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Greater Celandine: Potential Benefits + Uses & Side Effects

Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:
Medically reviewed by
Jonathan Ritter, PharmD, PhD (Pharmacology), Puya Yazdi, MD | Written by Aleksa Ristic, MS (Pharmacy) | Reviewed by Ana Aleksic, MSc (Pharmacy) | Last updated:

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Celandine

Traditional medicine of the East brings us a controversial herb. For centuries, folks have been using celandine to improve digestion, detox, and fight diseases. Modern research supports some of its uses, casts doubt on others, and warns us about potential dangers. Read on to learn everything about celandine.

What is Celandine?

The common name celandine refers to three plant species:

  • Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus)
  • Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)
  • Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna)

Greater celandine, also known as nipplewort or swallowwort, belongs to the family of herbs called poppies (Papaveraceae). Although native to Europe and western Asia, this perennial herb grows worldwide.

Greater celandine has tender leaves and blooms tiny yellow flowers. When injured, the stem releases distinct yellow-orange sap known as “devil’s milk.”

Its Latin name – Chelidonium – actually comes from Ancient Greek (chelidon) and means “swallow”. Anecdotally, blooming of celandine flowers would announce the return of swallow birds from the south.

The other two plants don’t have well-documented medicinal properties, so this article will focus on greater celandine.

Snapshot

Proponents:

  • Supports digestive health
  • Stimulates bile flow
  • May reduces inflammation and allergic reactions
  • Fights infections and stimulates immunity
  • May have anticancer properties

Skeptics:

  • Potentially toxic to the liver
  • May provoke allergic reactions
  • May disturb heart rate
  • Not well studied in humans

Traditional Uses

Medicinal use of greater celandine also dates back to Ancient Greece, where the physician and botanist Dioscorides first described its detox potential. From Pliny the Elder (a famous Roman naturalist) to modern herbalists such as Maurice Mességué, traditional remedies with greater celandine have a rich history.

In the western world, folks have been using greater celandine to [1, 2, 3]:

  • Treat lung and liver diseases
  • Stimulate digestion and bile secretion
  • Fight infections and support immunity
  • Remove warts and skin ulcers

Chinese herbalists use “bai-qu-cai” (greater celandine) to boost circulation, combat cramps and menstrual pain, treat jaundice, and much more. Russians call it “chistotel bolshoi,” which translates to “strong cleansing” [4].

Bioactive Components

Above-ground parts of greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) have the broadest medical use. The dried herb is used for solid and liquid extracts, while the juice and sap come from fresh stems and leaves. Some herbalists in Eastern and Central Europe also use the roots [2+].

Celandine contains a group of alkaloids with a unique structure (isoquinoline) and diverse medicinal properties [5, 6, 7+, 8]:

  • Chelidonine
  • Coptisine
  • Sanguinarine
  • Chelerythrine
  • Berberine

Chelidonine is the primary alkaloid in celandine, named after this plant (Chelidonium). In standardized celandine products, total alkaloid content is expressed as the percentage of chelidonine [9+, 8].

Celandine alkaloid content increases during the day, making the evening most suitable for harvest. In the roots, they reach 2-3% while the above-ground parts contain up to 1.5% alkaloids [10+, 11].

Celandine also contains [7, 5, 12, 13]:

How Does It Work?

The potential health effects of celandine include [2, 1, 5]:

  • Fighting bacteria, viruses, and fungi
  • Boosting the immune response
  • Supporting digestion
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Enhancing antioxidant defense

With their complex pharmacological actions, celandine alkaloids support the cardiovascular system, digestive system, immunity, and bone health [14, 15, 16, 17].

Just like other herbal bitters, celandine may jumpstart digestion [4].

Complex carbs and enzymes from greater celandine boost the immune system and combat infections [18, 19, 20].

Flavonoids in greater celandine, such as rutin and quercetin, are known for their potent antioxidant action [21, 22].

Greater Celandine Health Benefits

Possibly Effective:

1) Indigestion

A meta-analysis of three clinical trials (273 patients) confirmed that a mixture of liquid extracts with greater celandine (Iberogast) could improve the main symptoms of indigestion. During the 4-week treatment (3 ml/day), patients reported no significant side effects [23].

Another meta-analysis included data from 592 patients with indigestion and came to the same conclusion [24].

That said, celandine extract makes up only 10% of Iberogast. Other herbs in this mixture must have contributed to the observed effects [23].

In one older study of 30 people, celandine capsules improved stomach pain, nausea, and bloating over six weeks [25].

2) Gallbladder Health

The gallbladder stores the bile acids produced in the liver and releases them into the small intestine, playing a vital role in fat digestion and metabolism.

Celandine stimulated the gallbladder and improved bile flow in a clinical study of 37 patients with liver disease. This herb also had a positive impact on the pancreas, boosting the production of digestive enzymes [15].

In a trial of 76 patients with gallbladder issues, a standardized mixture of celandine and turmeric dry extracts (Cholagogum F Nattermann) alleviated cramps with zero side-effects. However, it failed to reduce other complaints, such as bloating, nausea and vomiting [26].

In another clinical study, 30 patients with painful gallbladder cramps received six pills of celandine extract daily for six weeks. Celandine stimulated the gallbladder and reduced their symptoms [27].

A review of two observational studies (800+ patients) confirmed that greater celandine could reduce gallbladder cramps and other digestive complaints [4].

In a study on isolated rat liver, celandine extract stimulated the secretion of bile acids [28].

The above studies justify the traditional use of this herb for gallbladder issues. However, larger clinical trials are needed to confirm it is an effective remedy.

3) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

One review analyzed the results of 75 clinical trials (~8,000 patients) to see which herbal preparations may relieve IBS. Among others, an herbal mixture with celandine and other bitters (Iberogast) improved IBS symptoms [29].

All Iberogast ingredients, including celandine, have beneficial effects on the bowels. Once again, other ingredients must have contributed to the overall effect [30].

Studies on isolated small intestines confirmed that celandine alkaloids could reduce bowel contractions caused by different triggers. In one study, however, this effect was weak [31, 32, 33].

Insufficient Evidence:

No valid clinical evidence supports the use of grape seed extract for any of the conditions in this section. Below is a summary of up-to-date animal studies, cell-based research, or low-quality clinical trials which should spark further investigation. However, you shouldn’t interpret them as supportive of any health benefit.

4) Cancer

Anticancer effects of celandine and its components are described in the scientific literature. Led by these findings, a team of Ukrainian scientists developed a drug based on celandine alkaloids.

Named after its country of origin, Ukrain has a long history of use for different types of cancer. Due to controversies about its content, safety, and efficacy, this drug was never approved in the US.

Although marketed as a semi-synthetic drug, multiple analyses failed to confirm this claim. Instead, they detected chelidonine and other unchanged celandine alkaloids in Ukrain. The authors suggest that the medical properties of Ukrain come from these natural compounds [34, 35].

Clinical Studies

Note: Most clinical trials described below had significant design flaws such as [36]:

  • The lack of control groups
  • Small sample size
  • Suspicious randomization (separating of the patients in different groups)
  • The lack of randomization
  • Conflict of interest (involvement of Ukrain manufacturers)

Three clinical trials with 163 patients investigated the effects of Ukrain on pancreatic cancer. In the first one, Ukrain doubled survival time (10.4 vs. 5.2 months) when added to chemotherapy. Ukrain alone showed better results than chemo with similar side-effects [37].

Ukrain increased the chance of one-year survival eight times (76% vs. 9.5%) in the second study and almost six times in the third (81% vs. 14%) when added to supportive treatment. Ukrain also relieved the symptoms and improved quality of life [38, 39].

Two clinical studies (144 patients) examined the effects of Ukrain (vs. chemo and radiation combined) on colon cancer. In the first study, the 21-month survival rate was more than double (79% vs. 33%) with Ukrain treatment [40].

In the second study, cancer had a three times lower chance of returning after surgery (8% vs. 25%) in patients who received Ukrain. Clinical and tissue analyses confirmed the potential of Ukrain to kill cancer cells and support immunity [41].

Two trials tested Ukrain in 27 patients with different types of cancer. The results revealed [42]:

  • Increased production of cancer-fighting immune cells (T-cells, T-helpers, NK-cells)
  • Improvement of patients’ symptoms and quality of life
  • No major side effects

A review of seven clinical studies confirmed the beneficial effects of Ukrain on different types of cancer but also pointed to crucial flaws in those studies we already discussed [36].

In a Chinese study of 240 esophageal cancer patients, greater celandine was able to reduce cancer size before surgery. Patients took 30 mL of oral solution, 2x daily for two weeks, where each dose was equivalent to 30 g of dried herbs [43].

Animal Studies

Stomach cancer is the 4th most common and the 2nd deadliest in humans, still lacking effective treatment options. In rats with stomach cancer, celandine (Chelidonium majus) extract prevented cell mutations and injury [44, 45].

In mice with liver cancer, scientists observed the potential of celandine extract to [46]:

  • Slow down cancer progression
  • Reduce the damage of genetic material
  • Protect the liver

In mice with advanced pancreatic cancer, celandine extract reduced the number of metastases but didn’t impact the primary tumors. Ukrain didn’t show significant effects [47].

Cell Studies

In test tubes, celandine and its alkaloids killed different types of cancer cells and blocked their growth. That said, many substances can kill cancer cells in a dish, and this doesn’t tell much about their effect in the human body [48, 49, 50, 51, 47, 52, 53].

Preliminary research suggests anticancer effects of greater celandine, but most studies had serious flaws in methodology. Well-designed clinical trials still haven’t confirmed these findings.

5) Immunity Support & Radioprotection

According to limited research, the potential of celandine to fight cancer and other diseases partly come from its immune-boosting effects.

A Russian clinical study compared different remedies to support the children’s immune system and reduce tonsil inflammation. Celandine tincture (liquid extract) improved the function of tonsils and boosted the immune response, making the children more resistant to infections [54].

Since this study doesn’t reveal essential details such as sample size, we should take the results with a grain of salt.

Ukrain also stimulated the immune system in clinical trials [42, 41, 55].

Radiation is a standard cancer treatment that can weaken the immune system by killing healthy cells in bone marrow and other tissues [56].

In studies on rats and mice, Ukrain boosted the production of stem cells and immune cells, protecting the animals from the harmful effects of radiation [57, 58].

In mice exposed to radiation, a complex carb (CM-AIa) isolated from celandine was able to achieve similar effects. As a result, 80% of mice treated with CM-AIa survived a lethal dose of radiation [59]

In a cell study, spleen cells exposed to CM-AIa multiplied 84 times faster, but the effect on stem cells was weak [19].

Animal and Cellular Research (Lacking Evidence)

No clinical evidence supports the use of celandine for any of the conditions listed in this section. Below is a summary of the existing animal and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. However, the studies listed below should not be interpreted as supportive of any health benefit.

6) Bone Health

In menopausal rats, scientists observed the potential of Ukrain, a drug based on celandine alkaloids, to [60, 61]:

  • Increase levels of estrogen
  • Prevent bone mineral loss
  • Stimulate bone formation

Sanguinarine, an alkaloid from celandine, showed similar effects in rats and mice [17, 62].

7) Asthma

In allergic asthma, the airways are exposed to massive inflammation caused by an outside trigger. Mast cells, histamine, and IgE antibodies play a central role in this disease [63, 64].

In a study done on asthmatic guinea-pigs, alkaloids from greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) soothed the airways and improved the symptoms of asthma [65].

In another study, chelidonine blocked the production of IgE antibodies and inflammatory proteins (IL-4, IL-13) in the airways of asthmatic mice. Chelidonic acid showed similar effects in one study on rats [66, 67].

8) Infections

Bacterial

In cell studies on bacteria, celandine extract and its alkaloids prevented the growth of [68, 69, 70]:

  • Bacteria that may attack the skin, urinary tract, lungs, and soft tissues (E. coli, S. aureus, Bacillus species)
  • MRSA – S. aureus resistant to common antibiotics
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa – dangerous hospital bacteria resistant to many antibiotics
  • Streptococcus mutans, which causes tooth decay

Lectins and enzymes from celandine sap may also fight bacteria [18, 20].

Viral

In one animal study, celandine blocked the HIV-1 virus, which causes AIDS. Mice receiving celandine extract had milder symptoms of infection [71].

In a cell study, celandine alkaloids were able to suppress HIV-1 by blocking reverse transcriptase, an enzyme vital for the survival of this virus [72].

In another cell study, celandine could fight the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which causes warts. This effect depended on the type of extract used [73].

Fungal

Fusarium strains – which may attack the eyes, skin, and nails – are highly resistant to conventional drugs, but a liquid celandine extract was able to block their growth in one experiment [74].

Celandine alkaloids may also combat certain drug-resistant yeasts and improve the treatment of fungal infections [75, 76].

9) Pain

Traditionally, people have used celandine to relieve toothache and painful cramps.

In a study on rats, scientists observed painkiller effects of two types of celandine extracts and described their effects as similar to morphine [77].

In cell studies, celandine and individual alkaloids blocked the pain signals in brain cells [78, 79].

10) Rheumatoid Arthritis

In mice with rheumatoid arthritis, scientists examined if greater celandine extract could help by [80]:

  • Blocking inflammation proteins (TNF-alpha, IL-6)
  • Protecting cartilage from damage
  • Reducing the level of harmful antibodies

Other animal and cell studies have indicated the anti-inflammatory effects of this herb [81, 14, 82].

Conflicting Effects on the Liver

Protection

According to animal studies, celandine may protect the liver against toxic chemicals. On the other hand, it has caused liver damage in some people.

In rats and mice exposed to liver-damaging chemicals, celandine extract was able to [83, 84, 46]:

  • Prevent the death of liver cells
  • Reduce liver scarring
  • Lower fat buildup in the liver
  • Prevent liver cancer

In mice, a nano-formulation (tiny particles) of chelidonine, a celandine alkaloid, protected the liver from oxidative damage (by cadmium) and restored the levels of enzymes, fats, and cholesterol [85].

Damage

Medical literature reveals 20+ case reports of celandine-induced liver damage. According to these reports, ingesting celandine caused [86, 87, 88, 89]:

  • Increased liver enzymes
  • Jaundice
  • Tissue damage and inflammation

The authors didn’t find the mechanism of this damaging effect. In most patients, it happened after the long-term use and possibly involved interactions with other drugs or supplements.

In a study on rats, celandine extract didn’t damage the liver in doses 50 – 100 times higher than the regular human ones (1.5 – 3 g/kg). However, it did cause a drop in glutathione (GSH) and protective liver enzymes [90].

Well-designed safety studies should cast more light on the potential liver-damaging effects of celandine and its components.

Limitations and Caveats

Besides the limitations for cancer-related trials we already discussed, the following facts cast a shadow of doubt on other potential benefits:

  • Clinical trials haven’t confirmed the majority of greater celandine health effects
  • Studies with digestive benefits included other herbs that likely contributed to the results [91, 92, 26].
  • Some studies used isolated alkaloids and chelidonic acid, not a celandine extract.

Celandine in Homeopathy

Celandine also found its way into different homeopathic remedies for liver disease, indigestion, infections, and more. However, homeopathic remedies are extremely diluted and don’t rely on the proven pharmacological actions of their ingredients.

Animal and cell studies indicate liver-protecting effects of homeopathic celandine. In mice with liver cancer, researchers observed the ability of homeopathic celandine (CH-30 and CH-200) to protect the liver by [93, 94]:

  • Blocking toxic enzymes
  • Protecting DNA
  • Preventing the growth of tumors

Researchers tested another homeopathic remedy with celandine on human liver cells. It protected the cells from toxic cadmium and restored their function [95].

The fact that scientists tested homeopathic celandine only in animal and cellular studies is a severe limitation. We can’t draw any reliable conclusions in the lack of clinical evidence.

Greater Celandine Side Effects & Precautions

Greater celandine and its components didn’t cause major side effects in clinical trials [96, 26, 91, 16].

Ukrain, an anticancer drug with celandine alkaloids, was also well-tolerated in most clinical trials. However, in some patients it caused [42, 37, 36]:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Burning sensations
  • Bleeding

Reports of liver damage caused by greater celandine, however, point to its dangerous side and suggest caution. Make sure to consult with your doctor before taking it. People with liver problems should avoid celandine until we know more about its safety [86, 87, 88, 97].

Doctors reported a single case of anemia with red blood cell destruction likely caused by greater celandine extract. One study found that celandine alkaloids may impair the heart rate in dogs. Although no other studies confirmed this effect, people with heart rate issues may want to avoid celandine [98, 99].

Due to its immune-stimulating properties, greater celandine may, in theory, worsen autoimmune conditions.

Pregnant women, breastfeeding women, and children should avoid celandine due to the lack of safety evidence.

People allergic to celandine or other plants from the poppy family (Papaveraceae) should avoid celandine in all forms.

Due to its potential to harm the liver and other safety concerns, be cautions with greater celandine and make sure to consult your doctor before supplementing.

Drug Interactions

Herb-drug interactions can be dangerous and, in rare cases, even life-threatening. Always consult your doctor before supplementing and let them know about all drugs and supplements you are using or considering.

Celandine extract may inhibit an essential group of liver enzymes (CYPs) that break down drugs and other chemicals. The following medicines also affect these enzymes and thus may interact with celandine [100+, 101, 102+]:

  • Antiviral drugs
  • Antifungal (azole) drugs
  • Lipid-lowering drugs (statins)
  • Antiepileptic drugs (drugs for seizures)
  • Antidepressants (SSRIs)

Because of its immune-boosting properties, celandine may block the effects of drugs that suppress immunity, such as corticosteroids [103, 42, 41, 55].

According to multiple case reports, celandine may harm the liver and thus potentially worsen the side effects of hepatotoxic (liver-damaging) drugs such as amiodarone (Cordarone), atorvastatin (Lipitor), and acetaminophen (Tylenol) [86, 87, 88, 89].

Greater Celandine Supplements

Supplements with greater celandine have not been approved by the FDA for medical use. In general, regulatory bodies aren’t assuring the quality, safety, and efficacy of supplements. Speak with your doctor before supplementing.

Available Forms

Celandine tinctures (liquid extract) made from above-ground parts of the plant are the most common product on the market. Celandine is also available as:

  • Dried herb
  • Dry extract in pills, often combined with other herbs (e.g., Cholagogum F Nattermann)
  • Liquid extract in wart-removal kits
  • Liquid extract as a part of herbal mixtures (e.g., Iberogast)
  • Soaps and creams with celandine extract

Cholagogum F Nattermann contains dry celandine extract, standardized to 4 mg of total alkaloids (expressed as chelidonine). Other products don’t reveal the standardization details.

Homeopathic celandine is available in pills and drops. The most common dilutions are 6C, 30C, and 200C (1/100 dilution repeated 6, 30, or 200 times).

The market offers a wide variety of herbal and homeopathic products with celandine. However, you should consult with your doctor before using such a potent herb.

Dosage

The doses below used in clinical trials may not apply to you personally. If your doctor suggests using greater celandine, work with them to find the optimal dosage according to your health condition and other factors.

In clinical trials, celandine was safe and effective in the following doses:

  • Gallbladder disorders: Dry extract (4 mg of alkaloids), 3 6 pills/day, 3 6 weeks [26, 27]
  • Indigestion: Iberogast – 3×1 ml/day, containing 0.3 ml celandine tincture [91, 92, 104]

European Medicines Agency (EMA) suggests the following doses of celandine [105]:

  • Dried herb: 1.2 3.6 g daily, as an infusion (tea)
  • Tincture: 2 4 ml daily (1:5 dilution) or 6 12 ml daily (1:10 dilution)

In clinical trials with cancer patients, Ukrain (a drug based on celandine alkaloids) was injected under strict medical supervision.

User Reviews & Experiences

The opinions expressed in this section are solely from the users who may or may not have a medical background. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfHacked. SelfHacked does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.

Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or another qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on SelfHacked.

Users report mixed experiences with celandine supplements and products.

Most of them managed to soothe the skin and relieve indigestion, while the results for wart removal are mixed. Some users also reported a complete lack of effects.

One woman used it to prevent migraines, but another user reported a headache after recommended doses. He was pleased with the results after reducing the dose, warning other users to go slow with celandine.

Takeaway

Of the three plants named celandine, only greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) has potential health benefits. In traditional medicine, folks have been using it to detox, improve digestion, remove warts, boost circulation, and more.

Alkaloids and other celandine compounds have potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and immune-stimulating properties. Thanks to this unique blend, greater celandine may combat indigestion, stimulate bile flow, and help with IBS. There’s insufficient evidence for its potential anticancer effects.

In most clinical trials, greater celandine was safe and well-tolerated. However, cases of liver damage caused by this herb reveal its dangerous side. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and people with liver problems should avoid greater celandine.

Large well-designed clinical trials should examine the potential health benefits and safety of greater celandine. Everyone should be cautious with this potent herb and consult their doctor before supplementing.

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About the Author

Aleksa Ristic

MS (Pharmacy)
Aleksa received his MS in Pharmacy from the University of Belgrade, his master thesis focusing on protein sources in plant-based diets. 
Aleksa is passionate about herbal pharmacy, nutrition, and functional medicine. He found a way to merge his two biggest passions—writing and health—and use them for noble purposes. His mission is to bridge the gap between science and everyday life, helping readers improve their health and feel better.

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