Corn Cockle

Scientific Name(s): Agrostemma githago L:, Family: Caryophyllaceae

Common Name(s): Cockle , corn campion , corn cockle , corn rose , crown-of-the-field , purple cockle

Uses

Corn cockle has been used in folk medicine to treat a range of ills, from parasites to cancer.

Dosing

There are no recent clinical studies of corn cockle which provide a basis for dosage recommendations, however, it has been recommended to be used at 2 to 3 g of seeds. Doses higher that 3 g are considered toxic. 1

Contraindications

No longer considered safe.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. 2

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Use in humans leads to toxicities.

Toxicology

Corn cockle may produce chronic or acute, potentially fatal poisoning.

Botany

Agrostemma githago is an annual herb showing a few erect branches which are heavily pubescent overall. The leaves are linear lanceolate and the flowers red growing up to 2 inches broad. It was originally native to Europe but has long been naturalized in the US to the extent that it is a troublesome weed in winter wheat fields. 3

History

Though corn cockle has an attractive red flower, it is not usually cultivated horticulturally and is generally considered a weed. In fact, its seeds have long been considered poisonous; it causes problems when gathered together with cereal grains with which it grows as a weed. In European folklore, its seeds have been used for treating cancers, hard tumors, warts and apostemes (hard swellings in the uterus). Seeds have also been put into the conjunctival sac to induce keratoconjunctivitis. Its saponins are irritating and have been claimed to have local anesthetic effects. 4

Chemistry

At least two saponins, githagin and agrostemmic acid, are contained in corn cockle. 3 The saponin, sapotoxin A, with the prosapogenin githagin, the aglycone githagenin, and agrostemmic acid have also been reported. 4 The ripe seeds contain a number of aromatic amino acids, including 2,4–dihydroxy-6–methylphenylalanine, L(+)-citrullin, sugar, oil, fat and starch. The seedlings, like others, possess allantoin and allantoic acid. The roots are reported to contain up to 2% starch labeled “lactosin.” The oil contains 41% unsaturated fatty acids and a high portion (3.4%) of unsaponifiable lipids. 5 These, in turn yield 8.3% mixed alkanes from C19 to C33. The unsaponifiable lipids were found to have 45% crystalline alpha-spinasterol as well as small quantities of a triterpene ester and a di- or tri-terpene-like unsaturated acyclic ketone.

Uses and Pharmacology

Corn cockle has been used historically as a diuretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, poison and vermifuge. It has been used to treat cancer, dropsy (edema) and jaundice. Corn cockle roots have been used for exanthemata and hemorrhoids. The seeds have been used homeopathically in treating gastritis and paralysis. 4

Dosage

There are no recent clinical studies of corn cockle which provide a basis for dosage recommendations, however, it has been recommended to be used at 2 to 3 g of seeds. Doses higher that 3 g are considered toxic 1

Pregnancy/Lactation

Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. 2

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Adverse reactions lead to toxicities (see toxicology).

Toxicology

The saponins githagin and agrostemmic acid are reported to be absorbable from the alimentary canal and may produce systemic poisoning, including gastrointestinal irritation, severe muscle pain and twitching, followed by depression and coma. In veterinary experiences, poultry and livestock have been poisoned by the seeds of corn cockle. As a seed, it commonly contaminates wheat seed. Hogs that have ingested the roots have died. Consumption of 0.2% to 0.5% of the body weight of seed is lethal to young birds. Cows have also died from this seed. The repeated ingestion and chronic poisoning by small doses of corn cockle is referred to as githagism. Acute poisoning by large doses is manifested by vertigo, respiratory depression, vomiting, diarrhea, salivation and paralysis. Gastric lavage or emesis are recommended for poison treatment. 4

Bibliography

1. Gruenwald J, ed. PDR for Herbal Medicines . 2nd ed. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics; 2000.
2. Wickersham RM, Novak KK, managing eds. Drug Facts and Comparisons . St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc.; 2003.
3. Osol A, Farrar GE Jr., eds. The Dispensatory of the United States of America, ed. 25. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1955.
4. Duke JA. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs . Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1985.
5. Jankov LK, Ivanov TP. Constituents of Agrostemma githago L. Planta Medica . 1970;18(May):232.

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