Scientific Name(s): Pulsatilla patens (L.) Mill., Pulsatilla pratensis L., Pulsatilla vulgaris Mill.
Common Name(s): Easter flower, Meadow anemone, Pasque flower, Pulsatilla, Wind flower
Several closely related species of pulsatilla have found medicinal use in Europe and North America. They are perennial herbs that grow in well-drained, sandy or rocky soil, blooming early in spring soon after snow has melted. The single large flower is characterized by the large, colored bracts, which have the appearance of petals. The whole plant is covered with silky hairs that give the ripe fruit the appearance of a mop head. All parts of the fresh plant have an acrid taste. Molecular research has defined the relationships between different species of pulsatilla and related genera, and has suggested that the genera Pulsatilla, Hepatica, and Knowltonia should be merged into the single genus Anemone.1
The dried whole plant of pulsatilla has been used in Europe for a variety of medicinal purposes, including dysmenorrhea and other gynecological disorders, skin diseases, asthma, and eye infections, and as a diuretic and expectorant.2 It is widely used in homeopathic preparations, once being considered specific for measles, and also used for toothache, earache, and indigestion. A large number of Asian species of pulsatilla (eg, Pulsatilla cernua. Spreng, Japanese name "Hakutoo," Pulsatilla chinensis (Bunge) Regel. and others, Chinese name "Bai Tou Weng") have also been used medicinally.3, 4
The most notable compounds in pulsatilla and many other Ranunculaceae are ranunculin, protoanemonin, and anemonin. Ranunculin is a glycoside that is enzymatically hydrolyzed when the tissues are crushed to the volatile unsaturated lactone protoanemonin, which then dimerizes to anemonin on exposure to air. Protoanemonin is extremely volatile and vesicant. Anemonin was first isolated in 17925 and protoanemonin was elucidated in 1920.6 Ranunculin was characterized in 1951, and the gross structure of anemonin was proposed.7 The complete stereostructure of anemonin was determined by x-ray crystallography in 1965.8
Uses and Pharmacology
Protoanemonin has been reported to have antibacterial15, 16, 17, 18 antimalarial17 and antifungal19, 20 activity, and has been found to be cytotoxic as well.21 These properties may be due to the ability of protoanemonin to alkylate reactive moieties on proteins and other biomolecules.
The saponins of pulsatilla species have been reported to have cytotoxic22 antifungal, molluscicidal23 and sucrase inhibitory properties.24 The lignan beta-peltatin, isolated from P. chinensis, was strongly cytotoxic.22 Antibacterial properties were reported for pulsaquinone, the quinone isolated from P. koreana.14
In animals, protoanemonin and anemonin have a sedating effect, while anemonin was antipyretic25 effects also seen in screening of the extract of P. alpina.26 A uterotonic effect of the extract has also been documented.27
Paradoxically, protoanemonin is antimutagenic in the Ames test.28 Sheep and other animals have been killed by overgrazing on protoanemonin-containing plants, and abortions and teratogenic effects have been observed.29
There is no recent evidence to support specific doses of pasque flower. The fresh plant is toxic; classical doses of the dried herb were from 0.1 to 0.4 g daily.
Pregnancy / Lactation
None well documented.
Blistering of the skin is due to protoanemonin, which, since it is volatile and reactive, both evaporates or is converted to anemonin on drying of the plant.7
Fresh plant material of pasque flower is extremely toxic and should not be ingested or applied to the skin. Paradoxically, protoanemonin is antimutagenic in the Ames test.28 Sheep and other animals have been killed by overgrazing on protoanemonin-containing plants, and abortions and teratogenic effects have been observed.29
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