Traditional medicine of the East brings us a controversial herb. For centuries, folks have been using celandine to detox and fight diseases. Modern research supports some of its uses but casts doubt on others. This herb may combat inflammation and cancer and help jump-start your digestion. However, it has the potential to both protect and damage the liver. Read on to find out why.
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.
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.
- Treat lung and liver diseases
- Stimulate digestion and bile secretion
- Fight infections and support immunity
- Remove warts and skin ulcers
Chinese traditional medicine uses “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” [R+].
Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) is native to North America, but people around the globe cultivate it for big bright-yellow flowers.
Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna, ex. Ranunculus ficaria) belongs to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). It has a short history as an herbal remedy for hemorrhoids, but nowadays folks mostly use it in gardening.
These two plants don’t have well-documented medicinal properties, so this article will focus on the health benefits of greater celandine.
Snapshot of Celandine
- Has anticancer properties
- Supports gallbladder and digestive health
- Reduces inflammation and allergic reactions
- Fights infections and stimulates immunity
- May protect the brain
- May prevent osteoporosis
- May lower cholesterol and protect blood vessels
- Potentially toxic to the liver
- May provoke allergic reactions
- May disturb heart rate
- Not well studied in humans
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 [R+].
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 [R+, R].
- Flavonoids (rutin, quercetin, luteolin)
- Organic acids (chelidonic, caffeic, malic)
- Fatty acids (linoleic, oleic)
- Minerals (calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, sulfur, phosphorus)
How Does Celandine Work?
- Fighting bacteria, viruses, and fungi
- Boosting the immune response
- Supporting digestion
- Reducing inflammation
- Enhancing antioxidant defense
NOTE: Certain people, especially those with inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, may want to avoid lectins in their diet and supplementation.
1) 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.
A clinical study on 37 patients with liver disease confirmed that celandine stimulates the gallbladder and improves bile flow. This herb also had a positive impact on the pancreas, boosting the production of digestive enzymes [R].
In a clinical study on 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 [R].
In another clinical study, 30 patients with painful gallbladder cramps received 6 pills of celandine extract daily for 6 weeks. Celandine stimulated the gallbladder and reduced their symptoms [R+].
Two observational studies (800+ patients) confirmed that greater celandine could reduce stomach pain, gallbladder cramps, bloating, and other complaints [R+].
In a study on isolated rat liver, celandine extract stimulated the secretion of bile acids [R].
The above studies justify the traditional use this herb for gallbladder issues. However, larger clinical trials are needed to confirm it is an effective remedy.
2) Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) therapy aims to control bowel movements and fix the symptoms, but there is room for improvement.
One review analyzed the results of 75 clinical trials (~8k patients) to see which herbal preparations may relieve IBS. Among others, a herbal mixture with bitters and celandine (Iberogast) improved IBS symptoms [R].
In a clinical study on 208 patients with IBS, Iberogast (3 ml/day for 4 weeks) reduced stomach pain and improved other symptoms of IBS [R+].
All Iberogast ingredients, including celandine, have beneficial effects on the bowels [R].
3) Improving Digestion
In folk medicine, people often use celandine to improve digestion and get rid of unpleasant symptoms such as bloating, nausea, and cramps.
A meta-analysis of 3 clinical trials (273 patients) confirmed that a mixture of liquid extracts with celandine (Iberogast) could improve the main symptoms of indigestion. During the 4-week treatment (3 ml/day), patients reported no significant side effects [R+].
Another meta-analysis included the data from 592 patients with indigestion, receiving the same treatment. According to the results, Iberogast can safely relieve indigestion [R].
That said, celandine extract makes up only 10% of Iberogast volume. Other herbs in this mixture must have contributed to the observed effects [R+].
In one older study, celandine capsules improved stomach pain, nausea, passing gas, and bloating over 6 weeks in 30 people [R+].
Anticancer effects of celandine and its components are well-documented 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 controversial findings of its content and health effects, the FDA hasn’t approved Ukrain.
Although marketed as a semi-synthetic drug, multiple analyses failed to confirm this claim. Instead, they detected chelidonine and other celandine alkaloids in Ukrain. The authors suggest that the medical properties of Ukrain come from these natural compounds [R, R].
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 [R].
Ukrain increased the chance of one-year survival 8 times (76% vs. 9.5%) in the second study and almost 6 times in the third (81% vs. 14%) when added to supportive treatment. Ukrain also relieved the symptoms and improved quality of life [R, R].
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 [R].
In the second study, cancer had a 3 times lower chance of returning after surgery (8% vs. 25%) in patients who received Ukrain. Clinical and tissue analysis also confirmed the potential of Ukrain to kill cancer cells and support immunity [R].
Two trials tested Ukrain in 27 patients with different types of cancer. The results revealed [R]:
- 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
Small sample size casts a shadow of doubt on the listed clinical trials and their findings.
A review of 7 clinical studies confirmed the beneficial effects of Ukrain on different types of cancer but also pointed to some crucial flaws in those studies (see ‘Limitations and Caveats’) [R].
- Breast cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Melanoma (skin cancer)
- Testicular cancer
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 [R, R].
In mice with liver cancer, celandine extract was able to [R]:
- 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 (on the pancreas). Ukrain, in contrast, didn’t show significant effects [R].
Celandine and its alkaloids can kill different types of cancer cells and block their growth. They showed the most potent effects on:
- Breast cancer cells [R, R, R, R, R]
- Leukemia (blood cancer) cells [R, R, R]
- Colon cancer cells [R, R, R]
- Melanoma (skin cancer) cells [R, R]
Chelidonine and chelerythrine showed the strongest anticancer action.
The resistance of cancer cells to chemotherapy is on the rise, posing huge challenges to cancer treatment. Celandine alkaloids may combat some drug-resistant cancer cells and boost the effects of chemotherapy [R, R, R, R, R].
5) Boosting Immunity & Protecting Against Radiation
The potential of celandine to fight cancer and other diseases partly comes 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 [R].
Since this study doesn’t reveal essential details such as sample size, we should take the results with a grain of salt.
Radiation is a standard cancer treatment that can weaken the immune system by killing healthy cells in bone marrow and other tissues [R+].
In mice exposed to radiation, a complex carb (CM-AIa) isolated from celandine was able to [R]:
- Stimulate the immune response
- Increase the number of cells in bone marrow, spleen, and blood
- Induce the production of cancer-fighting and recovery proteins
On top of that, 80% of mice treated with CM-AIa survived a lethal dose of radiation.
In a cell study, spleen cells exposed to CM-AIa multiplied 84 times faster, but the effect on stem cells was weak [R].
6) Lowering Cholesterol and Protecting Blood Vessels
Hardening and clogging of blood vessels (atherosclerosis) lurks as the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases, being responsible for 50% of all deaths. Cholesterol and calcium buildup, inflammation, and oxidative damage gradually clog the vessels and deprive vital organs of blood supply [R+].
- Protect blood vessels from inflammation and oxidative damage
- Reduce the levels of LDL-cholesterol and blood lipids
- Increase the level of HDL-cholesterol, which plays a protective role
- Boost the metabolism of fat tissue and glucose
Coptisine, another celandine alkaloid, reduced LDL-cholesterol, blood lipids, and main inflammation markers (IL-6, IL-1β, and TNF-α) in mice. As a result, coptisine significantly decreased the plaque in arteries [R].
The above studies used purified alkaloids, not the plant extract. Large clinical trials should explore these effects of celandine and pave its way into lipid-lowering supplements.
Animal and Cell Studies
The following studies were conducted on animals and cells only.
7) Bone Health
- Increased levels of estrogen
- Prevented bone mineral loss
- Stimulated bone formation
In a study done on asthmatic guinea-pigs, alkaloids from celandine (Chelidonium majus) [R]:
- Increased time without symptoms
- Cut the risk of asthmatic attacks
- Soothed the airways and improved their function
- Blocked the effects of histamine
In another study, chelidonine blocked the production of IgE antibodies and inflammatory proteins (IL-4, IL-13) in the airways of asthmatic mice [R].
In rats, chelidonic acid blocked mast cells and reduced the level of IgE antibodies. Its effects were similar to an anti-inflammatory drug and it decreased the risk of death due to allergic reactions [R].
9) Allergic Rhinitis
- Reduce the level of IgE antibodies
- Block the production of inflammatory proteins (IL-1beta, IL-4, TNF-alpha)
- Inhibit inflammatory enzymes (COX-2)
- Stop the spreading of mast cells
- Reduce typical symptoms such as nose and ear rubbing
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. Doctors are still looking for the exact cause of this inflammatory disease and often fail to manage the symptoms [R].
In mice with atopic dermatitis, celandine extract reduced the levels of IgE antibodies and other markers of inflammation. As a result, celandine soothed the skin and relieved other symptoms [R].
11) Stomach Ulcers
The stomach lining has complex mechanisms to protect itself from strong digestive acid. When these mechanisms fail, and acid burns the stomach cells, ulcers may form [R+].
In a study on rats, celandine (C. majus) extract was able to protect the animals from stomach ulcers by [R]:
- Reducing acid secretion
- Boosting the secretion of protective mucus
- Stimulating the production of protective molecules (prostaglandin E2)
- Blocking inflammatory molecules (leukotrienes)
12) Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
In mice with ulcerative colitis (severe colon inflammation), chelidonic acid showed protective and anti-inflammatory effects. It blocked inflammation proteins (IL-6, TNF-alpha) and enzymes (COX-2), improving the symptoms such as weight loss and colon shortening [R].
13) Heart Disease
Sudden changes in blood and oxygen flow can damage the cells and lead to heart disease.
In animal studies, celandine alkaloids — coptisine and berberine — were able to protect heart cells from this damage by blocking cell death and inflammation. As a result, the animals’ heart function improved [R, R].
Inflammation of neurons plays a role in depression. A study done on mice investigated if chelidonic acid, known for its strong anti-inflammatory action, could reduce the signs of depression.
In depressed mice under stress, chelidonic acid improved behavior and aided in recovery. What’s more, chelidonic acid [R]:
- Stimulated the centers for memory and emotions in their brains (the hippocampus)
- Boosted the production of BDNF
- Blocked the expression of inflammatory genes in the brain
- Increased levels of dopamine, noradrenaline, and serotonin
15) Alzheimer’s Disease
Alzheimer’s disease attacks brain neurons. Inflammation, deformed proteins, and the lack of acetylcholine (ACh) kill the neurons and break their connections. Scientists are still looking for effective treatment options and herbal remedies [R+].
In mice with Alzheimer’s disease, coptisine inhibited the enzyme responsible for brain damage. As a result, this celandine alkaloid protected the neurons and improved cognition [R].
Chelidonic acid from celandine inhibits glutamate decarboxylase — an enzyme that cuts GABA. Thus, chelidonic acid may boost the levels of GABA and enhance the brain-protecting effects of celandine. What’s more, this points its targeted anti-anxiety potential, which has yet to be researched [R].
- 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
In one animal study, celandine blocked the HIV-1 virus, which causes AIDS. Mice receiving celandine extract had milder symptoms of infection [R].
In a cell study, celandine alkaloids were able to fight HIV-1 by blocking reverse transcriptase, an enzyme vital for the survival of this virus [R+].
In another cell study, celandine could fight the herpes simplex virus (HSV), which causes warts. This effect depended on the type of extract used [R+].
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 [R].
Traditionally, people have used celandine to relieve toothache and painful cramps.
In a study on rats, 2 types of celandine extracts acted as strong painkillers. Researchers described their effects as similar to morphine [R].
18) Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease in which the immune cells attack cartilage. This leads to inflammation in the joints, making them swollen and painful [R+].
In mice with rheumatoid arthritis, celandine extract [R]:
- Blocked inflammation proteins (TNF-alpha, IL-6)
- Protected cartilage from damage
- Reduced the level of harmful antibodies
19) Effects on the Liver
According to animal studies, celandine may protect the liver against toxic chemicals. On the other hand, it has caused liver damage in some people.
- 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 [R].
- Increased liver enzymes
- Tissue damage and inflammation
No clinical trials have confirmed the liver-damaging effects of celandine and its components.
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 [R].
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.
Homeopathic celandine has shown potential health benefits, but we can’t draw reliable conclusions from these results.
According to a report of 2 cases, homeopathic celandine (Chelidonium majus 6X) in combination with other homeopathic pills helped with serious hepatitis infections [R].
- Blocking toxic enzymes
- Protecting DNA
- Preventing the growth of tumors
Researches tested another homeopathic remedy with celandine on human liver cells. It protected the cells from toxic cadmium and restored their function [R].
The central homeopathic principle — “like cures like” — presumes that a highly diluted substance can cure a disease it would otherwise cause. Interestingly enough, this principle may explain the conflicting evidence of celandine effects on the liver.
Side Effects & Precautions
- Increased body temperature (26 patients)
- Burning sensations (3 patients)
- Bleeding (4 patients)
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.
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 [R].
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 [R+, R, R+]:
- Antiviral drugs
- Antifungal (azole) drugs
- Lipid-lowering drugs (statins)
- Antiepileptic drugs (drugs for seizures)
- Antidepressants (SSRIs)
Limitations and Caveats
- Clinical trials haven’t confirmed the majority of celandine health benefits.
- Clinical trials with celandine digestive benefits included other herbs that likely contributed to the results [R, R, R].
- Many studies used isolated alkaloids and chelidonic acid, not a celandine extract.
Most clinical trials with cancer patients had significant design flaws such as [R+]:
- 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)
Celandine achieves some positive health effects on the level of gene expression and DNA protection.
Chelidonine, a significant alkaloid from celandine, can also inhibit telomerase, an enzyme that controls the length of DNA and regulates the life cycle of each cell. Celandine shortens telomeres, the specialized structures cancer cells activate to uncontrollably grow and divide. This may, in part, explain its unique cancer-fighting activity [R, R].
Supplements & Dosage
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).
In summary, 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.
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 [R, R+]
- Indigestion: Iberogast – 3×1 ml/day, containing 0.3 ml celandine tincture [R, R, R+]
In a large observational study, patients took 375-500 mg of a celandine tincture (9–12 mg of total alkaloids) daily for 3 weeks [R+].
European Medicines Agency (EMA) suggests the following doses of celandine [R+]:
- 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.
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.
Of the three plants named celandine, only greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) has well-documented health benefits. In traditional medicine, folks have been using it to detox, improve digestion, remove warts, boost circulation, and more.
Alkaloids (chelidonine, coptisine, sanguinarine, berberine) and other celandine compounds have potent anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, immune-stimulating, and anticancer properties.
Thanks to this unique blend, celandine may combat digestive issues, infections, allergies, cardiovascular diseases, and even aid in cancer prevention. Although celandine has promising health effects, most of them have been tested only on animals and cells.
In clinical trials, celandine was safe and well-tolerated. However, cases of liver damage caused by celandine reveal the dangerous side of this plant. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, children, and people with liver problems should avoid celandine, while others should use it with caution.
Large well-designed clinical trials should examine the health benefits and safety of this controversial herb.