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Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus): Benefits, Uses and Side Effects

Greater celandine, scientific name Chelidonium majus, is a perennial plant that belongs to the Papaveraceae family, which includes poppies and fumitory. Some also know it by the name of ‘swallow’, since it comes from the Greek word chelidon, which has this meaning.

It is native to Europe and the Mediterranean basin, but its cultivation began in America by the colonizers, who thought it a good remedy against warts. Nowadays, its use is mainly for pharmacological purposes, but there are warnings about its potential risks. Let us look in detail at its properties and contraindications.

Characteristics of Greater Celandine

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) should not be confused with lesser celandine (Ficaria verna, of the Ranunculus ficaria family). It is an herbaceous perennial that can reach up to 1 meter in height and tends to grow in grasslands, shady and cool places, dumps and old walls.

It has erected, branched and fragile stems, as well as large leaves (up to 30 centimeters), divided into oval or lobed segments. Its particular yellow flowers appear in terminal umbelliform inflorescences, usually from May to October.

They also produce fruits inside an elongated capsule that resembles a siliqua, whose interior houses small black seeds. The whole plant secretes a distinctive orange latex, which has been given medicinal applications. The dried parts of its surface (leaves), root and rhizome (subway stem) also have pharmacological uses.

Medicinal Properties of Greater Celandine

In the past, all parts of greater celandine – especially its latex – were used as a remedy for various conditions and ailments. It was applied topically to treat skin diseases and eye problems. Internally, it was a remedy for digestive, respiratory and inflammation-related problems.

In fact, research on the plant has determined that it contains substances with pharmacological action, among which the following stand out:

  • Alkaloids derived from phenanthridine (chelidonine, chelerythrine and sanguinarine).
  • Chelidonic acid (gamma pyrone dicarbonate).
  • Isoquinoline derivatives (protopine).
  • Alpha and beta allocriptopine.
  • Coptisine.
  • Berberine.

Right now, the properties of C. majus are exploited in the form of extracts and purified derivative compounds, which are included in drugs and homeopathic remedies. Home use of the plant is discouraged.

And although its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antispasmodic, antimicrobial and antitumor potential has been recognized, there is controversy due to the high risk of unwanted effects. What medicinal properties are attributed to it?

Upset stomach or dyspepsia

One of the main uses of greater celandine has to do with digestive disorders. Specifically, people use as an adjuvant to soothe bloating, belching, nausea and other discomforts associated with dyspepsia.

A publication in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal lists this plant as a potential ally in the treatment of functional dyspepsia. A 60% improvement in symptoms was found in the group taking C. majus compared to 27.6% in the placebo group. The duration of treatment was 6 weeks.

A more recent study suggests that a specific product containing greater celandine and other medicinal plants (peppermint leaves, German chamomile, caraway, licorice, lemon balm, angelica and milk thistle) is a safe and well-tolerated phytreatment for symptoms such as the following:

  • Stomach pain.
  • Acid reflux.
  • Vomiting.
  • Nausea.

As a homeopathic remedy, greater celandine appears to be beneficial for functional dyspepsia and irritable bowel syndrome. Still, we need more comprehensive studies.

The plant isn’t for oral consumption unless it’s in the form of supplements for that purpose.

Viral warts

The milky juice of greater celandine (i.e., its orange latex) is part of folk and homeopathic medicine as a supplement to facilitate the removal of viral warts. Does it work?

In a report shared through the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, the sap of Chelidonium majus was reported to have therapeutic potential against skin warts.

When applied externally, it is safe. Even so, we need more studies to know if there are effects due to its transdermal absorption.

Another research reported in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences states that the alkaloids and proteins present in the latex of C. majus latex confer antiviral properties that act against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common cause of warts.

Other medicinal applications

Due to its concentration of active compounds, including alkaloids, greater celandine seems to have other health effects. However, the evidence for these uses is insufficient and it is a subject that is still under discussion, due to the risks of ingesting the plant.

Compiling information from one of the chapters of the book Meyler’s Side Effects of Drugs, other traditional uses of Chelidonium majus are the following:

  • Asthma
  • Whooping cough.
  • Ringworm.
  • Jaundice.
  • Bronchitis.
  • Calluses.
  • Gallstones.

In addition to the above, the plant seems to have effects against irregular menstrual periods, high blood pressure, loss of appetite and toothache, among other conditions. The lack of evidence leads to cautious use in all these cases.

Risks and contraindications

Given its high alkaloid content, you shouldn’t consume greater celandine. The artisanal use of the plant is not safe, as it apparently causes liver damage. Hence much of the controversy surrounding the plant, as in the past people thought it had liver health benefits.

However, although the application of celandine latex seems to be safe for warts, it may cause allergic skin rashes in some people. If so, rinse with plenty of water and discontinue use.

Due to the lack of reliable information on its safety, don’t use the plant and its derivatives in the following cases:

  • Young children.
  • Pregnancy and lactation.
  • Autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus, SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
  • Liver disease, including hepatitis.
  • Bile duct obstruction.

At the same time, don’t use it simultaneous with drugs that increase the risk of liver damage, including paracetamol, amiodarone, carbamazepine, fluconazole, erythromycin and lovastatin, among others.

What to remember about greater celandine?

In traditional medicine, greater celandine has been around for a long time for the treatment of skin problems, digestive discomfort and some pain. After several investigations, researchers determined that it has potential against dyspepsia and skin warts.

Despite this, several reports point out that its high content of alkaloids can lead to toxic effects, especially at the hepatic level. For this reason, researchers don’t recommend its home consumption. In case of taking supplements containing this plant, consult a doctor beforehand.

As for the topical use of its latex, reports indicate that it tends to be safe and people tolerate it well when applied on warts and calluses. Even so, you should do a small test before applying it in its entirety. If there are no allergic reactions after applying the remedy, you can use it without problem.

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