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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Drugs Containing Alkaloids

Colchicum consists of dried ripe seeds and corms of Colchicum autumnale Linn., belonging to family Liliaceae.






Autumn Crocus, Cigdem, Colquico, Meadow Saffron, Naked Boys, European Colchicum Seed.


Biological Source


Colchicum consists of dried ripe seeds and corms of Colchi-cum autumnale Linn., belonging to family Liliaceae.


Geographical Source


It is mainly found in Central and South Europe, Germany, Greece, Spain, Turkey and England.


Cultivation and Collection


The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semishade or no shade. It requires moist soil. Seed are sown as soon as it is ripe in early summer in a seed bed or a cold frame. Germination can be very slow, taking up to 18 months at 15°C. It is best to sow the seed thinly so that it is not necessary to transplant the seedlings for their first year of growth. Liquid fertilizers are applied during their first summer to ensure they get sufficient nourishment.


Seedlings are taken out once they are dormant, putting perhaps two plants per pot, and allowed to grow them in a greenhouse or frame for at least a couple of years. The seedlings take 4–5 years to reach flowering size.


Division of the bulbs in June/July when the leaves have died down. Larger bulbs can be planted out direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up the smaller bulbs and grow them on in a cold frame for a year before planting them out. The plant can be divided every other year if a quick increase is required


The plant bears leaves and capsular fruits in next spring. From June to July brown fruits are collected and placed in muslin bags. During ripening seeds become dark in colour and arc covered by a sweet saccharine secretion. Seeds are separated by sifting. Colchicum seeds are derived from, amphitrophous ovules and have a short raphe. The corms are harvested in mid to late summer when the plant has fully died down. They are dried and used.




Seeds are 2–3 mm in diameter, globular. Outer Surface is dark reddish-brown, pitted, very hard. Endosperm is large, hard and oily. It is odourless; bitter and acrid in taste.


The corm or root is usually sold in transverse slices, notched on one side and somewhat reniform in outline, white and starchy internally, about 1/8 inch thick and varying from 3/4 to 1 inch in diameter. Taste sweetish, then bitter and acrid and odour radish-like in fresh root, but lost in drying.


                                   Twig of Colchicum autumnale

Chemical Constituents


The active principle is said to be an alkaline substance of a very poisonous nature called Colchicine. Besides colchi-cine, demecolcine and other alkaloids are present. They also contain resin, called colchicoresin, fixed oil, glucose and starch.



Chemical Test


Colchicum corm with sulphuric acid (70%) or conc. HCl produces yellow colour due to the presence of colchicines.




Both the corm and the seeds are analgesic, antirheumatic, cathartic and emetic. They are used mainly in the treatment of gout and rheumatic complaints, usually accompanied with an alkaline diuretic. Leukaemia has been successfully treated with autumn crocus, and the plant has also been used with some success to treat Bechet’s syndrome, a chronic disease marked by recurring ulcers and leukaemia. A very toxic plant, it should not be prescribed for pregnant women or patients with kidney disease, and should only be used under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.


Marketed Products


It is one of the ingredients of the preparation known as Aujai capsules (Crown Pharma Exports).


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