Medicinal Uses Of Merendera Persica

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Discoroides in his book, De Materia Medica, described the use of the extract of genus Colchicum for the treatment of gout. In modern clinical practice, colchicine is prescribed in cases of gout and rheumatism not responding to standard medications. Gout is a clinical condition characterized by high-levels of uric acid in the blood resulting in arthritis.

Colchicine containing medicinal herbs is widely used in traditional systems of medicine including Ayurveda and Unani. In Ayurveda, Indian colchicum (Colchicum autumnale Linn. is used in anti-gout prescriptions, suranjana vati (tablet preparation) and suranjanavelha (confection preparation). Colchicine was official in the London Pharmacopoeia until 1639 and was reintroduced in 1778.

Cochicine (Fig. 5.5) is basically a water-soluble alkaloid, initially isolated from corms of Meadow saffron (Colchicum luteum Baker). In addition, colchicine has analgesic and anti-inflammatory activity which makes it ideal for anti-rheumatic therapy.

Colchicine has been also studied as an anticancer agent. Colchicine inhibits polymerization of microtubules by binding to tubulin. In addition to gout, colchicine is used in the treatment of psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, Becket's syndrome, penile condylomata acuminata, cardiomyopathy, familial Mediterranean fever, secondary amlydosis and scleroderma. Colchicine is toxic and a typical poisoning case mimics arsenic toxicity. Colchicine is known to cause leucopenia, dermatitis and alopecia and reported to be teratogenic in animal studies.

Colchicine containing Medicinal Herbs 391 25.2 Medicinal herbs and colchicine

Table 25.1 Chief medicinal herbs containing colchicine.


Name of the herb

% of colchicine


Colchicum autumnale Linn.

(0.1 to 0.8% (fresh flowers) 1.8% (dried flowers), (0.2 to 0.8%) seeds and corm (0.4 to 0.6%).


Colchicum luteum Baker.

0.25% (corm)and 0.4% (seeds)


Gloriosa superba Linn.

1.3% (tubers)


Iphigenia indica (L.) Kunth

0.6-0.8 %


Sandersonia aurantiaca Hook. 38


Colchicum autumnale Linn., commonly known as Autumn Crocus or Meadow Saffron, is native to Central and southeastern Europe and Africa. It has been introduced to Canada and the U.S. Colchicum autumnale is a small herbaceous perennial plant 10 to 40 cm high, flowering typically in the autumn after the leaves have disappeared. Leaves are lanceolate, dark green, shiny. They appear in the spring, and then die back before the flowers appear. Flowers: pink, purple or white flowers in groups of 1 to 6 are produced from an underground bulb.

All parts of the plant contain toxins. The greatest concentration of toxins is found in the seeds and the bulb. Colchicine is present in the flowers (0.1 to 0.8% in fresh flowers; up to 1.8% in dried flowers), in the seeds (0.2 to 0.8%) in the bulb (0.4 to 0.6%). The leaves contain very low amounts of colchicine. The other toxins present, which are closely related to colchicine, includes desacetylmethylcolchicine, desacetylthiocolchicine, colchicoside, demethyl desacetylcolchicine.

In traditional medicine, C. autumnale is classified as an alterative, aphrodisiac, carminative and laxative and used in gout, rheumatism and disorders of the liver and spleen.

Colchicum luteum Baker., commonly known as Yellow Autumn Crocus, Bitter Colchicum and Golden Collyrium, is found in East Asia-China to the Himalayas. It is an annual herb with stem-base below the ground, Flowers golden yellow, 1-2, on a very short stalk or scape among leaf-sheaths; fruits 2.5-3.8 cm long capsules with long recurved beaks, having numerous seeds; seeds brownish-white, globose or irregularly globular, 2-3 mm in diameter.

The herb contains alkaloids, including, colchicine, colchiceine, demecoicine or colchamine, cornigerine, lutiene, luteidine and collutine N-oxide. Corm contains 0.25% and seeds contain 0.4% of colchicine. Colchicine is readily soluble in water and decomposes into colchiceine. The corm also contains gallic acid, tannic acid, gum and starch. The poisoning of the plant is not unusual and comes through the confusion of the tuber with an onion or preparation of the leaves as a salad. Poisoning has been reported even by the milk of goats and sheep who have eaten the plant.

Gloriosa superba Linn., commonly known as Glory Lily, is another source of the alkaloid. It is a beautiful, herbaceous, tall, glabrous, branching leaf tip climber, about 1-3 m tall. Leaves alternate, opposite or tenately whorled, lanceolate, strongly nerved, nerves parallel, leaf-tip ending in tendril like spiral. Flowers large, showy, axillary, solitary on long pedicels, and nodding.

The plant contains alkaloids: colchicine corresponding to 1.3% (10), superbine and gloriosine. Superbine is toxic and allied to bitter principle of squill. 3-demethyl-N-formyl-N-deacetyl-b-lumicolchicine, 3-demethyl-g-lumicolchicine and 3-demethyl colchicines have been reported. Recently a glycoside (3-O-demethylcolchicine-3-O-alpha-D-glucopyranoside) has been isolated from the seeds.

Four fractions of Gloriosa superba L., i.e. hexane fraction, dichloromethane fraction 1, dichloromethane fraction 2, and methanol fraction, were investigated for colchicine-like activity using a mosquito cytogenetic assay. The results revealed that the latter three fractions yielded promisingly high colchicine-like activity, whereas the hexane fraction yielded very low activity compared with 1% colchicine in a 0.85% sodium chloride solution.

The clinical manifestations of colchicine toxicity include gastroenteritis, acute renal failure, cardio toxicity and hematological abnormalities In one case, a young woman ingested 125 g of tubers containing 0.3% colchicine which is equivalent of 350 mg of colchicine. Within 2 h the patient was vomiting and became unconscious on the next day. Acute ascending polyneuropathy and dermatitis have been reported following ingestion of tubers of the plant. Massive generalized alopecia has been reported. Anti-spermatogenic activity of extracts has been reported.

In traditional medicine, G. superba is classified as acrid, anthelmintic, laxative and abortifaceint. It is used in the treatment of chronic ulcers, leprosy, inflammation, hemorrhoids, skin diseases and intestinal worms. G. rothchildiana O Brien, G.planti, G. lutea, G. casuariana and G. vuchuria are also known to contain colchicine.

Iphigenia indica (L.) Kunth is found in the Himalayas, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia and Australia. It is an herb 20-40 cm high; stem simple or sparsely branched. Leaves mostly crowded along steam, linear or gradually tapering, flat or channeled, 5-20 cm long, 1.5-4.5 mm wide, glabrous. Inflorescence 1-4 flowered; pedicles erect, usually 5-20 mm long at anthesis; bracts 1-several per flower. It contains colchicine corresponding to 0.6-0.8%.

The seeds of Iphigenia stellata Blatt., indigenous to Maharastra (India) and is reported to contain the highest amount of colchicine. In addition, the plant contains colchicoside, 3-demethylcolchicine, 3-demethyl-N-deacetylcolchicine, multifloramine and kreysiginine.

Merendera persica sensu Hook. (Colchicum aitchisonii (Hook. f.) E. Nasir., Merendera aitchisonii Hook. f.) is found throughout Afghanistan and Iran. It is known as sweet suranjana. The corm is ovoid; sheath dark reddish-brown, neck long. Leaves 2-6, appearing with the flowers, linear, acute, 2-5 cm long at the flowering stage, upto 12 cm at the fruiting stage. It is reported to contain colchicine (24). Various species of the genus Androcymbium inlcuding A. gramineum, A, gramineum, A. hierrense, A. palaestinum, A. psammophilum, A. rechingerii, and A.wyssianum are reported to contain colchicine.

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