Pulsatilla (3), Pasque Flower (4)
Dried aerial parts (3, 5) Fresh plant is toxic (1)
Pulsatilla vulgaris is a perennial herb which grows to between 150mm and 300mm in height (1). The flexible leaves are thinly dissected compound leaves (6) of 70-120 mm in length (4). The delicate violet to purple coloured flowers are formed by six sepals (2) which create a bell shape (5) at a single terminal flower (2). The sepals are erect and between two and three times the length of the stamens (2). The leaves and the out side of the sepals are covered with fine hair (4) and the flower rests on an unbranched ridged scape which is 2-4 mm thick (2). When present, fruit is composed of dark brown achenes growing to 6mm long and 2mm wide with a hairy tail up to 50mm in length (2). Pulsatilla vulgaris is native to Europe (4, 5, 6) and in particular the central and northern areas (5). It is also native to Russia (4), and grows in southern England as well (4). It prefers dry grassland and chalky soil (5). The aerial parts are collected in spring while the plant is in flower (4, 5, 6).
The common name of pasque flower is derived from the French language and translates to Easter flower which is when the herb is often flowering in the northern hemisphere (1, 5). Pulsatilla is derived from the Latin pulso, which means to create a violent movement and may be a reference to the toxic qualities of the plant which can create severe gastrointestinal distress if eaten (1). While the use of Pulsatilla vulgaris did not originate with the eclectic practitioners it was highly prized by them and used for many conditions ranging from nervousness to toothache (7). Pulsatilla is also employed as a major homœopathic remedy and is regarded as deep acting remedy with many uses (6, 8).
Major Active Constituents
When it is harvested fresh Pulsatilla vulgaris is toxic due to the presence of a glucoside called ranunculin (1, 6, 9). Ranunculin is a terpenoid lactone (6) which is present in pulsatilla that is fresh and intact (9). When the herb is cut, crushed, or freeze dried, in the presence of water an enzyme is released that degrades the ranunculin to form protoanemonin (1, 6, 9). Protoanemonin is very irritating to the skin but is unstable and dimerises to form nontoxic anemonin (1, 9). The extent of the break down of protoanemonin to anemonin can only be evaluated by chemical analysis (1). Anemonin is the main active constituent in Pulsatilla vulgaris; however it also contains small amounts of triterpenoid saponins, tannins, and volatile oil (5, 9).
Spasmolytic (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12).
Analgesic (1, 3, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12).
Sedative (1, 5, 9, 11, 12, 13).
Antibacterial (1, 6, 11, 12).
Relevant pharmacologic information regarding Pulsatilla vulgaris is very scarce (3). However the following in vitro study by Saify and colleges demonstrates the ability of Pulsatilla vulgaris to reduce smooth muscle spasm (15).
Fresh rabbit jejunum was mounted under 1 gram of tension in a 30 ml bath filled with Kreb’s solution which was aerated and temperature controlled at 37 degrees Celsius. A Grass 7D model Polygraph was used to isometerically measure spontaneous contractions of the jejunum. This was a cumulative dose-response study and 100 µl of Pulsatilla vulgaris ethanol extract was added to the bath on six consecutive occasions. The spontaneous contractions were reduced with each dose and after three doses a reduction of approximately 80% was recorded. After six doses, or a total of 600 µl of the extract, 100% inhibition of spontaneous activity was recorded (15). This study would appear to support the traditional use of Pulsatilla vulgaris as an antispasmodic (15). However, the time between each addition of the Pulsatilla vulgaris extract to the bath was not stated, and more importantly, there was no mention of comparison with a control in this study.
As noted above in the actions listed for Pulsatilla vulgaris it is the spasmolytic action which receives the greatest endorsement from authoritative texts (1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12).
Anemonin is an important active constituent of Pulsatilla vulgaris (1, 9) and one that it shares in common with Pulsatilla chinensis (16). Due to the lack of pharmacologic information about Pulsatilla vulgaris a study that examined the effect of anemonin which was extracted from Pulsatilla chinensis was reviewed. In this study researchers examined the anti-inflammatory affect that anemonin had on cultures of rat intestinal endothelial cells (16). The cells were challenged with lipopolysaccharide to investigate the release of nitric oxide, endothelin-1, and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1, with or without the addition of different concentrations of anemonin. The production of nitric oxide and endothelin-1 was greatly reduced by anemonin at concentrations of 5µg/ml and 10 µg/ml. Soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 production was also reduced, although to a lesser extent. The researchers suggest that anemonin may have a therapeutic action on intestinal inflammation by reducing the production of nitric oxide, endothelin-1, and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (16).
The majority of available research found on pulsatilla has been carried out on Pulsatilla chinensis and Pulsatilla koreana.
Clinical Outcome Studies
Database searches of MEDLINE, AMED, and CINAHL revealed no clinical studies conducted with Pulsatilla vulgaris. Clinical trials using (a liquid extract of) Pulsatilla vulgaris have not been performed. (3)
- General pain or inflammation of the male and female reproductive organs (1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12)
- Premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhoea (1, 2, 5, 6, 10, 11, 12)
- Insomnia (1, 3, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12)
- Migraine or tension headaches (1, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12)
- Ovarian pain (1, 3, 10, 11, 12)
- Menstrual cramps (1, 2, 5, 12)
- Nervous exhaustion/distress, especially in relation to menstruation (1, 4, 5, 6, 11)
- Hyperactivity (3, 9, 11, 12)
- Orchitis (3, 10, 11)
- Spasmodic cough (1, 5, 6)
- Neuralgia (1, 6)
- Epididymitis (3, 11)
Contra-indications and Cautions
- Pregnancy (3, 5, 8, 10, 11, 14)
- Lactation (3, 8, 10, 11, 14)
- Fresh plant is toxic (1, 5, 6, 9, 11)
- Use cautiously in children (9, 10)
Long term use in conjunction with powerful analgesics is not recommended (9).
Fresh Pulsatilla vulgaris should not be used as it contains the toxic glycoside called ranunculin which breaks down to form protoanemonin and may irritate the skin (1, 6, 9, 11). If ingested protoanemonin may irritate the kidneys or urinary tract (1, 6, 9). Protoanemonin is unstable and breaks down further to form anemonin; however the rate of this process is unknown (1, 6, 9, 11). Because of the potential toxic effect of Pulsatilla vulgaris it should only be prescribed by qualified practitioners (1). The dried aerial parts of Pulsatilla vulgaris are considered to be nontoxic (11).
Adult dose: 0.4-1.5 ml of 1:2 liquid extract per day or 3-10 ml of 1:2 liquid extract per week (3).
0.4-0.9 g/day using dried aerial parts in infusion or decoction. 0.4-0.9 ml per day of a 1:1 liquid extract.
0.4-1.5 ml of 1:2 liquid extract or equivalent in tablet or capsule per day.
0.9 to 3ml per day of a 1:10 tincture (9).
3-10 ml of 1:2 liquid extract per week (10).
0.12-0.3g of dried herb in an infusion or decoction three times a day.
0.12-0.3 ml of a 1:1 liquid extract (25% alcohol) three times a day.
0.3-1.0 ml of a 1:10 tincture (40% alcohol) three times a day (11).
1/2 - 1 teaspoons of dried plant in an infusion three times a day.
1-2 ml of tincture three times a day (12).
1. Foster S, Johnson R. 2006. National Geographic Desk Reference to Natural Medicine. Washington: National Geographic.
2. Anonymous. 1996. British Herbal Pharmacopoeia. London: British Herbal Medicine Association.
3. Bone K. 2003. A Clinical Guide to Blending Liquid Herbs: herbal formulations for the individual patient. St Louis, Missouri: Churchill Livingstone.
4. Wren RC. 1982. Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations.Saffron Walden, UK: CW Daniels.
5. Chevalier A.2001. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. St Leonards: Penguin.
6. van Wyk B-E, Wink M. 2004. Medicinal Plants of the World. Pretoria: Briza Publications.
7. Felter HW. 1983. The eclectic materia medica, pharmacology and therapeutics. Oregon: Eclectic Medical Publications.
8. Murphy R. 2000. Homeopathic Remedy Guide. Blacksburg, Virginia: H.A.N.A. Press.
9. Mills S, Bone K. 2005. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier-Churchill Livingstone.
10. Bone K. 2007. The Ultimate Herbal Compendium – a desktop guide for herbal prescribers. Warwick, QLD: Phytotherapy Press.
11. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. 1996. Herbal Medicines - a guide for health-care professionals. London: Pharmaceutical Press.
12. Hoffmann D.2002. Complete Illustrated Guide to The Holistic Herbal. London: Element.
13. Evans WC. 2002. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy (15th edition). London: WB Saunders.
14. Brinker F. 1997. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions. Oregon: Eclectic Institute Inc.
15. Saify ZS, Noor F, Mushtaq N, Dar A. Assessment of Anemone pulsatilla for some biological activities. Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 1998;11(1):47-53.
16. Duan H. Effect of anemonin on NO, ET-1 and ICAM-1 production in rat intestinal microvascular endothelial cells. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 2006;104(3):362-6.
17. Menzies-Trull C. Pasque Flower Pulsatilla vulgaris. The Canadian Journal of Herbalism. 2006;27(1):19-20.
This monograph was authored in 2008 by David Pitcher, a student in Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Naturopathy programme, and edited by Nena Aleschewski BNat. While the author and editor have strived to cite published information accurately, Southern Cross University will not be responsible for any inaccuracies that may have occurred.
This information is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. If you wish to use herbal medicine as part of your health care, seek the advice of an appropriately qualified practitioner.