The Medicinal Uses of Daffodils

There is more to the common daffodil than it’s beautiful golden hue and delicate petals that make us smile during spring. Daffodils, aka Narcissus or Lent Lily, have many medicinal uses including inducing vomiting, treating skin ailments, combatting alzheimers, and even curing cancer.

Daffodils contain toxic poisons and potent healing compounds. Observe caution with this plant. Photo by Reya Steele.

Daffodil’s Plant Medicine History

Daffodils have a long history of being used medicinally. The Greek physician Hippocrates (BC 460-370), known as the father of medicine, recommended daffodil oil for uterine tumors. Roman Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) recommended topical use of the oil. The bulbs have also been used topically to treat tumors in North Africa, in Central America, in Arabian medicine, and in Chinese medicine during the Middle Ages. Traditional Japanese medicine uses the root to treat wounds.

CAUTION! Daffodils Can Be Deadly

Before the very end of this article I feel it important to give a big dose of caution to anyone considering experimenting with daffodil medicine. There have been numerous cases of death caused by ingesting daffodil bulbs. Generally it’s believed that these people had mistaken the bulbs for garlic or onion and so had cooked and consumed a large amount. According to the website of Poison Control:

“The Bottom Line: All parts of the daffodil are toxic. When swallowed, it can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Eating the bulb can cause severe irritation of the mouth and stomach upset. These symptoms are usually not life threatening and resolve within a few hours.”

Poison Control
Daffodils growing in the Baldwin Park Community Garden, Baldwin Park, CA. Photo by Reya Steele.

The Daffodil Society also warns on their site that although daffodils have traditionally been used to induce volmiting and as a poultice for burns and wounds, they say that:

“unsupervised ingestion has proved fatal.”

The Daffodil Society

The poison lycorine is concentrated mostly in the bulb but in also found in daffodil leaves. Daffodil’s reputation as a poisonous bulb has caused it to be used in suicide attempts. It’s poison is fatal if consumed in large enough quantities.

Besides lycorine, Narcissus bulbs also contain microscopic needle-like chemicals called oxalates. These chemicals can cause skin irritations and severe irritation and burning of the lips, tongue, and throat if ingested.

Although I think daffodil’s are lovely bulbs and would encourage you to grow if you are able, I will include this warning from Poison Control:

“Avoid growing or displaying daffodils where small children or pets live or play.”

Poison Control

The Good Medicine in Daffodil

Now that proper attention has been paid to the caution around ingesting daffodil, it is time to discuss the good medicine this flower contains. Like all plants, Narcissus contains hundreds of chemical compounds that all have different properties and could produce different reactions in humans. The chemical compounds of Narcissus contain a variety of useful medicinal properties including:

  • antibacterial
  • antiviral
  • antifungal
  • antimalarial
  • insecticidal
  • antitumor

Other chemicals in the plant cause it to inhibit the growth of other plants around it. Narcissus has also been used to repel rodents and protect farmed food. But what about the science of it all? Recent research has confirmed what our ancestors thousands of years ago already knew – chemicals in daffodils are effective at treating some conditions.

Daffodils have many compounds with medicinal properties. This daffodil bloomed in early March in the Baldwin Park Community Garden.

Research Reveals How Daffodils May Help Cure Cancer

Science says the daffodil may hold a key to beating cancer, so many cancer charities have adopted the flower as a symbol of hope.

There’s a reason why many cancer-fighting charities have adopted the daffodil as a symbol. Just over a year ago new research was published in the journal Structure which found that a chemical in daffodils is effective at killing cancer cells.

The daafodil has been adopted as a symbol by many cancer charities.
Some cancer charities host “Daffodil Day” to raise money for cancer research.

The research out of Belgium was led by Denis Lafontaine and focused on the naturally occurring chemical hemanthamine (HAE) found in Narcissus. The chemical, which is part of the same family as quinine (compound used to combat malaria) and ephedrine (compound used to treat asthma) produces strong physiological effects in humans. In regards to cancer treatment, the compound overcomes the cancer cell’s resistance to cell death. The study identified the specific mechanisms involved whereby hemanthamine causes cancer cell death. The authors of the study say,

“Their biological activities are not restricted to anticancer effects but include potential anticholinesterase, antimalarial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory effects.”

Structure

Alzheimers is another disease that is already being treated with one of daffodil’s chemical compounds.

Daffodils Fighting Alzheimers

One of the natural alkaloids found in daffodils, galantamine, is prescribed to those battling Alzheimers disease. Daffodils are currently being grown commercially in the UK to produce galatamine for Alzheimers medication.

As far back as we have records of humans using plants for medicine, we hear of daffodil’s healing power. While the plant can be toxic, it also contains compounds that science is revealing are effective at treating cancer, alzheimers, and other ailments. Narcissus is more than a beautiful golden blossom of early-spring, it also can be the bearer of a potent healing ability.

Reya Steele is a holistic health journalist and nutrition educator. For most of her life she has had a fascination with the edible and medicinal uses of the plants growing around her.
Healing With Plants is a holistic health education project sharing nutrition facts, plant medicine, 100% whole plants recipes, and inspirational stories of healing with plants. Subscribe to Healing With Plants on YouTube and follow us on social media.
Sources:
1. Web MD, Daffodil
2. The Daffodil Society, Daffodils: Medical Uses
3. Medical Daily, Daffodils May Soon Help Cure Cancer
4. Medical News Today, The hidden power of daffodils in the fight against cancer.
5. Poison Control, Daffodils: Beautiful but Potentially Toxic
6. Chemistry and Industry, Drugs from Daffodils

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