Dicentra formosa var. oregana

Ethnobotany. The Shakit People used it as an anthelmintic making a worm medicine with a decoction of pounded roots. They also used the fresh roots for abcessed teeth and an infusion of crushed plants as a tonic/wash for the hair. Gunther, Erna, 1973, Ethnobotany of Western Washington, Seattle. University of Washington Press.  Recent paleoethnobotanical studies have demonstrated that Dicentra formosa was present on archeological sites of British Columbia in Canada. 

Pharmacon. According to Michael Moore in “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West”. 1995.

  • Herb Tincture [1:5, 50% alcohol, 25-50 drops, all to 3X a day.] 
  • Fresh Root Tincture [1:2, 10-20 drops or applied topically.]
  • Dry Root Tincture [1:5, 50% alcohol. 15-30 drops.]

Materia Medica. In 1905, Fred Petersen in “Materia Medica and Clinical Therapeutics” writes: «An alterative of great value where indicated. Increases the vitality and influences metabolism. Especially indicated in all glandular derangements with general depraved condition of the system, where the nutritive forces are impaired. It increases waste and improves nutrition. More especially indicated in above conditions where there is an enlarged abdomen, the result of atony, or where there is a persistently coated tongue and fetid breath. In diarrhea and dysentery, where tongue is coated, breath fetid and digestion poor, it is a good remedy. In amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea and leucorrhea, where there is relaxed condition of the uterine supports, it is a valuable adjunct to other indicated remedies. In eczema and other skin diseases with relaxed conditions, it is curative. It is an antisyphilitic and can be used in all stages of syphilis, strumous conditions, nodular swelling, enlarged glands, with good results »

William Cook, M.D., wrote in 1869 in “The Physiomedical Dispensatory”: «As long ago as 1828, before Eclecticism had an existence, Prof. C. S. Rafinesque pointed it out in his Medical Flora, and described its stimulant and alterant properties, under its then best known Linnean name of fumaria cucullaria; and my father-in-law, the late Dr. John Masseker, of New York, used it largely from 1835 to 1844 thus beginning its professional employment seven years before Eclecticism got its first life-breath by appropriating to itself the petition of a million names that the old Thomsonians  of New York presented to the State Legislature against the odious Allopathic laws … The root (small tubers) varies from a yellowish-white to a dusky color externally, and a lighter yellow internally.  It has a faint smell;  and a bitterish, pungent, and rather persistent taste.   Water extracts its virtues very well; but it contains a  resinous substance that is best acted on by alcohol. Properties and Uses:  The roots are stimulating and moderately relaxing, acting slowly but persistently, and influencing the  secretory organs especially the kidneys and skin.   It slowly elevates the circulation, and gives vigorous action to the entire system; and it is probably by this action upon the capillaries that it proves alterant.   It does not increase perspiration so as to make it sensible, though evidently aiding in the elimination of  both saline and sebaceous excreta; but the amount of urine is perceptibly increased after its use, and the solid elements of this excretion augmented.  It stimulates the salivary glands, fauces, and stomach; and gives a feeling of warmth and excitement to the stomach and whole system. Yet these impressions are made rather slowly; and are not so positive as (though much more of the secernent character than) those made by guaiacum.  It is suitable for languid and insensitive conditions; and is among the most valuable agents of its class for secondary syphilis, where it is most generally prized;  and is an excellent combining agent to give intensity to relaxants in the treatment of scrofula and scrofulous ulcers, white swellings, herpetic eruptions, and chronic rheumatism.  Thus used, it is even more valuable in the latter forms of disease than it is in syphilis.   It leaves behind a good tonic influence, mainly through its influence upon the capillary circulation:  but it is quite  an  error to pronounce  it equally tonic with gentiana and frasera.   From its decidedly stimulating character, it should not be used in sensitive and irritable conditions of the system; and is, at any time, best when combined with relaxing alteratives in excess.  It is seldom used in any other form than infusion or other pharmaceutical preparation.   Half an ounce of the crushed bulb infused for an hour in a pint of hot water, forms a preparation of which one to two fluid ounces may be given three times a day».

In the system of the Eclectic School of Medicine, another Dicentra species, Dicentra canadensis, enters in the composition of the Scudder’s Alterative Compound – an herbal tincture formula which has been used, for a long time,  in the treatment of patients with lymphatic and other cancers. This compound is made of equal parts of the following species: Dicentra canadensis; Alnus serrulata; Podophyllum peltatum; Scrophularia nodosa; Rumex crispus.

As a general caution, pregnant or nursing mothers, people with overt neuropathies or with prescription medications or with liver pathologies should avoid to use Dicentra formosa internally. Any part of the plant may also cause skin irritation on contact. This species may also induce a false positive in urine testing for opiates according to Michael Moore. 

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Recent researches. Dicentra formosa contains – among diverse isoquinoline alkaloids – protopine, bulbocapnine, corydine, isocorydine and dicentrine. Choi and Cui, (Choi and al., 2007; Cui an al., 2006), have demonstrated that several of these alkaloids have shown cytotoxic and chemoprotective abilities.  

Aggarwal wrote in 2009: «A large number of physiologically active isoquinoline alkaloids have been isolated from the tubers of many species of Dicentra and are classified according to their structures as aporphines, protoberberines, protopines and cularines alkaloids. Protopine has been found to possess a range of pharmacological properties: anti-acetylcholinesterase, anti-amnesic, phospholipase and thromboxane synthetase inhibitory, weak spasmolytic, weak anti tumor, smooth muscle stimulate, bactericidal and sedative.»

Species of Dicentra on other continents.

« Dicentra paucinervia is distributed in North- Eastern states, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, West Bengal, Meghalaya, Nagaland, of India, is a highly potent ethno medicinal herb. The tuberous roots are perennial in nature and tuber is the planting material for the plant. The tubers have been used for years by section of Naga ethnic tribal communities living in eastern Nagaland and adjoining Manipur state in the treatment against various diseases like diabetics, malaria, typhoid and other common fevers, pneumonia, diarrhoea, dysentery, carminatives/ flatulence, stomach disorders, cut/ injury etc. The plant is cultivated on small scale by these communities for their medicinal uses. Yield of the tubers is estimated to be about 4800 Kg/acre/ annum ». Aggarwal 2009. 

Description. Dicentra formosa is called “Pacific bleeding-heart”. It is a perennial herbaceous plant with fern-like leaves – three to four times divided. The plant grows, from a brittle rhizome at the base of the plant, to 45 cm tall by 60 cm wide. The flowers are normally pink, red, or white and heart-shaped and bloom in clusters of 5 to 15 at the top of leafless, fleshy stems above the leaves from mid-spring to autumn, with peak flowering during the spring. As to Dicentra formosa var. oregana, its leaves are glaucous above and beneath, its flowers are cream or pale yellow. It grows in a small area of northwestern California and southwestern Oregon.

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