Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus)


Chelidonium Summary

Greater celandine is a member of the poppy family with a lot of similarity to California or opium poppy. The alkaloids present in greater celandine are similar, but different to the alkaloids used to make opium, morphine, and heroin. These alkaloids, including chelerythrine, offer similar analgesic support as the opioids, but through a different mechanism. They are often used to wean people off opiates and eventually off pain medications altogether.

All poppies have a characteristic latex in their stems and leaves, which is often the source of medicine in this family of plants. Greater celandines latex is a potent antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic, and antibacterial making it useful for a range of topical skin infections. The latex is also thought to inhibit the growth of skin cancer cells when used topically, to which there has been an increasing level of interest in the medical research community.

+ Indications

  • Abdominal pain and griping
  • Bile duct spasm
  • Biliary dyspepsia
  • Bilious and migraine headaches
  • Corns
  • Eczema
  • Fungus
  • Gall stones
  • Gastric spasms
  • Hepatic congestion
  • Hepatitis
  • Jaundice
  • Ringworm
  • Skin cancer and tumors
  • Tinea infections
  • Toothache
  • Traumatic inflammation
  • Warts

+ Contraindications

  • 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].

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

What is Chelidonium Used For?

Greater celandine is used topically to treat a range of infections conditions including warts, herpes, skin lesions, shingles, and has been used on skin cancers in the past.

Internally greater celandine is used as a hepatic herb to stimulate the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder. It is useful for a range of liver conditions such as jaundice, hepatic congestion, biliary dyspepsia, bilious migraine headaches, hepatitis, gallstones, and indigestion. It is also used to treat gastric spasms, and general pain due to some potent analgesic compounds in the leaves and stems.


Traditional Uses of Chelidonium

+ Western Herbal Medicine

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.

+ Traditional Chinese Medicine:

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].


Clears heat, cools, drying [12].


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].


Herb Details: Chelidonium

Weekly Dose

Part Used

Aerial parts

Family Name



Northwest Africa


North America


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Constituents of Interest

  • Chelerythrine
  • Chelidonine
  • Berberine
  • Sanguinarine

Common Names

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


  • Unknown


  • Unknown


  • Avoid use during pregnancy and lactation.


  • Unknown

Duration of Use

  • Avoid long term use.

Botanical Information

Greater celandine is a member of the poppy family of plants, which includes about 42 genera and 775 different species.

Members of the poppy family are all lactiferous, producing a letax which can range from milky to powdery and can be white or colored. This latex is often a source of medicine, as is the case with greater celandine and other medicinal members including the opium poppy.


Harvesting, Collecting, Manufacturing

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].


Pharmacology & 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 block morphine-induced locomotor sensitization and analgesic tolerance and thus may be useful in preventing or reducing morphine sensitization 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), sensitization 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 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 Chelidonium 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 is 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 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 fungi 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 grippe virus [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].




  • Benzophenanthridines
    • Chelerythrine
    • Chelidonine
    • Sanguinarine
    • Isochelidonine
    • Homochelidonine A
    • Homocheli donine B
    • sparteine


  • Berberine
  • Coptisine
  • Sylopine
  • Protopines


  • Benzophenanthridine
  • Protoberberinealkaloids


Phenolic acids

Extracellular peroxidase (In latex)


Clinical Applications Of Greater Celandine:

Greater celandines analgesic effects are fairly reliable. It can be used for general pain similarily to California poppy, and can also be used to wean people off opiates gradually. It is especially useful for this as the alkaloids present in greater celandine appear to offer a similar benefit, but are less addictive. More research is needed on how this works, however.

Greater celandine is also useful as a hepatic and bitter principle to stimulate the liver and gallbladder, improve digestion and appetite, and gastric or colic spasms.

Topically greater celandine is useful for treating warts, viral outbreaks of herpese simplex, HPV, or Varicella zoster, as well as fungal infections such as athletes foot, bacterial infections like Staphylococcus, and parasitic infections including ringworm.



Do not use greater celandine with impacted gallstones, or with significant pre-existing liver conditions. It may be too stimulating to the liver to be used in these cases.

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].



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



Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated: November 2018)


Recent Blog Posts:


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  2. Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a.: Churchill Livingstone. (Pg. 261-264).

  3. Orvos P, Virág L, Tálosi L, et al. (2015): Effects of Chelidonium majus extracts and major alkaloids on hERG potassium channels and on dog cardiac action potential - a safety approach. Fitoterapia 100: 156-165.

  4. EMA. European Medicines Agency. Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products (HMPC) (2011). Assessment report on Chelidonium majus L., herba. EMA/HMPC/369801/2009.

  5. Colombo ML, Bosisio E (1996): Pharmacological activities of Chelidonium majus L. (Papaveraceae). Pharmacol Res 33: 127-134.

  6. Orvos P, Virág L, Tálosi L, et al. (2015): Effects of Chelidonium majus extracts and major alkaloids on hERG potassium channels and on dog cardiac action potential – a safety approach. Fitoterapia 100: 156-165.

  7. A Modern Herbal. (1931). Celandine, Greater. Retrieved from

  8. Lee YC, Kim SH, Roh SS, et al. (2007): Suppressive effects of Chelidonium majus methanol extract in knee joint, regional lymph nodes, and spleen on collagen-induced arthritis in mice. J Ethnopharmacol 112: 40-48.

  9. Yoo JH, Yang EM, Cho JH, et al. (2006): Inhibitory effects of berberine against morphine-induced locomotor sensitization and analgesic tolerance in mice. Neuroscience 142: 953-961.

  10. Vahlensieck U, Hahn R, Winterhoff H, Gumbinger HG, Nahrstedt A, Kemper FH. (1995). The effect of Chelidonium majus herb extract on choleresis in the isolated perfused rat liver. Planta Med. 61: 267-70.

  11. Teschke, R., Glass, X., & Schulze, J. (2011). Herbal hepatotoxicity by Greater Celandine (Chelidonium majus): Causality assessment of 22 spontaneous reports. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 61(3), 282-291. doi:10.1016/j.yrtph.2011.08.008

  12. Gilca, M., Gaman, L., Panait, E., Stoian, I., & Atanasiu, V. (2010). Chelidonium majus – an Integrative Review: Traditional Knowledge versus Modern Findings. Forsch Komplementmed, 17(5), 241-248. doi:10.1159/000321397

  13. Kokoska L, Polensky Z, Rada V, Nepovim A, Vanek T. (2002). Screening of some Siberian medicinal plants for antimicrobial activity. J Ethnopharmacol. 82(1):51–53.

  14. Mitra S, Gole M, Samajdar K, Sur RK, Chakraborty BN. (1992). Antihepatotoxic activity of Chelidonium majus. Int J Pharmacognosy. 30:125–128.

  15. Mitra S, Sur RK, Roy A, Mukherjee AS. (1996). Effect of Chelidonium majus L. on experimental hepatic tissue injury. Phytother Res. 10:354–356

  16. Habermehl D, Kammerer B, Handrick R, Eldh T, Gruber C, Cordes N, Daniel PT, Plasswilm L, Bamberg M, Belka C, Jendrossek V. (2006). Proapoptotic activity of Ukrain is based on Chelidonium majus L alkaloids and mediated via a mitochondrial death pathway. BMC Cancer. 6:14.

  17. Hohenwarter O, Strutzenberger K, Katinger H, Liepins A, Nowicky JW. (1992). Selective inhibition of in vitro cell growth by the antitumor drug Ukrain. Drugs Exp Clin Res. 18(suppl):1–4.

  18. Cordes N, Plasswilm L, Bamberg M, Rodemann HP. (2002). Ukrain, an alkaloid thiophosphoric acid derivative of Chelidonium majus L. protects human fibroblasts but not human tumor cells in vitro against ionizing radiation. Int J Radiat Biol. 78(1):17–27.

  19. Shin MC, Jang MH, Chang HK, Han SM, Park HJ, Shim I, Lee JS, Kim KA, Kim CJ. (2003). Modulation of Chelidonii herba on glycine-activated and glutamate-activated ion currents in rat periaqueductal gray neurons. Clin Chim Acta. 337(1–2):93–101.

  20. Kim Y, Shin M, Chung J, Kim E, Koo G, Lee C, Kim C. (2001). Modulation of Chelidonii herba on GABA activated chloride current in rat PAG neurons. Am J Chin Med 2001;29(2):265–279.

  21. Traynelis, S. F., Wollmuth, L. P., McBain, C. J., Menniti, F. S., Vance, K. M., Ogden, K. K., … Dingledine, R. (2010). Glutamate Receptor Ion Channels: Structure, Regulation, and Function. Pharmacological Reviews, 62(3), 405-496. doi:10.1124/pr.109.002451

  22. Huang CK. (1999). The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, ed 2. Boca Raton, FL, CRC.