Name: Bulbous Corydalis (Corydalis cava)
Otherwise known as: Bird in the Bush
Habitat: A perennial member of the Fumariaceae family, growing to about 30cm in moist woodland areas in Europe and Asia, with feathery, coriander-type leaves that emanate from a rough, brown, hairy bulb and support spikes of violet to white flowers arranged in terminal racemes, the upper petal stretching into a long spur. All parts of the plant are very poisonous.
What does it do: Historically the plant was used to combat the secondary and tertiary stages of syphilis, working on the basis that drastic measures were required for devastating diseases, and taking comfort from ‘The Doctrine of Signatures’ which held that the shape and appearance of plants indicated the disease they were intended to treat, in this case the floral parts representing the pudenda. Therefore, many of the Elizabethan herbals specify tinctures and infusions made from the bulbs of the plants to treat the ulcerations, chancres and sore throats arising from the disease, and the chronic nerve dystrophy that follows. When this venereal disease first visited Europe it rampaged through the countries and became a scourge in the ports and capitals. The herbalists employed powerful purges and vermifuges in an effort to cleanse the body, although the treatment could be as fatal as the affliction.
The plant is no longer used by herbalists but is exploited by the major drug companies: the bulb contains powerful alkaloids, the most prominent being corydaline and bulbocapnine, which are antispasmodic, sedative and hallucinogenic. Corydalis lowers blood pressure and inhibits contractions of the striated muscles. In eastern and central European countries, the alkaloids are used to treat Parkinson’s disease and other serious neurological disorders, vertigo and muscle tremors. Anaesthetists administer bulbocapnine before and after surgery to reduce muscular spasms.