Does it work? Do Easter flowers cure irritations?

 

BACKGROUND:Although lillies are now the flower most frequently connected with Easter, associations have been made with other flowers. One of these is the Easter flower, or Pulsatilla. The scientific name of the most common species is Pulsatilla vulgaris, formerly known as Anemone pulsatilla. The plant is a member of the buttercup family and grows all over continental Europe and North America. Dark purple flowers blossom on the ends of hairy stalks around Easter time. The flowers develop into furry seed-heads, similar to dandelions, although retaining some of their vibrant colour. Their movement in the wind leads to their other common name, the windflower.

The Easter flower was well known to ancient cultures, though not always welcome. In ancient China it was called the Flower of Death, and many other cultures regarded its appearance as an ill omen. In spite of this, it has been used in many forms of traditional medicine. Pulsatilla has been recommended for many different ailments, but the most common recommendations are for pain and inflammation of the male and female reproductive system. It was used by Native Americans to cause abortions and induce labour. The plant is believed to relieve tension and pain that arises from muscles and nerves being over-stimulated.

Pulsatilla is also used in homoeopathic remedies. While often made from herbs, homoeopathic remedies are diluted to the point where little or none of the original material remains. Homoeopathic Pulsatilla is used for a wide variety of irritations, including eye problems, toothaches, earaches and indigestion. It is also recommended to calm nervousness and promote sleep.

PROBLEMATIC ASPECTS

In spite of their beauty, the flowers and fresh plant material of Pulsatilla are toxic. Animals that graze on the plants develop mouth and throat ulcers, blisters, abdominal pain, and, if enough is consumed, dizziness, vomiting and kidney damage. Chemical studies have identified a component called anemonin which is a powerful irritant. Native Americans used anemonin on horses as an irritating stimulant. Inhaling the volatile oils emitted by the flowers can irritate some people’s noses and airways. Regular handling of the flowers can lead to skin irritation, and consumption can lead to allergic reactions and gastric irritation. Consuming large quantities has caused violent stomach pains, vomiting, diarrhoea and convulsions.

EVIDENCE FROM STUDIES

No studies examining the effects of Pulsatilla in humans were found. Those recommending Pulsatilla remedies usually refer to traditional usage, not scientific studies. Homoeopathic theories are cited whereby a substance with a certain effect in large doses is claimed to have the opposite effect when taken in extremely diluted doses. According to this logic, since Pulsatilla causes irritation in larger amounts, it will relieve various irritations when taken in the extremely diluted doses of homeopathic remedies. The 19th-century eclectic physicians thus recommended homoeopathic Pulsatilla to relax people with nervous conditions or difficulty sleeping.

While a homoeopathic remedy might contain undetectable amounts of plant material, capsules containing hundreds of milligrams of plant material are also available.

RECOMMENDATIONS

Easter can be a beautiful time, but it celebrates the terrible reality of what humanity once did to an innocent man. Likewise, the Easter flower while beautiful may hide an unpleasant reality. Care should be taken that they are not consumed by animals, children or anyone else. Homoeopathic Pulsatilla remedies are most likely unproblematic. However, no evidence could be found to support taking Pulsatilla as a herbal remedy for any ailment. Given the variety of evidence, both traditional and scientific, that Pulsatilla is toxic, herbal remedies containing the plant material should be avoided.

Dónal O’Mathúna has a PhD in pharmacy, researching herbal remedies, and an MA in bioethics, and is a senior lecturer in the School of Nursing, Dublin City University