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Corn Cockle

Scientific Name(s): Agrostemma githago L.
Common Name(s): Cockle, Corn campion, Corn cockle, Corn rose, Corn-pink, Crown-of-the-field, Purple cockle

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 23, 2023.

Clinical Overview


Corn cockle has been used in folk medicine; however, toxicity concern limits its therapeutic applications and clinical trials are lacking. Use of seed constituents for antiviral activity and in cancer are being investigated.


No recent clinical studies of corn cockle provide a basis for dosage recommendations due to toxicity concerns.


Information is lacking; however, plant extracts, especially the seeds, are toxic.


Avoid use. Documented embryotoxic effects.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Information is lacking; however, plant extracts, especially the seeds, are toxic.


Corn cockle may produce long- or short-term poisoning that could be potentially fatal.

Scientific Family

  • Caryophyllaceae


A. githago is an annual herb with a few erect branches covered with fine, soft hairs. The leaves are linear lanceolate and the red flowers grow up to 5 cm wide. The plant bears small (5 mm), brown seeds. It was originally native to Europe, but has long been naturalized in the United States to the extent that it is a troublesome weed in winter wheat fields and is considered a noxious weed in many areas.Osol 1955, USDA.2014


In European folklore, the seeds have been used for treating cancers, hard tumors, warts, and apostemes (hard swellings in the uterus). In Turkish traditional medicine, the seeds of the plant are used as a diuretic, expectorant, and antihelminthic. 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.Avci 2006, Duke 2002, Koz 2010


Saponin content has been described, including githagin, agrostemmic acid, sapotoxin A, prosapogenin githagin, and aglycone githagenin. 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 possess allantoin and allantoic acid. The roots are reported to contain up to 2% lactosin starch; sprouts contain allantoin. The oil contains 41% unsaturated fatty acids and a high portion (3.4%) of unsaponifiable lipids that 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 triterpene-like unsaturated acyclic ketone.Duke 1996, Hebestreit 2003, Jankov 1970, Siepmann 1998

Uses and Pharmacology

Cytotoxic effects

Animal data

The synergistic effect of agrostin and saponin is now considered the likely mechanism of cytotoxicity. Saponins are known to alter cell membrane permeability, while agrostin has been determined to be a ribosome-inactivating protein. The combined effect of these 2 constituents has been shown to inhibit proliferation of human leukemic cells and tumor cells in mouse models.Chiu 2001, Heisler 205, Koz 2010 Activity against viruses, including the HIV virus, has also been attributed to this effect.Au 2000, Stirpe 1983, Wang 2001

Clinical data

There are no clinical data regarding the use of corn cockle for its cytotoxic effect.

Other uses

Extracts of the aerial plant parts reduced cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein in hypercholesterolemic mice.Avci 2006


No recent clinical studies of corn cockle provide a basis for dosage recommendations due to toxicity concerns. Traditionally, doses 2 to 3 g of seeds have been described; higher doses are considered toxic.Duke 2002

Pregnancy / Lactation

Avoid use. Documented embryotoxic effects.Chan 2001


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

No recent clinical studies of corn cockle provide a basis for information on adverse effects due to toxicity concerns (see Toxicology).


Poisoning has been described, including GI irritation, severe muscle pain and cramping, vertigo, respiratory depression, vomiting, diarrhea, and salivation followed by depression and coma. A disease known as githagism is believed to be due to poisoning by corn cockle seeds and affects humans, goats, cattle, and poultry, with githagi the active toxin.Stedman 2006 The oral median lethal dose for saponins in rodents ranges from 50 to 750 mg/kg.Duke 2002



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This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

Agrostemma githago L. USDA, NRCS. 2014. The PLANTS Database (, 23 December 2014). National Plant Data Team, Greensboro, NC 27401-4901 USA. Accessed December 23, 2014.
Au TK, Collins RA, Lam TL, Ng TB, Fong WP, Wan DC. The plant ribosome inactivating proteins luffin and saporin are potent inhibitors of HIV-1 integrase. FEBS Lett. 2000;471(2-3):169-172.10767416
Avci G, Kupeli E, Eryavuz A, Yesilada E, Kucukkurt I. Antihypercholesterolaemic and antioxidant activity assessment of some plants used as remedy in Turkish folk medicine. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006;107(3):418-423.16713156
Chan WY, Ng TB. Comparison of the embryotoxic effects of saporin, agrostin (type 1 ribosome-inactivating proteins) and ricin (a type 2 ribosome-inactivating protein). Pharmacol Toxicol. 2001;88(6):300-303.11453369
Chiu LC, Ooi VE, Sun SS. Induction of apoptosis by a ribosome-inactivating protein from Agrostemma githago is associated with down-regulation of anti-apoptotic bcl-2 protein expression. Int J Oncol. 2001;19(1):137-141.11408934
Duke J, Bogenschutz-Godwin M, duCellier J, Duke P. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. 2nd ed. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 2002.
Duke J. Dr. Duke's Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Databases. Agricultural Research Service website.; Updated June 13, 1996. Accessed December 23, 2014.
Hebestreit P, Melzig MF. Cytotoxic activity of the seeds from Agrostemma githago var. githago. Planta Med. 2003;69(10):921-925.14648395
Heisler I, Sutherland M, Bachran C, et al. Combined application of saponin and chimeric toxins drastically enhances the targeted cytotoxicity on tumor cells. J Control Release. 2005;106(1-2):123-137.15935506
Jankov LK, Ivanov TP. Studies of the contents of Agrostemma githago L. Composition of seed oil. Planta Medica. 1970;18(3):232-242.5428502
Koz O, Bedir E, Masullo M, Alankus-Caliskan O, Piacente S. Triterpene glycosides from Agrostemma gracilis. Phytochemistry. 2010;71(5-6):663-668.20056261
Osol A, Farrar GE Jr., eds. The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: JB Lippincott; 1955.
Siepmann C, Bader G, Hiller K, Wray V, Domke T, Nimtz M. New saponins from the seeds of Agrostemma githago var. githago. Planta Med. 1998;64(2):159-164.9525108
Stedman TL. Stedman's Medical Dictionary. 28th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006.
Stirpe F, Gasperi-Campani A, Barbieri L, Falasca A, Abbondanza A, Stevens WA. Ribosome-inactivating proteins from the seeds of Saponaria officinalis L. (soapwort), of Agrostemma githago L. (corn cockle) and of Asparagus officinalis L. (asparagus), and from the latex of Hura crepitans L. (sandbox tree). Biochem J. 1983;216(3):617-625.6667259
Wang HX, Ng TB. Studies on the anti-mitogenic, anti-phage and hypotensive effects of several ribosome inactivating proteins. Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001;128(3):359-366.11255109

Further information

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