The herb greater celandine ( Chelidonium majus), a relative of the poppy, contains an orange-colored juice that has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It has been applied topically for eye and skin problems, and taken internally for bronchitis, jaundice, indigestion, cancer, and whooping cough. However, traditional herbalists appear to have missed one major problem with this herb: it can damage the liver.
In Europe, it is commonly believed that minor gall bladder problems are a cause of indigestion. On this basis, celandine was approved in 1985 by Germany’s Commission E as a treatment for what we would call dyspepsia, or non-specific digestive distress. While there is some supporting evidence for this use,4-6 in view of the safety risks associated with celandine (see Safety Issues), we do not recommend using it for this purpose (or any other).
Very preliminary evidence hints suggests that constituents of celandine may also have cancer preventive and antimicrobial properties.7-9
Celandine has also traditionally been advocated as a topical treatment for warts. However, there is no reliable evidence that it is effective for this purpose.
A typical dosage of greater celandine extract is standardized to supply 4 mg of the substance chelidonine three times daily.4 However, we suggest that you do not use it at all. (See Safety Issues.)
For the treatment of warts, greater celandine is applied directly to the wart and allowed to dry there.
Numerous case reports indicate that use of celandine can lead to severe, potentially fatal liver injury.10-14
It should be noted that most people who use greater celandine do not develop liver problems. It may be that certain individuals have an especially high level of susceptibility. However, since it is not possible to determine in advance who would be at risk, we recommend that until more is known the internal use of greater celandine should be avoided entirely.
1. Baumann JC. Effect of Chelidonium, Curcuma, absinth and Carduus marianus on the bile and pancreatic secretion in liver diseases [in German]. Med Monatsschr. 1975;29:173–80.
2. Hiller KO, Ghorbani M, Schilcher H. Antispasmodic and relaxant activity of chelidonine, protopine, coptisine, and Chelidonium majus extracts on isolated guinea-pig ileum [letter]. Planta Med. 1998;64:758–60.
3. Hriscu A, Galesanu MR, Moisa L. Cholecystokinetic action of an alkaloid extract of Chelidonium majus. RevMed Chir Soc Med Nat Lasi. 1980;84:559–61.
4. Ritter R, Schatton WFH. Clinical trial on standardized celandine extract in patients with functional epigastric complaints: results of placebo-controlled double-blind trial. Comp Ther Med. 1993;1:189–93.
5. Kupke D, von Sanden H, Trinczek-Gartner H, et al. An evaluation of the choleretic activity of a plant-based cholagogue [in German]. Z Allgemeinmed. 1991;67:1046–1058.
6. Niederau C, Gopfert E. The effect of chelidonium- and turmeric root extract on upper abdominal pain due to functional disorders of the biliary system. Results from a placebo-controlled double-blind study [in German]. MedKlin. 1999;94:425–430.
7. Colombo ML, Bosisio E. Pharmacological activities of Chelidonium majus L. (Papaveraceae). Pharmacol Res. 1996;33:127–134.
8. Nowicky JW, Staniszewski A, Zbroja-Sontag W, et al. Evaluation of thiophosphoric acid alkaloid derivatives from Chelidonium majus L. (Ukrain) as an immunostimulant in patients with various carcinomas. Drugs Exp ClinRes. 1991;17:139-143.
9. Song JY, Yang HO, Pyo SN, et al. Immunomodulatory activity of protein-bound polysaccharide extracted from Chelidonium majus. Arch Pharm Res. 2002;25:158–64.
10. Benninger J, Schneider HT, Schuppan D, et al. Acute hepatitis induced by greater celandine ( Chelidoniummajus). Gastroenterol. 1999;117:1234–7.
11. Stickel F, Poschl G, Seitz HK, Waldherr R, Hahn EG, Schuppan D. Acute hepatitis induced by greater celandine ( Chelidonium majus). Scand J Gastroenterol. 2003;38:565–8.
12. Crijns AP, de Smet PA, van den Heuvel M, Schot BW, Haagsma EB. Acute hepatitis after use of a herbal preparation with greater celandine ( Chelidonium majus) [in Dutch] [published correction appears in Ned TijdschrGeneeskd. 2002;146:544]. Ned Tijdschr Geneeskd. 2002;146:124–8.
13. Greving I, Meister V, Monnerjahn C, et al. Chelidoniummajus: a rare reason for severe hepatotoxic reaction. Pharmacoepidemiol Drug Safety. 1998;7:S66–S69.
14. Strahl S, Ehret V, Dahm H, et al. Necrotizing hepatitis after taking herbal remedies [in German]. Dtsch Med Wochenschr. 1998;123:1410–1414.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015