Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Overview

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) other names: Colchicum, Colchicum autumnale, Colchicum speciosum, Colchicum vernum, Colchique, Colchique d'Automne, Cólquico, Crocus, Dame Sans Chemise, Fall Crocus, Faux-Safran, Meadow Saffran, Meadow Saffron, Mysteria, Naked Ladies, Safran Bâtard, Safran des Prés, Tue-Chien, Tue-Loup, Upstart, Vellorita, Wonder Bulb.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) image

Autumn crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) is a perennial flowering plant belonging to genus Colchicum and grows up to a height of about a foot (30 cm). This herb bears deep green leaves whose shape resembles tulips. The leaves emerge from a corm - a plump, tuberous base. The flowers of autumn crocus are pale purple or white in color. The seed, bulb, and flower are used to make medicine.

Autumn crocus is widespread in Europe as well as the northern regions of Africa. This herb may be found growing naturally in moist grasslands and forest lands. In several places, autumn crocus is also cultivated.

Autumn crocus has a preference for a fertile soil that is well-drained and located in a sunlit position. This herb has the aptitude to endure shade, but is loathe to arid soil. Autumn crocus can endure a pH varying between 4.5 and 7.5. In effect, the plants of this species are very resilient and can tolerate very low temperatures, up to approximately -20°C. The tuber-like roots or bulbs of the plant are usually dormant, but reasonably enduring and have the aptitude to tolerate soil temperatures as low as -5°C. Autumn crocus is very easy to grow as well as naturalize this plant species in grass. In addition, autumn crocus also grows and thrives well in the midst of shrubs and on the fringes of forest lands. The corms or bulbs of this plant are normally about 7 cm to 10 cm deep inside the soil during July. The best part is that the plants of this species appear to be invulnerable to preying by rabbits. However, it is possible that slugs may show aggression towards the corms of autumn crocus. Moreover, butterflies and bees are drawn by the flowers of autumn crocus.

Autumn crocus is generally propagated by its seeds, which are ideally sown immediately when they mature in the early part of the summer in a cold frame or a seed bed. The germination process may be extremely sluggish and even take as many as 18 months when the temperature is 15°C. It is advisable that you sow the seeds of autumn crocus somewhat sparsely to ensure that they need not be transplanted during their first growth season. During the first summer of the plants' growth, it is advisable to apply liquid nourishment with a view to make sure that they receive adequate sustenance. When the seedlings are dormant, prick them out individually and may be put two seedlings in one pot and continue to grow them in a cold frame or greenhouse for a minimum period of two years. You need to transplant the seedlings in their permanent positions outdoors while they are still dormant. Autumn crocus seedlings take as many as four to five years to blossom.

Alternately, autumn crocus can also be propagated by means of the division of the bulbs during June or July when the leaves of the plant have withered away. In effect, it is possible to plant the comparatively bigger bulbs straight away into their permanent positions outdoors. However, autumn crocus is ideal to plant and grow them in containers in a cold frame for about one year prior to planting them outdoors. It may be noted that plants of this species may be divided every alternate year if you desire to grow them quickly.

It may be noted that the seeds of autumn crocus are harvested during the early part of summer, while the tubular corms are dug up during the period between mid to the latter part of summer, when the plant has completely withered away. The corms of the herb are dried up for use when required later.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Health Benefits

Despite serious safety concerns, autumn crocus is used for arthritis, gout, and an inherited disease called familial Mediterranean fever.

Species related to autumn crocus yield saffron that have been used since the ancient time in the form of a spice as well as a dye. The corm of autumn crocus is basically an underground tubular part of the plant that has been employed since long in the form of a strong poison. Often, this bulblike part was pulverized into a powder and administered with wine. Greek naturalist Theophrastus documented that slaves consumed small portions of the crocus corm when they were irate with their masters so that they might fall sick and are rendered unfit for work. In present times, scientists employ colchicines, the main alkaloid of the herb, to create strains of crops, which yield larger vegetables and fruits and are more resistant to diseases.

Colchicine, an alkaloid substance, forms the primary active principle of autumn crocus. It may be noted that in contemporary times, this alkaloid substance is among the most important medication that is used in treating gout. In fact, it is believed that the ancient Egyptians also employed colchicines for the same purpose about 4,000 years ago. In addition, autumn crocus is also used for treating conditions, such as dropsy, rheumatism and enlarged prostate. It is interesting to note that the Egyptians as well as Israeli physicians have used colchicine to treat hereditary Mediterranean fever, which is generally accompanied by chest pain, abdominal pain and joint pain. Since it has been proved that colchicine thwarts cell division, scientists have studied this alkaloid for its potential use in treating cancer. However, at present, colchicine is considered to be extremely toxic for use in cancer therapy. Currently, research is underway to find the effectiveness of colchicine in treating cirrhosis and chronic hepatitis.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) plant

It may be noted that autumn crocus is considered to be among the most excellent medications for treating gout pain. Many physicians have successfully cure leukemia using autumn crocus and, to a certain extent, they have also been successful in treating Behcet's syndrome (a persisting malady distinguished by frequent occurrences of leukemia and ulcers) with this toxic plant. Ingesting autumn crocus even in small doses generally results in major side effects. This herb is applied topically to ease itchiness as well as neuralgia.

In contemporary herbalism, autumn crocus continues to be employed to provide relief from pain and inflammation caused by severe rheumatism. However, using this herb too frequently is also known to stimulate attacks of the complaint more often. The seeds as well as the corm of this herb possess cathartic, analgesic, anti-rheumatic and emetic properties. The seeds and corm of autumn crocus are primarily employed to treat problems related to rheumatism and gout. Freshly dug up corm or bulb of autumn crocus is also used to make a homeopathic medication, which is given to treat rheumatism, nausea and diarrhea.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Side effects

Autumn crocus is unsafe. Autumn crocus is considered a poison, and can cause burning of the mouth and throat, vomiting, diarrhea, liver and kidney problems, blood disorders, nerve problems, shock, organ failure, and death. There have been reports of poisoning when autumn crocus bulbs were mistaken for onions and eaten. 

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Autumn crocus is unsafe for anyone to use autumn crocus, but pregnant women have extra reasons to avoid use. Autumn crocus might cause birth defects.

Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Autumn Crocus (Colchicum Autumnale) flower

Autumn crocus encloses highly toxic substances, it is warned that no part of this plant ought to be ever harvested or ingested for the purpose of self-medication. In fact, use of this herb has resulted in numerous cases of poisonings as well as fatalities throughout the world, especially in countries like the United States, Austria, Croatia, Slovenia, Japan and others. Frequently, poisoning by autumn crocus is owing to the fact that unsuspecting chefs mistake this plant for wild garlic (botanical name Allium ursinum) - a widely accepted European spice.

When any individual experiences poisoning due to ingestion of autumn crocus, he/ she will have symptoms like vomiting, a burning feeling in the stomach and throat, a feeble, but rapid pulse, kidney failure, hypotension, and generally these may cause death. In addition, poisoning with autumn crocus may also result in abrupt cardiac arrest even 36 to 54 hours after ingesting the plant or any of its parts. It has been found that majority of the deaths due to autumn crocus poisoning are owing to shock and happen during the first 72 hours of consuming the plant. In addition, people who might be fortunate to survive poisoning with autumn colchicines are likely to endure chronic metabolic or neurological problems.

It needs to be underlined that autumn crocus is an extremely toxic plant and, hence, autumn crocus should never be prescribed for people enduring kidney ailments and pregnant women. In addition, this herb should always be used under the guidance of a competent medical practitioner.