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Chelidonium majus

Chelidonium majus, commonly known as Greater Celandine or Schöllkraut, is a plant widely distributed throughout western Europe, and naturalized in Great Britain and North America. It bears yellow flowers and is nearly always to be found growing in disturbed soils along old walls and housing foundations. To prepare our homeopathic remedy, we use the juice expressed from the root of the plant.
     Chelidonium is a member of the botanical family Papaveraceae, the Poppy family, which also includes the Opium poppy and bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Ernest Farrington published a very nice comparative study of Chelidonium and Sanguinaria, in his book, Comparative Materia Medica. In addition to these family resemblances, Chelidonium bears strong concordances with the remedies Lycopodium, Nux vomica, and Bryonia, and one would profit from studying it in comparison with them.
     The Latin and common English names for this plant derive from the Greek chelidon or "swallow" (i.e., the bird). Pliny described the timing of the plant's flowering to coincide with the arrival and departure of the migratory swallows in Greece. He also suggested that swallows were responsible for discovering the traditional use of this herb in removing films from the cornea of the eye, and imparted this use to humans. (A use amply confirmed in the homeopathic proving symptoms).
     Chelidonium has a long history of use in the European herbal traditions. Gerard, in his 15th-century herbal book, relates: "The juice of the herbe is good to sharpen the sight, for it cleanseth and consumeth away slimie things that cleave about the ball of the eye and hinder the sight and especially being boiled with honey in a brasen vessell." The juice of the plant was also used internally as a general blood purifier and, in topical application, in the treatment of minor wounds.
     Alchemic physicians noted the resemblance of the acrid, bright yellow-colored juice emitted from broken stems, root, and leaves to bile—and considered this a "signature" of its usefulness to "superstifle the jaundice." This "signature," along with an empiric record of usefulness in biliary diseases, led Rademacher (1772--1850) to adopt Chelidonium as one of the most important "liver remedies" in his system of Organopathy. He considered it a specific for diseases "of the inner liver," that is, the bile-producing tissues.


photograph by Julian Winston

     Chelidonium was adopted as a medicinal agent by the Eclectic School as well as by the homeopaths. The Eclectics considered it to act well in harmony with Leptandra, Podophyllum, Iris Versicolor, Chionanthus and Sodium Phosphate in disorders of the biliary system.
     Hahnemann, of course, railed against such routine use of medicinal agents based on the names of diseases. In his introduction to Chelidonium in Materia Medica Pura, he noted: "though there were cases where the utility of this plant in maladies of that region of the abdomen was obvious, yet the diseases of this organ differ so much among one another, both in their origin and in the attendant derangements of the rest of the organism ... that it is impossible from their data to tell beforehand the cases of disease in which it must certainly be of use; and yet this is indispensably necessary in the treatment of diseases of mankind which are of such serious importance. Hence, a recommendation of this sort (ab usu in morbis) is of but a general, undefined, and dubious character ... The importance of human health does not admit of any such uncertain directions for the employment of medicines. It would be criminal frivolity to rest contented with such guesswork at the bedside of the sick. Only that which the drugs themselves unequivocally reveal of their peculiar powers in their effects on the healthy human body—that is to say, only their pure symptoms—can teach us loudly and clearly when they can be advantageously used with certainty ..."
     Chelidonium was introduced to homeopathic practice by Hahnemann and colleagues, with a brief proving in his Materia Medica Pura (1st edition, vol. 4, 1818). Teste added a small proving of his own, and Buchmann conducted a thorough proving which ably confirmed the usefulness of this remedy in biliary diseases according to the principle of similars. All of these are incorporated into T.F. Allen's Encyclopedia of Pure Materia Medica. Hughes, in A Manual of Pharmacodynamics, states of Buchmann's proving:
     "Pain, both acute and dull, and tenderness of the organ; pain in the right shoulder; stools either soft and bright yellow, or whitish and costive; and deeply tinged urine, appeared in nearly every prover ... In three the skin became yellow or dark; and in one regular jaundice was set up. Correspondingly, Chelidonium bids fair to take high rank in our school as an hepatic medicine."

A woman with liver trouble
James Compton Burnett published a memorable case of Chelidonium in his Diseases of the Liver:
     Of Chelidonium majus, I would say that it is in this country the greatest liver medicine we have and there is, in all conscience, no lack of hepatics. Some of my early success in practice was due to my use of Chelidonium.
     It came about thus: I went to see an important lady for a well-known physician in the north, he being too busy to attend, but said lady strongly objected to new doctors. She took a look at me, I subsequently learned, from a position where she herself was invisible to me, and did not like the look of me. So I was sent away with many apologies from the daughter. Her hepatalgia was easier just at that moment: she would wait till her own physician would come.
     A few days later the pain in her right side became unbearable, and said physician again sent me. This time I was admitted and found her in very great pain in the hepatic region: she had had it at intervals for very many years—about thirty years, if I remember rightly. The liver was very much enlarged and the pains very acute; there was no jaundice, the tongue mapped.
     I mixed some Chelidonium majus and had it given pretty frequently: it eased the pain more promptly than ever the pain had been relieved before, and finally cured it altogether. Her whole life was changed. To make amends for having refused to see me on my first calling upon her she presented me with a piece of plate, and sent me subsequently very many of her suffering friends.
     So einflusserich was this venerable dame that I feel her practical influence to this very day.
     This cure, and its gratifying results to a struggling young doctor, fixed my attention a good deal upon Chelidonium, and upon liver affections, which are everywhere so common; and it has been my lot to relieve or cure a very large number of liver diseases—and from this wide experience I now write.

About the author:
Will Taylor, MD, is a board certified family practitioner whose own intractable case of shingles led him to homeopathy 12 years ago. Since then, he's earned a reputation as an exceptional teacher. He recently moved from rural Maine to Portland, Oregon, to chair the National College of Naturopathic Medicine's Homeopathy Department. He also teaches regularly at the School of Homeopathy, New York. He is publishing his book on case analysis strategy, Taking the Case, in monthly installments online at http://www.wholehealthnow.com/.