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Pasque Flower

Medically reviewed on February 13, 2018

Scientific Name(s): Pulsatilla vulgaris Mill. P. pratensis L., P. patens (L.) Mill. Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercup family)

Common Name(s): Pasque flower , meadow anemone , pulsatilla , wind flower , Easter flower


Pasque flower has confirmed antibiotic and uterotonic activity; however, it is not recommended for human use.


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.


No longer considered safe.


Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. Uterine stimulant.


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

No data.


Pasque flower is extremely toxic and should not be ingested or applied to the skin.


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, P. cernua Spreng ., Japanese name “Hakutoo,” P. 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 1792, 5 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

Triterpene saponins are found in various species of pulsatilla, 3 , 4 , 9 , 10 , 11 , 12 while flavonoids also have been isolated. 13 A novel bicyclic quinone was recently reported from P. koreana . 14

Uses and Pharmacology

Protoanemonin has been reported to have antibacterial, 15 , 16 , 17 , 18 antimalarial, 17 and antifungal 19 , 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 cytotoxic, 22 antifungal, molluscicidal, 23 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

Animal data

In animals, protoanemonin and anemonin have a sedating effect, while anemonin was antipyretic, 25 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.


Documented adverse effects. Avoid use. Uterine stimulant. 30 , 31


None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

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.


1. Hoot S, et al. Structural rearrangements, including parallel inversions, within the chloroplast genome of Anemone and related genera. J Mol Evol . 1994;38:274-81.
2. Grieve M. A Modern Herbal . London, England: Jonathan Cape, Ltd.,1931:32-33.
3. Shimizu M, et al. Triterpenoid saponins from Pulsatilla cernua Spreng . I. Chem Pharm Bull . 1978;26:1666-1671.
4. Ye W, et al. Five new triterpene saponins from Pulsatilla patens var. multifida . J Nat Prod . 1999;62:233-237.
5. Heyer M. Chemisch J V Crell . 1792;2:102.
6. Asahina Y, et al. J Pharm Soc Jpn . 1920;455:1.
7. Hill R, et al. Ranunculin: The precursor of the vesicant substance of the buttercup. Biochem J . 1951;49:332-335.
8. Moriarty R, et al. The structure of anemonin. J Am Chem Soc . 1965;87:3251-3252.
9. Li X, et al. Triterpenoid saponins from Pulsatilla campanella . Phytochemistry . 1990;29:595-599.
10. Ye W, et al. Patensin, a saponin from Pulsatilla patens var. multifida . Phytochemistry . 1995;39:937-939.
11. Ye W, et al. Triterpenoids from Pulsatilla chinensis . Phytochemistry . 1996;42:799-802.
12. Ye W, et al. Pulsatilloside C from the roots of Pulsatilla chinensis . J Nat Prod . 1998;61:658-659.
13. Yoshitama K, et al. An acylated pelargonin diglycoside from Pulsatilla cernua . Phytochemistry . 1998;47:105-107.
14. Moon J, et al. Isolation and structural determination of a novel antimicrobial compound from the roots of Pulsatilla koreana . Nat Prod Lett . 2000;14(4):311-317.
15. Baer H, et al. The nature of antibacterial agent from Anemone pulsatilla . J Biol Chem . 1946;162:65-68.
16. Holden M, et al. The range of antibiotic activity of protoanemonin. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med . 1974;66:54-60.
17. Carlson H, et al. Antimalarial and antibacterial substances separated from higher plants. J Bacteriol . 1946;52:155-168.
18. Seegal B, et al. The antibiotic activity of extracts of Ranunculaceae . Science . 1945;101:413-414.
19. Misra S, et al. Antifungal principle of Ranunculus scleratus . Econ Bot . 1980;34:362-367.
20. Martin M, et al. In vitro activity of protoanemonin, an antifungal agent. Planta Med . 1990;56:66-69.
21. Campbell W, et al. Anemonin, protoanemonin, and ranunculin from Knowltonia capensis . Phytochemistry . 1979;18:323-324.
22. Mimaki Y, et al. Triterpene saponins and lignans from the roots of Pulsatilla chinensis and their cytotoxic activity against HL-60 cells. J Nat Prod . 1999;62:1279-1283.
23. Ekabo O, et al. Antifungal and molluscicidal saponins from Serjania salzmanniana . J Nat Prod . 1996;59:431-435.
24. Zhang Q, et al. Cernuosides A and B, two sucrase inhibitors from Pulsatilla cernua . J Nat Prod . 2000;63:276-278.
25. Martin M, et al. Pharmacologic effects of lactones isolated from Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia . J Ethnopharmacol . 1988;24:185-191.
26. Martin M, et al. Pharmacological screening of Pulsatilla alpina subsp. apiifolia . J Ethnopharmacol . 1987;21:201-206.
27. Farnsworth N, et al. Potential value of plants as sources of new antifertility agents. I. J Pharm Sci 1975;64:535.
28. Minakata H, et al. Protoanemonin, an antimutagen isolated from plants. Mutat Res . 1983;116:317-322.
29. The Complete German Commission E Monographs–Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines . Austin, TX: American Botanical Council, 1998:363.
30. Brinker FJ. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions . 2nd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications; 1998.
31. Ernst E. Herbal medicinal products during pregnancy: are they safe? BJOG . 2002;109:227-235.

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