Substances & Homeopatic Remedies

Ranunculus sceleratus

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We consider here the genus as a whole, taking this species as a chemical type.

Anemonol , or Oil of Ranunculus . Mr. O. L. Erdmann ( Am . Jour . Phar ., 1859, p. 440.) found this to be the acrid principle of this species, and extracted it as a golden - yellow volatile body, decomposing by age, into anemonin and anemonic acid .
Anemoninic Acid . When boiled with an excess of baryta water, anemonin decomposes, forming, among other bodies, red flakes of anemoninate of barium (Lowig and Weidman), Prof. Frehling, who afterward examined into the subject, says "this acid cannot be formed from anemonin by simply assumption with water. " ( Drugs and Med . of N . A ., i, 68.)

According to Basiner, ( Die Vergift mit Ranunkelol , Anemonin , etc., in Am . Jour . Phar ., 1882, 130.) the oil of Ranunculus acts, in warm - blooded animals, as an acrid narcotic, producing, in small doses, stupor and slow respiration; in larger doses, also, paralysis of the posterior and anterior extremities, and, before death, convulsions of the whole body. The acrid action is shown by a corrosive gastritis and by hyperaemia of the kidneys, more particularly their cortical substance. Anemonin causes similar symptoms, but is followed by no convulsions, nor does it irritate sufficiently to corrode the organs, as in the oil.

Krapf states ( Exp . de Nennull . Ranun , Ven , Qual , Orifila , Tex , Gen ., i, 754.) that a small portion of a leaf or flower of R . sceleratus , or two drops of the juice, excited acute pain in the stomach, and a sense of inflammation of the throat; when he chewed the most succulent leaves, the salivary glands were strongly stimulated; his tongue was excoriated and cracked; his teeth smarted, and his cornea became tender and bloody.

A man, at Bevay, France, swallowed a glassful of the juice, which had been kept for some time; he was seized in four hours with violent colic and vomiting, and died the second day. ( Jour . de Chim . Med ., 1830, 273).

Krapf ( Op . cit .) relates a case in which the plant was used internally, giving the following serious symptoms and result; Contortion of the eyes; convulsions of the facial muscles, outer parts of the abdomen, and the limbs; pain, swelling, redness and bleeding of the gums; peeling off of the cuticle and cracking of the tongue; ptyalism; hiccough, complete inactivity of the stomach, with horrid pains and fits of anxiety; slight fainting turns; all followed by cold sweat and death.

The symptoms caused by this drug, as detailed in Allen ' s Encyclopedia of Pure Materia Medica , (Vol. viii, 270 - 77.) as well as the cases reported above, show this drug to be an acrid irritant poison, both of the mucous membranes with which it comes in contact, and to the nerves themselves. (Millspaugh's Medicinal Plants)

Toxicology – Inflammation of the palms of the hands with vesication results from pulling the weed out by hand without gloves. It can cause serious effects in cattle, but when dried in hay, has no effect. The concentration of active constituents is highest during the blooming period. Milk production in cattle is reduced by the herb. Its toxicity is reflected in the French folk name “ Mort aux Vaches.”
In cattle who do eat it when toxic, it can cause increased salivation, colic, infections of the G.I. tract. The milk and butter tastes bitter.

Constituents – The plant contains 7 tryptamine derivatives, of which the most important is 5-hydroxytryptamine. It also contains the glucoside ranunculine, and sometimes hydrocyanic acid compounds. The concentration of active constituents is highest during the blooming period. Since the poisonous material is volatile, it is driven off when the plants are dried.

The burning taste usually repels animals. In cows that nonetheless eat it, it can cause increased flow of saliva, colic, infections of the gastrointestinal tract and the mucous membranes of the mouth, bloody diarrhoea and kidney infections. The milk of cows that eat relatively large amounts of buttercups tastes bitter, is sometimes a reddish colour and produces bitter-tasting butter. Milk production is slowed by the herb. The toxicity of the plant is reflected by the French folk name Mort aux Vaches, ‘deadly to cows.’

The plant is intensely irritant and can produce violent blistering particularly of the lips and tongue and also of the skin (Shelmire 1940, Weber 1937, Pammel 1911, Georgia 1914, Fyles 1920, Lander 1926). The plant can be mistaken for parsley (Petroselinum) or celery (Apium) and eaten with untoward results (North 1967).  The leaves and stem of fresh plants yield seven tryptamine derivatives, one of which is 5-hydroxytryptamine (Bhargava et al. 1965).

Many members of the family Ranunculaceae contain the chemicals Anemonin and Protoanemonin.
The ranunculin and innocuous glycoside readily breaks down when the plant tissue is bruised
producing the enzyme action to produce ranunculin and anemonin.  These chemicals when
introduced to skin produce a burning sensation followed by blistering of the skin and ulcers.
However, beside the harmful effects that the Ranunculaceae can do to organisms they can benefit in
several pharmaceutical ways.
(These plants include:
Nigella sativa or "black cumin", an annual herb, inhibits cancer and endothelial cell progression
and decreases the production of the angiogenic protein-fibroblastic growth factor made by tumor
cells, and inhibits growth factor for endothelial cells. Anti-angiogenic activity of nigella sativa plant extract in cancer therapy.)

Nearly all members of this family are POISONOUS if eaten, and thus dangerous to humans, pets, and livestock. Ingestion of the plant can cause poisoning and a tingling, burning sensation in the tongue, throat and skin.

Phytochemical aspects:

Several genera in the family Ranunculaceae possess irritant properties from the presence of an innocuous glycoside, ranunculin, which readily breaks down in bruised plant tissue by enzyme action to release protoanemonin which is a volatile, strongly irritant, unstable oil (Shearer 1938, Hill and van Heyingen 1951). Protoanemonin spontaneously undergoes polymerization yielding innocuous anemonin. Dried buttercup hay or boiled leaves are harmless on this account.

Protoanemonin inhibits mitosis in plant cells (Erickson 1948). The compound produces subepidermal blistering of the skin, which agrees with its sulfhydryl-binding capacity; like other subepidermal vesicants protoanemonin is capable of inhibiting the acantholytic effect of cantharidin (Burbach 1963).

Bergman (1944) studied various species of Ranunculus for vesicant action on the skin in a search for those plants which might therefore be supposed to contain a non-irritant precursor of the irritant compound, protoanemonin.

The presence of ranunculin in a plant can be taken to indicate that such a species of Ranunculaceae may well be irritant to the skin under certain conditions e.g. adequate exposure of the skin; contact with fresh bruised plant paterial and an adequate concentration of the compound in the part of the plant to which the skin is exposed, etc.

The amount of protoanemonin in buttercups varies widely with the species of plant and its stage of growth, the highest content being at the time of flowering (Shearer 1938).