Agrostemma hirsuta Stokes
Agrostemma linicola Terechov
Agrostemma macrospermum Levina
Agrostemma nicaeensis Pers.
Githago nicaeensis Link
Githago segetalis St.-Lag.
Githago segetum Link
Lychnis githago (L.) Scop.
Common Name: Corncockle
Agrostemma githago is an erect, branched, annual plant growing 60 - 90cm tall from a taproot[
Although somewhat toxic, the plant has a history of medicinal use - though it is little used at the present time. It is sometimes grown as an ornamental in gardens - some named varieties have been developed[
The plant has long been a weed of cultivated grain crops, where its seed became a contaminant of the grain and was thus spread from area to area. However, modern efficient seed screening has lead to a great decline in this species, to the point where it has become a rare plant in much of its native range. The plant is also declining as a weed, but it is still reported as a noxious weed in some areas, such as the states of Arkansas, South Carolina and Florida in N. America[
The seeds contain the glycoside githagenin. They are sometimes found as a contaminant in the seeds of various grains and, if ingested can cause severe stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, dizziness, weakness and slow breathing. However, the symptoms are usually mild and short-lasting[
The seed and leaves are poisonous, containing saponin-like substances[
]. Although poisonous, saponins also have a range of medicinal applications and many saponin-rich plants are used in herbalism (particularly as emetics, expectorants and febrifuges) or as sources of raw materials for the pharmaceutical industry. Saponins are also found in a number of common foods, such as many beans.
Saponins have a quite bitter flavour and are in general poorly absorbed by the human body, so most pass through without harm. They can be removed by carefully leaching in running water. Thorough cooking, and perhaps changing the cooking water once, will also normally remove most of them. However, it is not advisable to eat large quantities of raw foods that contain saponins.
Saponins are much more toxic to many cold-blooded creatures, such as fish, and hunting tribes have traditionally put large quantities of them in streams, lakes etc in order to stupefy or kill the fish and make them easy to catch[
Widespread through most of Europe, northern Africa, eastern Mediterranean, through western and central Asia to northern China and Afghanistan.
A weed of cornfields, becoming very rare in the wild due to modern agricultural practises[
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
Agrostemma githago can be grown as a summer annual in most parts of the temperate zone. Germination can take place in autumn - the young plants are generally hardy to between -15 to -20°c[
Succeeds in most soils. Prefers a rich soil[
]. Prefers a well-drained not too fertile soil and a sunny position[
Corncockle usually self-sows freely so long as there is some disturbed ground[
Leaves - cooked[
]. A famine food, used when all else fails[
]. Some caution is advised - see the notes above on toxicity.
The seed is diuretic, expectorant and vermifuge[
]. Although poisonous, minute amounts are used medicinally[
]. It has a folk history of use in the treatment of cancer, warts etc[
]. The plant is not used in allopathic medicine, but it has been found efficacious in the treatment of dropsy and jaundice if used for long enough[
]. Some caution is advised, see notes above on toxicity.
A homeopathic remedy has been made from the seeds[
]. It has been found useful in the treatment of paralysis and gastritis[
Seed - sow spring or autumn in situ. The seed usually germinates in 2 - 3 weeks. The seed has a short viability[
]. Eighteen month old seed germinated freely with us[