Herbal Medicine: Greater Celandine to improve and Bile Flow

herbal medicine byron bay naturopath gut health specialist bitter herbs celandine

A member of the poppy family greater celandine, or Chelidonium majus, has been used as a traditional herbal medicine for a number of different reasons. The ones of particular interest to those with digestive complaints, parasite and bacterial infections includes use for IBS symptoms, gallbladder and gall duct issues as well as assisting the detoxification of the liver and bowel. Another interesting use of Chelidonium is it’s traditional use in headaches, particularly migraines (1).

Matthew Wood supports this application in The Book Of Herbal Wisdom and references the use of greater celandine in Chinese herbal medicine.

According to Wood there is an interesting link between the physiological process that results in a headache, caused by thick and stagnant bile in the gallbladder tract. The thickened bile leads to inflammation in the actual gallbladder and could result in a blocked bile duct.

A key symptom of this underlying cause is constipation.

Interestingly the Chinese view on this equates to damp heat encumbering the liver and the gallbladder 


Herbal Medicine Uses For Celandine

The primary application for greater celandine, supported by trials, is it’s use for disorders of the liver and the gallbladder as well as IBS and certain digestive symptoms.

Wood recommends its use for gallstones and migranes, headaches and general pains in the face and head.

Hoffman lists Chelidonium majus as a cholagogue, promoting the discharge of bile and recommends its use in digestive system applications (3).


Phytochemicals Found in Greater Celandine

As with most herbal medicines the phytochemistry of greater celandine is complex and incredibly interesting.

The most abundant molecules are made up of isoquinoline alkaloids (listed below) as well as flavonoids and phenolic acids.

  • Chelidonine
  • Chelerythrine
  • Sanguinarine
  • Berberine
  • Coptisine

The Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy list a number of different properties assessed through in vitro and animal studies. While we can’t draw any solid conclusions from them they are interesting to note. I am particularly interested in the features that match up with the traditional view.

  • Hepatoprotective – liver protection
  • Choleretic – increase bile flow
  • Antimicrobial activity – found to have antibacterial effects against gram positive bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus spp., as well as Candida albicans and even some possible antiviral features as well
  • Antitumor
  • Antiinflammatory

Scientific Findings for Chelidonium majus

When I find papers like this one – Chelidonium majus – an Integrative Review: Traditional Knowledge versus Modern Findings, I jump for joy! This is the line that I try to walk as a student herbalist with a keen passion for functional medicine. How can we utilise both worlds, the holistic, all encompassing view of traditional herbal medicine and the scientific reductionist model of the microscopic world of biochemistry and physiology.

The paper cites a range of human studies, animal studies and in-vitro studies. They showed effects from Greater Celandine including it’s ability to improve the production of bile in the liver, possible anti-inflammatory effects, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral properties and immune modulating effects reducing chronic tonsillitis in children.  


Safety, Dosage and Cautions

Interestingly the same review mentions some possible toxicity in regards to celandine particularly hepatotoxicity – liver damage. Interesting as many texts cite the herbal medicine as a hepatoprotective. The paper outlined that the few patients that did suffer from hepatotoxicity recovered quickly after stopping the herbal treatment but it is something important to consider.

The bible for herbalists in terms of herbal safety The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety by Mills and Bone mention a number of different important points regarding the safe use of Chelidonium majus.

  • It is contraindicated in pregnancy, lactation and in preexisting liver disease
  • Avoid use with heavy alcohol consumption
  • They list possible hepatotoxic effects of the herb as well

Listed common dosages

  • 6-12 grams/day of dried aerial parts or by infusion
  • 3-6 ml/day of a 1:1 liquid extract
  • 1-2 ml/day of a 1:2 liquid extract
  • 6-12 ml/day of a 1:10 tincture

High end dosages for short term only!

Greater celandine is yet another herbal ally for digestive complaints. The link between headaches and the gallbladder/bile flow was a new piece of information for me. It reinforces what I’ve been noticing throughout my research. The gastrointestinal tract is intimately associated with the rest of the body and many symptoms that don’t initially seem connected.

If you’ve had any experiences with Chelidonium majus or share them below!

References and Resources

  1. Principles and Practices of Phytochemistry
  2. The Book Of Herbal Wisdom
  3. Medical Herbalism
  4. Chelidonium majus – an Integrative Review: Traditional Knowledge versus Modern Findings
  5. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety


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