Name: Colchicum (Colchicum autumnale)
Otherwise known as: Meadow Saffron, Naked Ladies
Habitat: A bulb-corm of the family Liliaceae which grows to about 10cm in woods and marshy fields in Europe and North Africa. It has small, lancelot leaves and produces an attractive, pink, crocus-type flower which has six petals, and is sometimes mistaken for Crocus sativus (Saffron), a member of the Iridaceae.
What does it do: Dioscorides referred to this plant as ‘Strangulatorium’ because in excessive doses it can be fatal. The effective part is the corm which is harvested in early summer. The ancients avoided it because of its high toxicity but the Arab physicians of Avicenna valued it as an anti-inflammatory and it was taken up by European practitioners to treat gout, an extremely painful affliction caused by a disturbance of protein metabolism in which production of uric acid is increased resulting in deposits of acid crystals in the joints of the fingers and toes. It is still considered one of the most effective treatments for this ailment.
The main constituents of colchicum are alkaloids and flavanoids; it is the alkaloid colchicine which is responsible for the anti-inflammatory content.
Modern research in Germany revealed that the plant’s extracts could be successfully employed as a treatment for leukaemia as well as giving relief to sufferers for Behcet’s syndrome, a chronic disease marked by recurring ulcers and leukaemia. It was during this period of research that it was discovered that the plant could effect cell division in rodents. Since then it has been employed in creating new genetic strains in the laboratories of a number of large pharmaceutical companies.
As a tincture, colchicum is used topically to treat facial neuralgia and eczema.
Caution must be used when handling this plant which is subject to legal restrictions in some countries. It must only be taken under medical supervision and never when pregnant.