Gelsemium sempervirens is also known as yellow jasmine, false jasmine, wild woodbine, and Carolina jasmine. It is a woody, climbing vine with dark leaves and groups of yellow, bell-shaped flowers that bloom in early spring. The flowers are very fragrant. It is native to the coastal areas extending from Virginia to Florida, and in Mexico, and is the state flower of South Carolina.
Gelsemium contains extremely toxic alkaloid components, and is not in current medical use. Even very small doses may prove lethal. It was reportedly discovered in the nineteenth century as a result of mistaken identity for another herb. A sick farmer took it for an attack of "bilious fever," and became quite ill. When the symptoms resolved, he discovered that his prior illness had also disappeared. It came into use as an agent to treat fever, spasmodic disorders, and the pain of neuralgia.
The herb form of gelsemium has historically been used for migraines resulting from excessive cerebral blood flow, severe wheezing attacks of asthma, insomnia, and nerve pain, particularly trigeminal neuralgia. The latter condition is a disorder of the trigeminal nerve, which causes shooting pain in the area of the lips, gums, cheek, chin, and occasionally around the eye. Use of the herb form has not been recommended for some time due to the extremely toxic potential of the alkaloids this plant contains.
Homeopathic remedies incorporating gelsemium have specific indications. As with other homeopathic treatments, they contain infinitesimal amounts of the active ingredient, so that toxicity is highly unlikely. Some of the recommendations for the use of homeopathic gelsemium include migraine headache, anxiety, chemotherapy support, dental support, influenza, nausea, and recovery from surgery.
Homeopathic gelsemium is thought to relieve anxiety in the form of apprehension about particular events, as well as generalized anxiety. The 30C formulation is recommended for this purpose, taken as needed up to three or four times daily, for no longer than one week. The 6C formulation may be used two or three times prior to undergoing chemotherapy treatment. Similar dosing is recommended prior to a visit to the dentist.
True influenza is a respiratory ailment, although symptoms also include aches, fever, chills, and headache. Homeopathic recommendations for gelsemium due to flu symptoms include mild fever, dull headache at the nape of the neck, and dizziness. Gelsemium 6C can be used for as long as five days, once every three to four hours, during the illness.
Migraine headaches that are felt primarily in the back of the head or as constrictive pain may be helped by homeopathic preparations of gelsemium. Visual aura and aching of the neck and shoulders may accompany this
Homeopathic gelsemium is also recommended to support surgical recovery, particularly for those who are quite apprehensive and restless. The 6C formulation may be taken for a few days preceding the surgery, up to four doses per day.
Consult a practitioner of homeopathy to determine the best indicated doses and combinations of remedies for a particular health issue.
The dried root, harvested in autumn, is the usable portion of the plant. Gelsemium is currently unavailable in medicinal formulations due to the narrow safety margins and dangerous toxicity.
Gelsemium is an extremely toxic herb because of the alkaloid component, related to strychnine, which exists in all parts of the plant. Symptoms can include sweating, nausea, muscular weakness, dilated pupils, lowered temperature, and convulsions. It can excessively depress the nervous system, and can cause death due to respiratory failure. A lethal dose is approximately 2–3 grams for an adult, and 500 mg for a child. Ingestion of as little as a single flower has reportedly resulted in the fatality of a child. Accidental ingestion of the plant under any circumstances warrants emergency treatment.
The safety margin of gelsemium is extremely small. It should never be used, especially in children, or in women who are pregnant or lactating. Oral use of preparations from the rhizome or root are also considered unsafe. It is particularly dangerous for people with any sort of heart disease.
There are no reported side effects, although individual aggravations may occur.
The effects of aspirin and phenacetin may be increased by gelsemium.
Lininger, Schuyler W., Alan R. Gaby, Skye W. Lininger, and Jamie Miller. The Natural Pharmacy. Roseville, California: Prima Health, 1998.
Grieve, M. Gelsemium. http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/gelsem07.html. (1995).