraceae family. It is related to the poppy.
This herbaceous plant can reach up to four feet (1.22 m) tall and has leaves with waved edges that look similar to those of the oak tree. Its blooms usually contain long, black seeds and are comprised of four petals, which can be various shades of yellow. It flowers fully during late spring, and this can sometimes last into early autumn. It drips a bright yellow or orange sap when cut or torn. Sometimes it’s cultivated, but it also grows very quickly in the wild. It’s commonly thought to be a very invasive plant and runs rampant in wooded areas or large fields where seeds have blown or been dropped. It’s perhaps because of this ready availability that it became so popular in ancient and traditional medicine.
Although poisonous in large quantities, the plant can be used for medicinal purposes and has been for thousands of years. In fact, Pliny the Elder mentioned its healing properties in his Natural History, written in the 1st Century. It may have analgesic and sedative properties. The stem latex was once used externally, usually as a cream or paste, for skin problems such as eczema, warts, and ringworm. When dried, chelidonium can also be brewed into a tea to help gastrointestinal issues and gallstones. It can often be found under the name Celandine Tea in many health food or vitamin stores.
The alkaloids from the plant have also caught the attention of the pharmaceutical industry, and some drugs use extracts, often to stabilize or enhance the benefits of other chemicals or drugs involved. One drug, trade named Ukrain™, was made almost entirely from plant parts and was purported to be an effective treatment for nearly all types of cancers. The drug was never approved in either Europe, where it was created, or in the United States. In fact, extensive testing proved manufacturer’s claims unfounded and in some cases completely fabricated. The brand owners were arrested for fraud in 2012 and the drug is not sold anywhere, legally at least, today.
There are certain side effects that may occur when taking this supplement. Some research has shown that it may cause hepatitis. It can also cause allergic reactions, like itching and rashes, in some people. In high doses, it can be toxic to humans, and, for this reason, the root of the plant should especially be avoided by novice practitioers. Consumption in high concentrations has proven fatal to dogs and farm animals. Pregnant or nursing women should not use it.
The chelidonium plant is commonly also known as “tetterwort” in Europe, but it should not be confused with a plant known by the same name in North America. The North American tetterwort is more commonly known as “bloodroot,” and is also part of the poppy family but is an entirely different plant. Chelidonium is also often confused with lesser celadine, which is part of the buttercup family.