Pulsatilla vulgaris is an early blooming perennial at Distant Hill Gardens. One of its common names is Pasque flower. However, Pasque flower is also the common name for a number of other species of plant of the genus Pulsatilla. Proof that using the common name for a plant can be quite misleading. To add to the difficulty, the genus Pulsatilla is sometimes considered a subgenus under the genus Anemone. Pulsatilla vulgaris is synonymous with Anemone pulsatilla. Even the Latin names can be misleading. I think those who name plants go out of their way to make it complicated!
A Poison or a Medicine ... or Both?
Pulsatillas are highly toxic, and produce cardiogenic toxins and oxytoxins which slow the heart in humans. The herb is harmful if eaten fresh and only the dried plant should be used medicinally. The anemonin compound in Pulsatilla is a powerful irritant, and overdoses cause violent gastroenteritis, vomiting, looseness of the bowels, convulsions and even coma. Even so, some Native Americans have used Anemone pulsatilla as a medicine for centuries. They used it to induce abortions and childbirth, among other things.
In researching my blog posts about the various plants at Distant Hill Gardens, I have discovered just how many plants have proven (and some unproven) medicinal qualities. According to the 'US Forest Service Celebrating Wildflowers' webpage on Medicinal Botany, a full 40 percent of the drugs behind the pharmacist’s counter in the Western world are derived from plants that people have used for centuries, including the top 20 best selling prescription drugs in the United States today. Here is a link to a Wikipedia list of Medicinal plants, many of which grow at Distant Hill Gardens.