Corydalis spp.

The genus Corydalis belongs to the family Papaveraceae (or Fumariaceae), is widely distributed in the northern hemisphere, and 320 species are known. Although present in Japan (20 species), Korea (14), and North America/Europe (several), the largest number of species are found in China (200).

Corydalis plants have been used for more than 1000 years in traditional medicine for treating several illnesses. Seventy species are used in herbal remedies, some of which are shown in Table Typical species of Corydalis used as medicine.

Traditionally, the tuber of Corydalis, dried and pulverized, is taken orally in powder form or as a decoction. Recently, extracts of the tuber have been generally administered as a powder or tablet. The ingredients in the tuber have a beneficial effect on patients affected by gastric and duodenal ulcer, cardiac arrhythmia disease, and other ailments.

Table Typical species of Corydalis used as medicine

Plant species Where used
Corydalis yanhusuo W.T. Wang China, Korea, Japan
C. bulbosa Perz. China, Europe, Japan
C. ternata Nakai China, Korea, Japan
C. ambigua Cham, et Schlecht. China
C. humosa Migo China
C. remota Fisch. ex Maxim. China
C. haitaoensis Lian China
C. fumariaefolia Maxim, var. incisa M.Pop. China
C. repens Mandl. et Muhldorf China
C. schanginii B. Fedtsch. China
C. glaucescens Regel. China
C. ledehousiana Kar. et Kin China
C. Kiantschouensis Poeller. China
C. decumbens Pers. China
C. buochii Nakai China

In China, production and consumption of Corydalis tuber are the largest in the world, but no exact figures are available. Corydalis yanhusuo plants are cultivated mainly in Sestuko province and exported to other countries, such as Korea and Japan. In Korea, 30 000 kg/year of C. ternata and 45 000 kg/year of C. yanhusuo, imported from China, are employed for drug use. In Japan, Corydalis is registered in the Japanese pharmacopoeia as Corydalis Tuber (Engosaku), and 6000 kg/year of it are used as a constituent in more than 80 types of all-round gastrointestinal drugs ()

From Corydalis plants, besides typical alkaloids, protoberberines, many different structural types of alkaloids, protopines, benzophenanthridines, phthalideisoquinolines, spirobenzyhsoquinolines, aporphines, and secoberbines have been isolated. The biosynthesis of these alkaloids has been comprehensively studied.

Corydalis spp.: Summary and Conclusion

By feeding experiments with the callus cultures of several Corydalis species, two different biosynthetic pathways from the protoberberines have been demonstrated. The first pathway involves the sequence protoberberines or 13-methylprotoberberines → their α-N-metho salts → protopines → benzophenanthridines; while the second includes the conversion 13-hydroxyprotoberberines → their α-N-metho salts → 13-oxoprotopines → spirobenzylisoquinolines or benzindanoazepinies. Moreover, these results suggest that there are no differences in the biosynthetic potential between the intact plants and the callus tissues derived from them.

Recently, the quantity of Corydalis plants has increased through substantial cultivation in China and Korea. In addition, various Corydalis species have been cultured in vitro. From the cultured cells of Corydalis, mass production of the medicinally active alkaloids, (— )-corydaline, dehydrocorydaline, berberine, (—)-canadine, tetrahydropalmatine, coptisine, protopine, bulbocapnine, glau-cine, etc., can be expected. At present, the alkaloid content of cultured cells of Corydalis is low compared with that of intact plants.

Selections from the book: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants VI”, 1994.