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(Pink family)


The pink family is large and of cosmopolitan distribution, comprising over 1750 species in 70 genera. Most species are herbs or sub-shrubs.

Very many species and cultivars of Dianthus L., the carnations, pinks, and sweet williams, are available from seed merchants, nurserymen, and florists. Gypsophila L. species and cultivars are also popular for floral arrangements and bouquets, and are commonly grown as decorative garden plants.

Several members of the family are known for their saponin content. The genus Saponaria L. was named for its soap-like properties.

Irritant and possibly allergenic properties have been ascribed to saponins in members of this family but no detailed studies have been reported.

Acanthophyllum squarrosum Boiss.
[syn. Acanthophyllum pungens var. squarrosum Golenkin]

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Agrostemma githago L.
[syn. Lychnis githago Scop.]
Corn Cockle

The seeds have been placed in the conjunctival sac with the intention of inducing kerato-conjunctivitis; to be effective for this purpose, the outer hull of the seeds must be removed or cut (Roberg 1950). The saponin githagoside (previously known as agrostemmin or githagin) has long been known to have an irritant effect on the eye, large amounts causing corneal ulceration and leukoma (Grant 1974). It has also a sharp burning taste and causes violent sneezing when inhaled (Blakely 1923, Hurst 1942).

All parts of the plant, but especially the seeds, are gastrointestinal irritants when ingested. The seeds may contaminate cereals such as corn, oats, and wheat (fam. Gramineae), and poisoning may result from eating flour made from such mixtures (Lewis & Elvin-Lewis 1977).

The flowers often contain a dark powder instead of pollen; this consists of the smut fungus Ustilago violacea Fuckel (Willis 1973) which may also infect certain Silene L. and Stellaria L. species. See also FUNGI.

Dianthus caryophyllus L.

A Malmaison carnation caused an erythematous eruption (Prosser White 1934). According to Shelmire (1940), acute dermatitis of the severity of a poison ivy (Toxicodendron Mill., fam. Anacardiaceae) or Primula L. (fam. Primulaceae) elicited eruption can be caused by carnations. A male flower seller developed hyperpigmentation and lichenification of the upper eyelids, and redness and scaling of the forehead and retro-auricular areas. A patch test to carnation leaf was positive (Van Grutten 1980).

Oil of carnation, prepared from the flowers, can cause dermatitis in dentists (Schwartz et al. 1957).

Drymaria cordata Willd.
West Indian Chickweed

The Khasi and Garo tribes of Meghalaya, India crush this plant and apply the juice to burns. The juice is also used in the preparation of other medicines for skin diseases (Rao 1981). Formerly, in Cuba, the fresh leaves were mashed and applied as a rubefacient (Morton 1981).

Herniaria glabra L.

The saponins from this plant were used for an irritant effect in the topical therapy of lupus vulgaris (Rock 1931).

Herniaria hirsuta L.

The saponins from this plant were used for an irritant effect in the topical therapy of lupus vulgaris (Rock 1931).

Herniaria hirsuta L. subsp. cinerea Coutinho
[syn. Herniaria cinerea DC.]
Hairy Rupturewort

In NW Moroccan traditional medicine, the aerial parts of the plant are powdered and kept in olive oil (Olea europea L., fam. Oleaceae) then applied every day to treat black marks on the face (Merzouki et al. 2000).

Lychnis coronata Thunb.
[syns Agrostemma banksia Meerburgh, Lychnis grandiflora Jacq., Silene banksia Mabberley, Silene grandiflora H. Ohashi & H. Nakai]
Crown Campion, Gampi, Large-Flowered Lychnis, Mullein Pink

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Saponaria officinalis L.
[syn. Lychnis saponaria Jessen]
Soapwort, Soaproot, Bouncing Bett, Fuller's Herb

The leaves form a lather when rubbed with water. The juice of the plant has an irritant action and, if inhaled, induces sneezing; these effects are ascribed to the saponins present in the plant (Perrot & Paris 1971, Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962).

In folk medicine, a decoction of the rhizome and roots or the dried plant has been applied to cutaneous eruptions such as psoriasis, eczema and acne (Wren 1975, Flück & Jaspersen-Schib 1976, Stuart 1979), presumably for its detergent effects. In NW Moroccan traditional medicine, a decoction of the root and stem is applied externally to treat wrinkles (Merzouki et al. 2000).

According to Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk (1962), some of the literature concerning this plant actually refers to Saponaria vaccaria L. [see Vaccaria pyramidata Medik. below].

Saponaria paniculata Neumayer
[syn. Gypsophila paniculata L.]
Baby's Breath, Maiden's Breath, Chalk Plant

An industrial anti-foaming agent derived from the roots of this plant (Radix Saponariae Albae) caused dermatitis, rhinitis, and asthma in 27 of 52 workmen exposed. Patch tests to the powder, aqueous 1 in 10, were positive in 23 cases. It was suggested that the strongly allergenic substance was a saponin (Angelov & Minkov 1967).

A male gift-shop owner with a history of seasonal allergic rhinitis developed daily asthma when he began working with the dried plants. Intradermal skin tests with an aqueous extract of the defatted plant material were positive; two controls failed to react except at 100,000 fold higher concentrations when irritant reactions were observed. A RAST (radioallergosorbent) test demonstrated an elevated level of specific IgE antibody in the patient's serum (Twiggs et al. 1982).

Silene cobalticola Duvign. & Plancke

This species can accumulate anomalous quantities of cobalt from soils containing this element. Up to 165 ppm of cobalt in the dried plant material has been recorded (Brooks 1977). The contact sensitising capacity of cobalt and its salts is well documented (Malten et al. 1976, Cronin 1980).

Stellaria media Vill.
[syn. Alsine media L., etc.]
Common Chickweed, Starweed

According to Wren (1975), the fresh leaves have been used in folk medicine as a poultice to indolent ulcers, and have been used to prepare an application for ophthalmia and an ointment for cutaneous diseases. Stuart (1979) claims that the fresh stems and leaves are used as a vulnerary.

Vaccaria pyramidata Medik.
[syns Saponaria vaccaria L., Vaccaria vulgaris Host]
Bladder Soapwort

Referring to Saponaria vaccaria, Stuart (1911) noted that the plant is slippery and unctuous, and when trod upon is apt to cause a fall. He noted also that the root, shoots, flowers and leaves are used in Chinese traditional medicine for their vulnerary and styptic properties, the plant material being known as liu xin or liu hsing.


  • Angelov G and Minkov D (1967) Occupational dermatitis caused by Gypsophila paniculata L. (Radix Saponariae Albae). Dermatol. Venerol. 6: 185.
  • Blakely WF (1923) Weeds of New South Wales. Corn cockle (Agrostemma githago L.). Agric. Gaz. N.S.W. 34: 811-814.
  • Brooks (1977)
  • Cronin E (1980) Contact Dermatitis. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone [WorldCat]
  • Flück H, Jaspersen-Schib R (1976) Medicinal Plants and their Uses. Medicinal plants, simply described and illustrated with notes on their constituents, actions and uses, their collection, cultivation and preparations. London: Foulsham [WorldCat]
  • Grant WM (1974) Toxicology of the Eye. Drugs, chemicals, plants, venoms, 2nd edn. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas [WorldCat]
  • Hurst E (1942) The Poison Plants of New South Wales. Sydney: NSW Poison Plants Committee [WorldCat] [url]
  • Lewis WH, Elvin-Lewis MPF (1977) Medical Botany. Plants affecting man's health. New York: John Wiley [WorldCat]
  • Malten KE, Nater JP, van Ketel WG (1976) Patch Testing Guidelines. Nijmegen: Dekker & van de Vegt [WorldCat]
  • Merzouki A, Ed-derfoufi F, Molero Mesa J (2000) Contribution to the knowledge of Rifian traditional medicine. II: Folk medicine in Ksar Lakbir district (NW Morocco). Fitoterapia 71(3): 278-307 [doi] [url] [pmid]
  • Morton JF (1981) Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America. Bahamas to Yucatan. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas [WorldCat]
  • Perrot E, Paris R (1971) Les Plantes Médicinales, Vols 1 & 2. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France
  • Prosser White R (1934) The Dermatergoses or Occupational Affections of the Skin, 4th edn. London: HK Lewis [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Rao RR (1981) Ethnobotany of Meghalaya: medicinal plants used by Khasi and Garo tribes. Economic Botany 35(1): 4-9 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Roberg M (1950) Konjunktivitis durch Kornradesamen. Klin. Mbl. Augenheilk 116: 425.
  • Rock H (1931) Untersuchungen über die Saponine der Herniaria glabra et hirsuta und ihre Wirkung bei Lupus vulgaris-Kranken. Arch. Derm. Syph. 163: 187.
  • Schwartz L, Tulipan L, Birmingham DJ (1957) Irritant plants and woods. In: Occupational Diseases of the Skin. 3rd edn, pp. 636-672. London: Henry Kimpton [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Shelmire B (1940) Contact dermatitis from vegetation. Patch testing and treatment with plant oleoresins. Southern Medical Journal 33(4): 337-346
  • Stuart GA (1911) Chinese Materia Medica. Vegetable Kingdom. Extensively revised from Dr. F. Porter Smith's work. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Stuart M (1979) Reference section. In: Stuart M (Ed.) The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism, pp. 141-283. London: Orbis Publishing [WorldCat] [url]
  • Twiggs JT, Yunginger JW and Agarwal MK (1982) Occupational asthma in a florist caused by the dried plant, baby's breath. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 69: 474-477.
  • van Grutten M (1980) Carnation dermatitis in a flower seller. Contact Dermatitis 6: 289.
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Willis JC (1973) A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns, 8th edn. (Revised by Airy Shaw HK). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]
  • Wren RC (1975) Potter's New Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations. (Re-edited and enlarged by Wren RW). Bradford, Devon: Health Science Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url] [url-2]

Richard J. Schmidt

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