Greater Celandine Summary:

Chelidonium majus, commonly known as greater celandine, is a flower in the same family as the poppy (Papaveraceae). This family is well known for its alkaloid content, which in some poppies includes the molecule responsible for opium, morphine, and heroin. Interestingly, chelidonium also offers similar pain relieving actions, but through the action of a separate alkaloid. It has also shown evidence that it can reduce the sensitivity and tolerance to morphine and other opiods. 

Chelidonium has the alkaloid chelerythrine, which is also a narcotic, and in it's pure form can be highly toxic. In its natural, diluted form, however, it offers significant benefits medicinally.

Chelidonium and its alkaloids are useful both internally and externally. The resin contained within its stem is used topically to treat warts, fungal infections, viral outbreaks such as the herpes virus (Herpes simplex), and shingles (Varicella zoster), skin cancer lesions, and parasitic infections like ringworm. 

Internally, the whole herb extracts are useful for liver conditions, general pain, jaundice, gastric spasms, and weak gallbladder secretions. 

Botanical Name

Chelidonium majus



Part Used

Aerial parts

Herbal Actions:


  • Alterative
  • Hepatoprotective [1, 14, 15]
  • Choleretic [10, 12]
  • Cholagogue
  • Analgesic
  • Bitter
  • Diuretic
  • Purgative
  • Spasmolytic
  • Anti-neoplastic
  • Mild laxative
  • Antinflammatory


  • Vulnerary
  • Antifungal
  • Antiviral
  • Anti-neoplastic
greater celandine monograph


Liquid Extract (1:2)

1-2 mL/day

*Short term doses of up to 3-4g dried herb equivelent is acceptable in acute conditions and is sometimes necessary [1].

Tincture (1:5)

2-4 mL/day


3-9g dried herb equivelent/day

Recommended Source


[1, 2, 7]

  • Gallbladder and liver conditions such as:
    • Bile duct spasm
    • Hepatic congestion
    • Biliary dyspepsia
    • Bilious and migraine headaches
    • hepatitis
    • Jaundice
    • gall stones
  • Useful in general to clean the gallbladder and stimulate bile flow
  • Gastric spasms
  • Abdominal pain and griping
  • Useful topically for:
    • Warts
    • Corns
    • Tinea infections
    • Eczema
    • Skin cancer and tumors
    • Ringworm
    • Toothache
    • Fungus
    • Traumatic inflammation

Common Names:

  • Chelidonium
  • Greater celandine
  • Chelidonii herba (Latin)
  • Bai qu cai (China)
  • Swallow wort

Traditional Uses:

The botanical name of this herb, Chelidonium, stems from the Greek word cheidon, which refers to a swallow (the bird), was actually given to the herb by the famous herbalist Pliny, because it comes into flower when the swallows appear in spring, and fades when they leave again. He suggested the traditional use of using the herbs juice to remove films from the cornea of the eye was first discovered by the swallows, further leading to a connection between these 2 organisms [1, 7].

Both the root and the arial parts of this flower have been used medicinally and contains similar alkaloids, the arial parts are much preferred and used more commonly medicinally [1]. 

Traditional uses of chelidonium include: Gallbladder disease and stones, liver disease such as jaundice, to aid detoxification via liver and bowel, gastric ulcers, migraines, and skin conditions such as warts, ringworm, and fungal infection [1, 12]. Many of these traditional uses are still valid for chelidonium usage today. 

In China, chelidonium was used for similar indications as it was used in Europe such as gastritis, gastric ulcers, enteritis, jaundice, and abdominal pain. They also used it here however to treat bronchitis, and whooping cough. [1]. 

    Botanical Description:

    As a member of the poppy family (Papaveraceae), this herb has a branched, woody taproot, and contains a latex throughout the plant, but mainly in the stem. [1]. 

    Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

    Chelidonium majus is distributed throughout the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa (NW), and north America [3].  

    Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

    This herb is commonly made into a decoction, liquid extract, or capsules to take internally. A decoction, poultice, or succas (fresh juice) is used for topical applications. [1]. 


    [1, 2, 4, 5, 7]

    [*] = main active constituents

    • Alkaloids
      • benzophenanthridines
        • Chelerythrine*
          • narcotic and poisonous
        • Chelidonine*
        • Sanguinarine*
        • Isochelidonine
        • Homochelidonine A
        • Homocheli donine B
        • sparteine
    • Protoberberines
      • Berberine*
      • Coptisine*
      • Sylopine*
      • Protopines
    • Latex
      • Benzophenanthridine
      • Protoberberinealkaloids
    • Flavonoids
    • Phenolic acids
    • Extracellular peroxidase (In latex)

    Pharmacology and Medical Research:

    + Analgesic

    A Chelidonium majus extract containing alkaloids such as berberine, chelidonine, and sanguinarine were shown to have significant hERG potassium channel blocking effects [6], as well as glycine and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) activated ion suppression, and increased glutamate activation ion currents [19, 20]. These are all important pathways of pain transmission throughout the body [21].

    The constituent berberine, contained within Chelidonium majus has been found to completely block morphine induced locomotor sensitisation and analgesic tolerance and thus may be useful in preventing or reducing morphine sensitisation and tolerance [9]. The alkaloid content of Chelidonium majus was found to have an analgesic action similar to morphine, lasting around 4-48 hours [22].

    + Cancer

    The anticancer activities of Chelidonium majus are suggested to be mainly due to the alkaloid fraction containing chelidonine, sanguinarine, chelerythrine, protopine, and allocryptine. The mechanisms of action are reported to be through direct cytotoxic activity on cancer cells (without damage to normal cells), sensitisation of cancer cells, radio-protective effects on normal cells, [16-18].

    + Inflammation

    A methanolic extract of Chelidonium majus was found to suppress collagen induced arthritis in mice via an inhibition of TNF-alpha, IL-6, IFN-y, B cells, gamma-delta-T cells (in spleen)and an increased level of CD4+CD25+regulatory T cells [8]. This shows a mechanism of action for Cheladonium majus' use as an anti-inflammatory, and the TCM suggested "heat clearing" and "anti-blood stasis" actions. Serum levels of IgG and IgM RA factors were also noted to decrease [8].

    + Antimicrobial

    An alkaloid extract of Chelidonium majus containing the constituents chelerythrine and sanguinarine are reported to possess significant antibacterial actions against gram-positive bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, and 2 strains of Streptococcus species [1]. Similar extracts have been shown effective against the protozoa Trichomonas vaginalis as well. The mechanism of action is through causing a deformation and disintegration of the organism within 2 h [1]. One study in particular [13] suggested Chelidonium majus as being one of the most biologically active antimicrobial plants in a screening study of 16 Siberian medicinal plants.

    Chelidonium majus extracts (root extract) is active against Bacillus cereus, Staphylococcus aureus (including MRSA), and Streptococcus mutans. It is suggested to be most effective against gram-positive bacteria. [12].

    + Antifungal

    Chelidonium alkaloid extracts have been reported to be active against fungus such as Candida albicans, some Trichophyton strains, Microsporum canis, Epidermophyton floccosum, Fusarium oxysporum, Botrytis cinerea and Aspergillus fumigatus [1, 2, 12].

    + Antiviral

    Chelidonium alkaloid extracts were reported to be active against such virus as: adenovirus (types 12 and 5), herpes simplex virus type 1, HIV-1, poxvirus, and grippevirus [1, 2, 12].

    + Hepatoprotective

    An alcoholic extraction of chelidonium taken orally was reported to protect rat liver exposed to carbon tetrachloride (a well known liver toxin) in multiple studies in vivo [1, 14, 15]. It has also been found to increase biliary flow (choleretic) [10, 12].



  • Impacted gallstones [1]
  • Avoid use if significant pre existing liver damage is present [1] Pregnancy or nursing mothers
  • Low toxicity reported within the dosage range given below for short duration.
  • Long duration or higher dosages can have adverse effects such as nausea, and other gastrointestinal conditions [1]. 
  • The LD50 of the decoction has been reported to be 9.5g/kg when injected intraperitoneally in mice [1].
  • The LD50 of the alkaloid extract is reported at 300mg/kg injected subcutaneously in mice [1]. 
  • A 4 week study of chelidonium fed to rats at a dose of 1.5 and 3g/kg/day found no hepatotoxic or other toxic effects at the conclusion of the study [1].  


    • Due to the alkaloid content, high dosages or long term use should be avoided [1].
    • Chelidonium may have hepatotoxic effects at higher doses [11]. 
    • Caution if there is mild pre existing liver damage [1].

    Traditional Chinese Medicine:

    Actions: Clears heat, cools, drying [12].

    Indications: Abdominal pain, peptic ulcers, chronic bronchitis, whooping cough [2]. Great for conditions involving damp-heat (such as congested bile) [12]. It is mainly used to treat blood stasis due to stagnation of Qi, relieve pain, promote diuresis in edema conditions (also seen as stagnation), relieve cough and treat jaundice [12]. 

    The bitter taste of Chelidonium majus is thought to influence the heart [12].


    Suggested to have synergy with Aniseed for removing obstructions from both the liver and gallbladder [7]. 


    Justin Cooke

    The Sunlight Experiment

    Updated: June 2017

    Recent Blog Posts:


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