Name: Yellow Pheasant’s Eye (Adonis vernalis)
Otherwise known as: Spring Adonis
Habitat: A perennial member of the Ranunculaceae family, growing to about 20cm in lime-rich soil in dry, grassy areas in Europe. It has a dark, stout rhizome with feathery leaves on pale stems supporting bright yellow flowers. All parts of the plant are very poisonous.
What does it do: Pheasant’s Eye contains strophanthin, and the glucoside adonidin, which is ten times more potent than digitoxin. The plant is a cardiac tonic, stimulant and diuretic. Dioscorides recommended infusions made from the plant to treat the weak and fluttering heart. Gerard states ‘there is much comfort to be taken from this herb when assailed by the great pox’. While Culpeper writes ‘those brought down by the dropsy will find it being relieved by the tea, it calmeth the palpitations’.
From very early times the plant had a reputation for curing venereal disease but there is no evidence to support this. It was certainly applied by medieval herbalists to treat cardiac and renal dropsy, oedema; a condition, not a disease, which arises from accumulation of fluid around the heart or kidneys. The cardenolides have a more rapid and stronger action than digitalis (Foxglove, Digitalis lanatus) and have been found to be more applicable in treating heart conditions especially where there is an accompanying disease. In Chinese medicine the plant is used to treat excessive fluids surrounding wounds; as a tranquiliser in cases of hysteria and to improve circulation in the aged.
In France country folk collect and store the flowers in spring to be used during the winter as a heart tonic.
Alexander McCowan is author of The World’s most Dangerous Plants, available from Lulu and Amazon