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(Lily-of-the-Valley family)


This is a family currently comprising about 200 species in 24 genera of rhizomatous herbs found in northern temperate regions, tropical Asia, and Australia (Mabberley 1997). Members of the Convallariaceae, at one time considered to represent a distinct family, were for a while moved into the Liliaceae but have recently been re-established as a distinct family.

A number are cultivated as ornamentals, for example members of the genera Clintonia Raf., Convallaria L., Ophiopogon Ker Gawl., and Polygonatum Mill. Aspidistra elatior Blume was in earlier times a widely grown houseplant.

Convallaria majalis L. has a long history of use in the treatment of cardiac failure ("dropsy").

Some traditional dermatological uses of plants in this family have been reported, including use in the treatment of alopecia.

Convallaria majalis L.
[syns Convallaria keiskei Miq., Convallaria majalis L. var. manshurica Komarov]
Lily-of-the-Valley, May Lily

This is a popular cultivated flower that is frequently handled by florists and gardeners. The leaves appear to be mildly irritant (Muenscher 1951, McCord 1962).

The flowers of this plant are the source of the crude drug Convallariae Flores, and the rhizome and roots are the source of Convallariae Radix, both of which were formerly official in many pharmacopoeias but which have now largely fallen out of use. They contain cardio-active glycosides, including convallarin, convalloside, and convallatoxin (Reynolds 1996). The crude drug is known as ling lan in Chinese traditional medicine (Huang 1993).

According to Felter & Lloyd (1898), the powdered flowers are sternutatory, and have been used in fomentations for the removal of ecchymosed spots caused by bruises. Remington et al. (1918) ascribe sternutatory properties to the powdered root.

Polygonatum multiflorum All.
[syn. Convallaria multiflora L.]
Solomon's Seal

In Western traditional medicine, a decoction prepared from the roots of this species has been used similarly to one prepared from Polygonatum odoratum Druce [see below]. According to Wren (1975) the powdered root makes an excellent poultice for bruises, piles, inflammations and tumours.

In traditional Chinese medicine, the dried root (Radix Polygoni Multiflori) is known variously as shou wu pian, ho shou wu, he shou wu, and ho shao wu. It is considered to have tonic and anti-ageing properties, being able to restore colour to grey hair. It is also reputed to be beneficial in alopecia, being included in multi-ingredient herbal formulations for oral administration (for example shengfa wan and shengfa yin) or for topical application (for example suxiao ketuling shengfa jing). The results of trials using these three named formulations have been published in the Chinese medical literature - see Jiang (1987), Lan & Chen (1988), and Zhang (1991) respectively. Cases of acute hepatitis following the oral use of shou wu pian have been reported in the Western medical literature — see Park et al. (2001).

Polygonatum odoratum Druce
[syns Convallaria odorata Mill., Convallaria polygonatum L., Polygonatum officinale All., Polygonatum uniflorum Gilib.]
Solomon's Seal, Sealwort

Remington et al. (1918) noted that in former times, a decoction of the root was used externally for bruises, especially those about the eye, in tumours, wounds, and cutaneous eruptions. Felter & Lloyd (1898) also refer to the use of of the decoction as an external application to local inflammations. Both of these sources note that the roots of Polygonatum multiflorum All. [see above] may be used similarly.


  • Felter HW, Lloyd JU (1898) King's American Dispensatory, 18th edn; 3rd revn, I & II. Cincinnati: Ohio Valley [WorldCat] [url]
  • Jiang H-Y (1987) 生发丸治疗脱发21例疗效观察 [Treatment of 21 cases of alopecia with Shengfa Wan]. Sichuan Zhongyi – Sichuan Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 5(4): 47-48 [url]
  • Lan K, Chen H-R (1988) 自拟生发饮治疗斑秃36例 [Treatment of 36 cases of alopecia areata with Shengfa Yin]. Hubei Zhongyi Zazhi – Hubei Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 6(6): 19 [url]
  • Mabberley DJ (1997) The Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of the higher plants. 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • McCord CP (1962) The occupational toxicity of cultivated flowers. Industrial Medicine and Surgery 31(8): 365-368
  • Muenscher WCL (1951) Poisonous Plants of the United States, 2nd edn. New York: Macmillan Company [WorldCat]
  • Park GJ-H, Mann SP, Ngu MC (2001) Acute hepatitis induced by Shou-Wu-Pian, a herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology 16(1): 115-117 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Remington JP, Wood HC, Sadtler SP, LaWall CH, Kraemer H, Anderson JF (Eds) (1918) The Dispensatory of the United States of America. 20th edn. Philadelphia: JB Lippincott [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Reynolds JEF (Ed.) (1996) Martindale. The Extra Pharmacopoeia. 31st edn. London: Royal Pharmaceutical Society [WorldCat]
  • Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Zhang ZX (1991) 速效克秃灵生发精治疗斑秃882例临床观察 [Treatment of 822 patients with alopecia areata with Suxiao Ketuling Shengfajing]. Hubei Zhongyi Zazhi – Hubei Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 13(6): 9-10 [url]

Richard J. Schmidt

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