Anemone: Medicine, Poison, Pollen, and Melodrama
Written by Juliet Blankespoor with Meghan Gemma
Photographed by Juliet Blankespoor
Courageous of bloom, anemone often endures the wind and freezing temperatures of early spring or fall (depending on the species). I first fell in love with anemone while visiting the high boreal and alpine expanses of the Rocky Mountains in early summer. The fuzzy silver seed heads, illuminated by the slanting early morning light as they bob in the bracing wind, are enchanting, even to the botanically cold-hearted.
The blooms of windflowers, as the plants in the genus are often named, are deceptive with their dainty pastel hues, for these plants are potent medicine and acrid with poison.
Anemone is in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), which is noted for its combination of poison and medicine. Many members are simply poisonous, and most of the medicinal members possess toxicity in larger doses. I know of only one edible in this family—the marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)—and its edibility is marginal at best.
Anemone species lack both petals and nectar, and yet their flowers are abuzz with pollinators.1 Flowers, in general, offer up two rewards to entice pollinators: nectar and nutrient-dense pollen. In the case of anemone, the golden manna of pollen is the main attraction. Note the pollinator below working the stamens of Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis var. japonica).
As with many members of the buttercup family, anemone has sepals that appear to be petals. In most flowers, the sepals are the green structures just underneath the petals, but in anemone the sepals serve the same pollinator-attracting function as petals; botanists call them petaloid-sepals. Many a student has asked me how to differentiate a petaloid-sepal from a petal and, in all honesty, I have to admit that I cannot readily tell them apart, but if I’m looking at a buttercup family member and it lacks any green structure under the “petals” then I’m probably looking at a petaloid-sepal.
The origin of the name anemone is enshrouded in mystery. I dug up many different etymological explanations, but the truth lies with the ancestors. Anemone comes from the Greek word for wind or breath, anemos, and habitat, mone—certainly many an anemone grows in high windy places. In addition, most species produce winged achenes (seed-bearing fruiting structures), which are dispersed by the wind.
There are several mythological stories, beset with the colorful melodrama of the ancient gods and goddesses, associated with anemone. The first tale involves Adonis and Aphrodite. According to Greek mythology, Adonis was struck down by a boar and met his fate. In her mourning, Aphrodite cried tears on the earth, and anemone sprung up from her grief. An alternate version holds that Aphrodite mixed nectar with the blood of Adonis, which gave birth to the windflowers. The Semitic word for Adonis is Naman, believed by some to be the original root of the word anemone.
Another dramatic story involves the nymph Anemone, beloved of Zephyr, who was transformed into a flower by the jealous Flora. Zephyr was the gentle wind of the west, father of the spring wildflowers, and aptly involved with the likes of anemone.2
Wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia) grows throughout the entire eastern and central United States and Canada, and can be easily identified in the early spring as large expanses of the forest floor are abloom with the diminutive white flowers. Other species of anemone can be gathered as well—look into your local windflowers!
I take only one leaf and flower per plant so the plants can regenerate. It is a slow gathering process, but thankfully not much medicine is needed, as it is a low-dose medicinal. Take care to wash your hands after gathering and avoid contact with your eyes and mouth, as anemone can be quite caustic. I process anemone outdoors, and carefully wash all tools with warm water and soap.
Anemone’s Medicinal Uses
Parts Used: Leaves and flowers
Medicinal Preparations: Tincture
Tincture ratios and dosage: Fresh leaves and flowers 1:2 95%, in very low doses: 1–5 drops (NOT droppers full) to start, and up to 15 drops if the lower doses are not effective. Take up to 4 times per day.
Medicinal Uses: Many of the 85 species of anemone have been used as herbal medicine throughout China, North America, and Europe. I tend to shy away from our more toxic botanicals, but fell in love with anemone as a medicine while studying with my teachers, 7Song and Michael Moore; over time I grew to feel comfortable with its judicious usage.
Michael Moore taught that any species of anemone could be experimented with as a potential medicinal by testing orally for acridity (as a measure of medicinal strength). The flavor of anemone is quite distinctive, metallic, and burning/stimulating. It is not a common plant of commerce. If you are interested in using it, do your research first and then ask around your herbal community, or learn how to identify it and gather your own. Please only use species that are abundant, and collect the above-ground parts instead of the more potent roots.
I use anemone to help people ground and calm during panicked states, such as acute anxiety, panic attacks, or after traumatic events. It is my herbal version of the flower essence blend, Rescue Remedy, which makes it an excellent first-aid medicinal. Many people find that anemone lowers their center of gravity when they are caught in their head or their heart feels way up in their chest. If you are prone to such states, you may want to try anemone when you are feeling at ease to determine a dosage you feel comfortable with.
I use the leaves and flowers of our local wood anemone, Anemone quinquefolia, prepared as a fresh tincture. This is a low-dose medicinal, as there is potential for toxicity in higher doses. Take 1–5 drops (NOT droppers full) to start, and increase dosage up to 15 drops if the lower doses are not effective. This dosage can be repeated up to four times a day.
Drying anemone radically changes its biochemistry; the dried plant primarily contains the less toxic anemonin, and while it does not have the same toxicity as the fresh plant, neither does it have the same medicinal value.3
Safety and Contraindications: Anemone should be avoided in pregnancy, breast-feeding, low blood pressure, bradycardia, and those who are weak or seriously ill. As a very heroic bioactive medicinal, it is likely to interact with and/or potentiate certain pharmaceuticals.
Anemone contains an acrid constituent, protoanemonin, which is a strong irritant to the mouth and gastrointestinal mucosa and skin. Toxic doses can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, low blood pressure, and, if high enough doses are consumed, respiratory distress. The estimated amount of anemone needed to kill an adult is twenty plants (figured by determining the lethal dose in rodents, and then accommodating for weight—species of anemone not specified). The only way someone would eat that much of the acrid, intense anemone is if they wanted to travel to the underworld and never return.
In my experience, overdose usually involves nausea and altered sensory function (i.e., feeling woozy and just plain weird). During an extra challenging romantic moment in my very distant past, I called upon anemone to help me stay grounded and in my heart. I was taking 5 drops of the tincture frequently and reached my personal threshold with some powerful visual disturbances. In case any of you think this sounds like fun, think again—anemone is not the kind of plant to play nicely.
*Most of the flowers pictured in this article are the Japanese anemone, a species in abundance as an ornamental. I haven’t used it as a medicinal, and would love to hear from any of you who have.
I conclude this article with two very important suggestions:
- I invite you to try out my daughter’s favorite tongue twister “anemones enemies” when you aim to impress.
- The next time you are face-to-face with an anemone try saying, “My, what big stamens you have” and see what anemone has to say back to you.
1. Heywood, V. H. Flowering Plant Families of the World. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2007.
2. Sanders, Jack. The Secrets of Wildflowers: A Delightful Feast of Little-known Facts, Folklore, and History. Guilford, CT: Lyons, 2003.
3. Wink, Michael, and Wyk Ben-Erik. Van. Mind-altering and Poisonous Plants of the World. Portland, Or.: Timber, 2008.
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JULIET BLANKESPOOR is the founder, primary instructor, and Creative Director of the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, an online school serving thousands of students from around the globe. She's a professional plant-human matchmaker and bonafide plant geek, with a degree in botany and over 30 years of experience teaching and writing about herbalism, medicine making, and organic herb cultivation. Juliet’s lifelong captivation with medicinal weeds and herb gardening has birthed many botanical enterprises over the decades, including an herbal nursery and a farm-to-apothecary herbal products business.
These days, she channels her botanical obsession through her writing and photography in her online programs, on her personal blog Castanea, and in her new book, The Healing Garden: Cultivating and Handcrafting Herbal Remedies. Juliet and her family reside in a home overrun with houseplants and books in Asheville, North Carolina.
MEGHAN GEMMA is one of the Chestnut School’s primary instructors through her written lessons, and is the principal pollinator of the school’s social media community—sharing herbal and wild foods wisdom from the flowery heart of the school to an ever-wider field of herbalists, gardeners, healers, and plant lovers.
She has been in a steady relationship with the Chestnut School since 2010—as an intern and manager at the Chestnut Herb Nursery; as a plant-smitten student “back in the day” when the school’s programs were taught in the field; and later as a part the school’s woman-powered professional team. Meghan lives in the Ivy Creek watershed, just north of Asheville, North Carolina.
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29 thoughts on “Anemone: Medicine, Poison, Pollen, and Melodrama”
Lillian Cutler says:
Any idea how long tinctures can be stored? And how do you prepare the flowers for steeping, because I read something saying they can be toxic when raw?
Christine Borosh says:
Tinctures have a very long shelf life of several years and up to decades or more, since alcohol is such an excellent preservative. Anemone is considered a low-dose medicinal and it isn’t suited to beginners. The flowers are used raw to create the tincture and there is potential for toxicity in higher doses. I’d recommend sticking with safer herbs if you aren’t an advanced herbalist!
Lillian Cutler says:
Ok thank you!
Thank you for this inspiring and informative post! I love anemones, and being in Switzerland at the moment have discovered abundant swaths of wood anemone in the forest nearby. I made a small amount of tincture from the flowers and it’s been infusing now for 6 days in 95%. However, I just realized the species here is Anemone Nemorosa, and I can’t find much information about this variety being used medicinally… just about its toxicity (a good reminder of the importance of checking the Latin names against the common names!).
Any thoughts on this? Wondering how long I should let it infuse, and then if and how I should go about testing it out. Grateful for any feedback you have!
Sarah Sorci says:
I’m not familiar with medicinal use of Anemone nemorosa, and I would suggest reaching out to an herbalist in your region to ask if there are traditional/safe uses for this plant. I would be interested to hear what you learn!
In general, we recommend letting tinctures steep for 4-6 weeks before straining.
Deborah Slocumb says:
Can you tell me if Anemone is safe to take with the following RX’s. Risperidone, Buspirone HCL (Buspar) and Aripiprazole (Abilify) ?
My granddaughter has taken Anemone but was recently diagnosed with Schizophrenia with psychotic episodes. She wants to take the anemone tincture again but I warned against it. Thanks in advance.
Sarah Sorci says:
Unfortunately, we’re not familiar with any studies on the safety of anemone taken with these medications.
I use anemone a lot for the same indication stated above. I’ll add that it’s the best non-sedating anxiolytic for vata type people, who tend to be airy, at “high altitude” in their thoughts, even projecting into the ether. They do this while forgetting how to be embodied. During anxious states, these people are most prone to dissociation. Where pitta types tend to get angry and frustrated, vata types mentally check out.
Vata tends to be cold and dry while living at high altitude in their consciousness… just like anemone. It also tends to grow in very rock soil, with its roots going into rocks. So despite its high altitude, it is very firmly anchored to the earth.
When I take this medicine, I feel a warm wave travel down my body and into my feet. Suddenly it feels safe to inhabit my body again. I often combine anemone with a nutritive to amplify this effect.
Shawn McFerrin says:
Name: Ms. Shawn McFerrin
Message: I am working on a 6-year plan to become largely self sufficient before we retire. We live in Kansas City MO (zone 6) and have a very large yard, not an acre but sufficient to grow everything for self reliance. This year I plan on building a greenhouse to hold an aquaponics system, and after that a structure for 2 picky goats and several chickens. Ill learn about composting and eventually everything will work in cycles with each other. I will plant all fruit and nut trees and bushes that will grow here and use the greenhouse to overwinter those that won’t survive a Midwest winter.
Last summer I began this journey by planting perennial flowers because I learned that there are so many that are not only beautiful to look at and enjoy in the home, but can be used for food and/or medicine, so I became obsessed with discovering flowers for our ample yard, but largely my rule for myself is they have to be edible, medicinal, or both. I know once I establish a wonderful and varied inventory at home I could venture out to learn about foraging, but my current plan to build a huge variety store at home should keep me busy for a few years….
It all started when I discovered you could eat all parts of the plant of a common orange day Lilly, a ditch Lilly its called (I know there’s only one type that’s edible, the others you don’t want to invest), then I found out all parts of a dandelion are edible and have medicinal properties, from roots, leaves, flowers… There’s so many things you can do with a dandelion!!! So the more I learn, the more my mind is blown…most people have no idea that flowers are anything but something to look at.. So roses, tulips, lavender, hyssop, Ostrich Fern, (a delicacy in New England) Black eyed Susan, Shasta daisies, Lilly of the valley, (good for treating kidney stones), Hosta, Echinacea, etc.. Are all edible and have many uses!
So, I’m learning about new plants I can add this year. I am wanting to plant some anemone (among many other new plants), and that’s how I came across your site. I’ve read your blog..very interesting, and I plan on keeping an eye on your fantastic information. It seems that the variety of medicinal anemone you were referring too may be different than the ones In considering. I wonder if you can tell me if the following are medicinal as well and can be used as you’ve described before I add them to our home landscape?
Anemone Madonna, Anemone Robustissima, Anemone Pocahontas, Anemone Max Vogel, Anemone Whirlwind? I know you said some are poisonous, which ones are those? I didn’t see any that had the other part in the name that you mentioned.
Thanks for any guidance, In glad to have come across your information, Shawn
Christine Borosh says:
It’s wonderful to hear from you, Shawn! It sounds like you have a wonderful plan to become more self-sufficient. All of those anemone varieties that you mentioned are likely ornamental cultivars and not medicinal species. I would suggest looking into native anemone species for your area and then researching their traditional use as medicine. This ethnobotany database is a great resource: http://naeb.brit.org/. Best of luck to you!
Very useful information.
Good for work at school.
Jayaraj MS says:
Interesting post. Thank you so much for sharing such a great information and good knowledge.
elizabeth christie says:
Hi, I turned to this site as I want to know how Japanese Anemones get pollinated . I live in the UK and at the moment these flowers are everywhere but I never ever see a bee on them so was quite interested in what you had to say and the picture of the pollinator . So why ,in gardens full of bees visiting the Rudbeckias and Heleniums and Michaelmas daisies -it is September as I write this – do the same bees seem to ignore the white or pink Japanese Anemones completely ? I would like to grow some but am a bit ruthless about what I grow in my garden -if it is not bee -friendly then I would rather give the space to something that is …
Juliet Blankespoor says:
It certainly receives attention from pollinators here, even with Helenium and Rudbeckia species blooming nearby….
Not sure why they aren’t visited there…
Please let me know if you figure it out:)
Selena Rowan says:
The pollinator in question in that photo is most certainly actually a fly, but what kind, I cannot say….
New England gardener says:
It is probably a hover fly (i.e. a species in the taxonomic family “Syrphidae”). The adults in that family are usually striped yellow and black, as if mimicking wasps, and I believe those are the colors I see on its body (although the body is out of focus).
IIRC, adult hover flies do indeed feed on nectar and pollen. Immature hover flies (i.e. the maggots) are predators of other small plant-feeding insects such as aphids.
Joanne Kewageshig says:
Thank-you Julliette for the information. I first learned of Anemones’ properties while taking 7songs First Aid course….. And since their blooming is just around the corner, I am reading to learn more. We have a few Anemones thst grow here, A. canadensis, and A. Hepatica and possibly others.
I am particularly interested in A. hepatica. The blooming of what we call here simply “hepaticas” is a sure sign of spring. In recent history, these hepaticas have been moved into the Anemone botanical classification from their own “Hepatica” classification.
I had always understood hepaticas to be used for liver conditions- that is what all the literature has suggested.
It is curious to me- just prior to taking the first aid course, a couple of First Nations elders had asked me if I knew anything about using hepatica for panic attacks and that some of their elders had done so. I replied that I had not, but thanked them for passing on the teachings. So, then I Iearned about Anemones in the First Aid course and that hepaticas are now botanically Anemones….. And WOW, is science just catching up to ancient wisdom?
Moral of the story, I plan to harvest some A. hepatica and A. canadensis this spring, tincture and learn.
I just love the neverendingness of herbal learning/adventures!
How did Anemone canadensis work out in your tincture? Did you find it to have the same medicinal qualities?
Rach Bould says:
Hi, I am primarily a gardener in UK though I have interests in herbal medicine too.
Anemones are commonly pollinated by bumblebees in my area and honeybees a mile or so to the west where a few of my friends have hives. Look out for hoverflies and other larger insects too.
Laura DePreta says:
I use pulsatilla homeopathic. (So much indication for babies & mamas.) Never realized anemone was pasque flower. How come deer ate my plant? Love them so for all uses! Wish I could grow them all over my property.
Maria Noel says:
Thank you for such a lovely and informative post! I also fell in love with Anemone at the SWSBM, but I wasn’t aware that my local wood anemone was a suitable substitute. I will have to explore this next spring… Do you notice any major differences in medicinal action between the wood anemone and more traditionally used pulsatillas?
Juliet Blankespoor says:
The main other anemone i have used is the above-ground-parts the Anemone tuberosa of the SW. I began experimenting with the Anemone species of the east when i moved to the mountains mostly by tasting for acridity and observing changes in the body. I find that thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)can also be good medicine, depending on the stand, and it seems to be stronger later in the year.
Lindsay Wilson says:
I was just going to ask if you used thimbleweed… That’s the only anemone I’ve spotted so far in Appalachia… Isn’t it also called North Carolina anemone? — is that the same plant?
And, to add — I was given pulsitilla when I was going through an exceptional time of grief and stuck emotions in the early 2000s… This herb, along with American Ginseng and…sometimes…Aralia berries…really had a profound affect on me… Basically, I felt more emotionally balanced and able to handle the difficult emotions…
That’s very interesting. So it really helped you ? My son needs this too he’s struggling with same
Caleb Mikkelsen says:
Pretty sure I met 7song at the Utah regional rainbow gathering. He really helped me through one of the most painful experiences of my life and had one of his apprentices give me anemone, along with valerian root and skullcap. This has to be the person I’m thinking of.
Sara Kinney says:
7Song is such a dedicated and skilled practitioner, and so generous with his time and knowledge. I’m glad he was there when you needed help!
Sophia Rose says:
Juliet, thank you for writing and sharing this wonderful piece on Anemones. I particularly like your description of the plant as moving one’s center of gravity! I was also very interested to find the name of the acrid constituent–protoanemonin.
This is an excerpt from the handout I wrote for the class, Los Remedios Del Corazon:
Pulsatilla Anenome pulsatilla, syn. Pulsatilla patens
Parts Used: Flower
Pulsatilla is an ethereal little flower covered in a fine layer of fuzz that makes it appear almost as if it is a hologram or something not wholly existing in this dimension. If picked, the flower contains an acrid constituent which can irritate the skin. However, when harvested with permission and reverence, this is unlikely to occur. Pulsatilla flowers vary in appearance—some with “petals” completely open, greeting the forest and passersby with open arms, while others are closed to the world in the shape of a tulip, as if shy and hiding. This is part of Pulsatilla’s medicine. Often in life we don’t know when to open or close ourselves and our hearts. It is a challenge to strike a balance between being open to the world and protecting ourselves. Pulsatilla teaches us to find that balance—to love selflessly without expectation and to understand when the time has come to find all we need within. Pulsatilla is also very good medicine for grief and stuck emotion. When something is just “wrong” and the feeling is vague, Pulsatilla can help to shift things just ever so slightly so that things can come to a head and become a bit more clear. Also an indispensable remedy to have on hand for acute panic attacks as well as general anxiety.
Juliet Blankespoor says:
what a wonderful description! are you using pulsatilla as a flower essence, homeopathic remedy or tincture? and just the flower? Thanks for sharing!
Sophia Rose says:
I generally use drop doses of the tinctured blossoms. I also like to include one seed head in my tincture. I my experience, the flower essence and tincture can be used fairly interchangeably.