Saffron, Meadow

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Saffron, Meadow

Botanical Name: Colchicum autumnale (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Liliaceae
Synonym: Naked Ladies.
Parts Used: Root, seeds.
Habitat: Grows wild in meadows, especially on limestone.

Description: It has lanceolate leaves, dark green, glabrous, often a foot long. Flowers light purple or white, like crocus but for their six stamens; the ovaries remain underground until the spring after flowering, when they are borne up by the elongating peduncles and ripen. It flowers in September and October. The leaves and fruit are poisonous to cattle.

The root is called a corm, from which in autumn the light-purplish mottled flowers arise.

Cultivation: Requires light, sandy loam, enriched with decayed manure or leafmould. Plant the bulbs 3 inches deep and 3 inches apart in July or August, in moist beds or rockeries, shrubbery, borders or lawns near shade of trees. The foliage dies down in June and July, and does not reappear until after the plant has flowered. It may also be propagated by seeds sown 1/8 inch deep in a bed of fine soil outdoors in August or September, or in pans or boxes of similar soil in cold frame at the same time, transplanting seedlings 3 inches apart when two years old; or by division of bulbs in August. Seedling bulbs do not flower till four or five years old.

Medicinal Action and Uses: The Colchicum is valued for its medicinal properties. The parts used are the root and seeds, these being anti-rheumatic, cathartic, and emetic. Its reputation rests largely upon its value in acute gouty and rheumatic complaints. It is mostly used in connexion with some alkaline diuretic; also in pill form. Overdoses cause violent purging, etc.

The active principle is said to be an alkaline substance of a very poisonous nature called Colchinine. It is acrid, sedative, and acts upon all the secreting organs, particularly the bowels and kidneys. It is apt to cause undue depression, and in large doses acts as an irritant poison. Dr. Lindley relates the case of a woman who was poisoned by the sprouts of Colchicum, which had been thrown away in Covent Garden Market and which she mistook for onions.

The Hermodactyls of the Arabians, formerly celebrated for soothing pains in the joints, are said to be this plant.

The corm or root is usually sold in transverse slices, notched on one side and somewhat reniform in outline, white and starchy internally, about 1/8 inch thick, and varying from 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Taste sweetish, then bitter and acrid. Odour radish-like in fresh root, but lost in drying.

Preparations: Powdered root, 2 to 5 grains. Extract, B.P., 1/4 to 1 grain. Fluid extract (root), 1 to 10 drops. Fluid extract (seed), U.S.P., 1 to 10 drops. Tincture, B.P., 5 to 15 drops. Wine, B.P., 10 to 30 drops. Acetic solid extract, 1/4 to 1 grain.