Fritillaria spp. (Fritillary)

Fritillaria belongs to the family Liliaceae and its bulb is a traditional Chinese medicine (“Beimu” in Chinese). The bulb of the fritillary is divided into two groups according to its medical use: the fritillary bulb of zhebei and the fritillary bulb of chuanbei. The former is the underground bulb of Fritillaria thunbergii Miq. and the latter the underground bulb of F. sungbei Hsiao et K.C. Hsia, mss, F. cirrhosa D. Don, F. cirrhosa D. Don var. paohsinensis S.C. Chen, F. delavayi Franch., F. pallidiflora Schrenk., F. sichuanica S.C. Chen, and F. ussuriensis Maxim.

Geographic Distribution

F. thunbergii Miq. is a glabrous perennial plant. Its semi-globate bulb is white, 2-6 cm in diameter, and contains two or three thick bulb scales which are fused at one end. It is an erect, cylindrical, single stem with no branches, 30-70 cm high and green or light purple. The leaf is monophyllous and sessile. The leaves are opposite in the lower part of the stem, whorled with three to five leaves in the middle part of the stem, and alternate at the top of the stem. The leaves at the top of stem are shorter than those in the middle, and are lanceolate. The leaves above the middle of the stem and the apex of the leaf-like bract appear cirrhiform. Anthesis occurs in March-April, and usually two to six flowers develop in the stem apex or leaf axil of the top leaves. The pedicel is 1-1.5 cm long. The leaf-like bract is a very narrow strip. The flower is campanulate, overhanging, yellowish or yellow-green in color. The six perianths are obovate to ovate, 2-3 cm long with a light net and a glandular organ at the base, but with no light purple trellis stripe. There are six stamens, which are half the length of the perianth. The pistil contains one ovary with three parts, each of which contains a number of ovules. The fruit is capsulate. In nature, F. thunbergii Miq. grows in the woodland or on grassy mountains. At present, the medicinal F. thunbergii Miq. is cultivated in the Provinces of Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Hunan, especially in the Ningbo County of Zhejiang Province. It is also distributed in Japan.

F. pallidiflora Schrenk is also a perennial herb with a glabrous, erect stem. Leaves are opposite or alternate. The leaves at the base of stem are lanceolate to elliptical and 22-30 mm in width. The leaf apex is not cirrhiform. The flower is yellow and overhanging, and the fruit is capsulated. F. pallidiflora Schrek. is distributed in Xingjian Province and in the central Asian regions of the Soviet Union.

F. ussuriensis Maxim, is a perennial herb, with capsulate fruit. It is distributed in the Provinces of Heilongjian, Jilin, and Liaoning, and is also found in Korea and the Far-Eastern area of the Soviet Union.

The chromosome number of sporophyte of Fritillaria is 24 (2n = 2x = 24).

Propagation Methods and Medical Uses

Both the zhebei bulb and the chuanbei bulb are used medicinally to relieve a cough, facilitating expectoration and removing endogenous heat. The medical difference is that chuanbei is applied for chronic cough (such as bronchoblennorrhea), a hacking cough, and the cough caused by tuberculosis, while zhebei is applied to cough and phlegm caused by the common cold. Both of them, especially zhebei, can cure intramammary abscess and scrofula.

Pharmaceutical results for chunbei: (1) Intravenous injection of fritimine to cat causes depression of blood pressure accompanied by temporary inhibition of respiration. (2) Fritimine increases systole of the uterus and inhibits intestinal peristalsis in rabbit. (3) A large amount of fritimine causes paralysis of the central nervous system, inhibition of respiratory movement, dilation of the peripheral blood vessels, reduction of blood pressure, and slowed heartbeat. (4) The effect of reducing blood pressure by sipeimine in an anesthetized dog comes from the dilation of the periphery blood vessel with no visible signs on the electrocardiograph. (5) Sipeimine plays a prominent role in slacking the ileum of guinea pigs, the duodenum of rabbits, the uterus of rat and the small intestine of dogs. The spasmolysitic effect of sipeimine is similar to that of the alkaloid upium poppy. The lethal dose to mouse is 40 mg/kg.

Fritillary is propagated by bulb and the propagation rate is low. In the case of F. thunbergii Miq. one bulb can generate only two bulbs. Considering the loss from insects and disease, an average of only 1.5-1.6 bulbs can be regenerated from one bulb in 1 year. After saving seed bulbs for next year’s propagation, only 0.5-0.6 bulbs from one parent bulb can be used for medicine. This low propagation ratio restricts cultivation. Although seed propagation of F. thunbergii Miq. considerably increases the propagation rate, the seedling is weak and the bulbs develop slowly. It takes 5-6 years to develop a bulb to commercial size, so seed propagation has no practical value.


Selections from the book: “Medicinal and Aromatic Plants III”, 1991.