The sight of a snowdrop in bloom is an uplifting sign of the promise of Spring and all the fresh and new natural bounties yet to come. It is the flower of Imbolc, a pre-Christian festival in early February that heralds the return of the green and growing regenerative life force. The snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is such a beautiful little plant and has many admirers based on good looks alone but recently I discovered that there are hidden depths and that a closer look yeilds significant rewards….
Snowdrops (Glanthus nivalis) hiding amongst last years brambles stems
The medicine that this little plant packs into its delicate bulbs is a secret worth knowing. The bulbs and the leaves of snowdrop, a European and Middle Eastern native, have been used for centuries as medicine. You will find little mention of them in standard books on herbal medicine however.
Natives of Eastern Europe’s remote mountainous regions are said to rub the crushed bulbs and leaves into their heads for neuralgia (nerve pain), nerve inflammation and headache and also ate the bulbs to stay mentally sharp, to strengthen the brain and nervous system and to keep the brain processes and nervous system ever youthful.
The bulbs and leaves have been found to contain a substance (an alkaloid) named galantamine which helps to slow down the destructive processes of Alzheimer’s and dementia and is now licensed for use by doctors in several countries. The alkaloid works by temporarily restoring the balance of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain, improving memory, focus and general cognitive abilities, specifically the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
People of Eastern Europe used to give a tea made from the bulbs to children afflicted with poliomyelitis, with knowledge that a full recovery would most likely be made with little or no complications from the disease.
They can also be used in traumatic injuries to the nervous system and some have suggested that it may help with Multiple Sclerosis as referenced in this link https://goo.gl/P4y5Bq which also has a recipe for making a tincture from the bulbs.
The crushed bulbs can be applied directly to areas of the body affected by frostbite or chilblains or made into an ointment for the same purpose.
The isolated alkaloid galantamine can also help to induce lucid dreaming (when we become self-aware and able to control events in dreaming) and lengthen the time spent in REM dreaming, as well as enhance dream recall upon awakening as discussed in this link http://dreamstudies.org/galantamine-review-lucid-dreaming-pill/. Take careful note of his cautions and personal experiences at the bottom of the article.
The substances in snowdrop are being studied for their possible remedial action in HIV.
An extract of the bulbs can help treat glaucoma.
The bulbs have also been used historically to bring on delayed menstruation and even to induce abortion, though I don’t recommend ever trying the latter!
The modest snowdrop (Galnthus nivalis) hides its beauty, rewarding those who look deeper
Regarding using snowdrop as a remedy at home, I really don’t recommend it, the bulbs are classed as a poison and dosage is very unclear with unpleasant side effects (nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, weight loss and dizziness). I will continue to search for valid information though as someone somewhere surely knows how to use this plant safely as medicine. Share with us in the comments below if anyone has any ideas. When/if I ever find a reliable source of information, I will add to this post.
*Already found this blog post from a true pioneer experimenting with homemade snowdrop tincture for treating Lymes disease! http://lymeuk.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/snowdrops.html
*Never collect this plant from the wild, it is protected under law by CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) due to commercial over-harvesting and natural habit loss. They are very easy to obtain as plants from garden centres, online or as seeds and planted in the right place (shade, damp, around/amongst trees) they will propagate themselves and spread nicely around the garden.
Please be advised that the information on this page is intended for information purposes only and is in no way intended as medical advice.