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Greater Celandine
04-13-2012

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus, Papaveraceae) is a biennial plant consisting of foliage containing a yellow-orange sap with irritating properties; stout, angular stems covered with scattered hairs; and alternate compound leaves are up to 6" long and 3" across. The flowering stalks develop oppositely from the compound leaves with an umbel of 3-8 flowers at its apex. The flowers consist of four yellow petals, 2 sepals that fall early, and a pistil with a number of yellow stamens. Greater celandine has smaller flowers than most other members of the Papaveraceae (poppy) family. The species was introduced to the US from Europe as an herbal plant. Still cultivated in gardens, it can also be found in woodlands, by roadsides, and in waste areas.

In the past, the sap of greater celandine was used to remove warts. Because the sap is toxic and extremely irritating to the skin and eyes, it is rarely used this way anymore; however, there are videos online to demonstrate how to harvest greater celandine and apply it to the skin for wart removal, so this use, while not recommended, has not been completely lost. The herb parts used medicinally are the dried, aboveground parts gathered during flowering season. The German Commission E describes its use to treat "spastic discomfort of the bile ducts and gastrointestinal tract" with a daily dose being 2-5 g of herb (12-30 mg total alkaloids calculated as chelidonine). In homeopathy, it is used as a liver remedy. This use is interesting given that greater celandine is under investigation for hepatotoxicity (See HC 011257-446). According to the authors' findings, while greater celandine can have negative effects on the liver, the regulatory agency may have overstated the number of cases of greater celandine-induced hepatotoxicity.

Greater celandine's use as a liver remedy covers many of the symptoms of that organ. The herb is used for liver and bile disorders such as gallstones, indigestion, jaundice, and hepatitis. Conditions that may benefit from greater celandine include a feeling of heaviness, with pain symptoms tending to be right-sided, as well as nausea and being depressed with a dull headache. Other symptoms and conditions that may benefit from it include a sallow, yellowish complexion and one foot feeling hot while the other is cold.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor