Fumaria officinalis: Characteristics and properties

Today we are talking about Fumaria officinalis, a plant that has been widely used for centuries for its various active principles in traditional medicine. It is distributed throughout almost the entire world, adapted to a multitude of climates and soils thanks to its rusticity. It is considered adventitious herb in many crops.


This wild plant appears in dry plains so in cereal crops it is considered as adventitious grass and is eliminated. In irrigated crops such as beets, it tends to grow regularly. It is an annual plant whose purple inflorescence in clusters during spring is very characteristic. It is commonly known as Sangre de Cristo, Fumaria or Palomilla.



The surname of Fumaria officinalis is shared by many plants. The name officinalis usually refers to its medicinal use. In Wikipedia we can find the origin of this word and why it has led to the use of certain species of plants.

Officinalis , u oficinal, is a medieval Latin epithet that denotes species —mainly plants— with uses in medicine and herbalism. It occurs frequently as a specific epithet, second term in a binominal nomenclature. The word officinalis literally means “of or belonging to an officina”, the warehouse of a monastery, where medicines and other necessary things were kept. Officina was a contraction of opificina, from opifex (gen. Opificis) “worker, machine, doer “(from opus” work “) + – fex, – ficis,” the one who does it, “from facere” to do, to carry out. “When Linnaeus invented the binominal system of nomenclature, he gave it the specific name” officinalis », In 1735 (first edition) of his Systema Naturae, to plants (and sometimes animals) with an established medicine, culinary, or any other use.

Source: Wikipedia


Of all the plants that make up the genus Fumaria, Fumaria officinalis is its representative. Carlos Linnaeus described it as the type plant of this genus.

As we always say in this blog, the etymology of the scientific names of plant species tell us a lot and this is a clear case. Etymologically, Fumaria comes from “Fumus”; smoke . The color of the roots and the smell are somewhat reminiscent of smoke . Pliny the Elder already described it in ancient Rome, alluding to the fact that its juice causes some irritation to the eyes, like smoke.


It is a native plant of Europe but is currently omnipresent since it was introduced in America and Asia. In Spain it is widely distributed throughout the country with a greater presence in the Mediterranean area. Where it has less presence is in the Cantabrian area and Galicia.

Let’s use the GBIF database to find the geolocations provided at the national level of this plant and we corroborate that indeed, the most numerous data are found in the Mediterranean area.

If you do not know GBIF, you should know that it is a database on biodiversity worldwide. It has nodes in different countries, including Spain. Data on any species found anywhere in the world is shared in these biodiversity databases. It is a collaborative open source project  and the Spanish node collaborates with the Ministry of Science, the CSIC, the Royal Botanical Garden and other world institutions. The main portal for global data is called GBIF.org

Geolocation database of Fumaria officinalis . GBIF (Spain)

In the following link you can explore the map in more detail.


It contains numerous alkaloids, responsible for most of the effects on the human body, used in traditional medicine. Among the alkaloids present, the most abundant is protopine. Its characteristics have been studied with analgesic and antihistamine effects In fact, protopine is an opium compound because the Fumaria family is Papaveraceae . Opium or the well-known red poppies are found in this family.

It is traditionally classified as a plant used in herbal medicine, with biliary, spasmolytic, anticholinergic, antiarrhythmic and antibacterial effects.

There are general studies in which the active principles of various traditional medicine plants are isolated and Fumaria officinalis is usually present. Yet none of them require the right effects or doses. In fact, their conclusions leave the doors open to more exhaustive studies to determine precisely this type of deeper information.

An example is the following study from 2009 in which   Fumaria officinalis stands out for ranking second in phenolic compounds and its possible relationship with antioxidant capacity. Compounds with antimibrobial capacity are also being studied. Of the 32 microorganisms exposed to the plant extracts, 21 survived. But the conclusions are clear and here is a small summary. «The plants studied (among them Fumaria officinalis) have different levels of antioxidant and antimicrobial activity. These data should be used for future research. In addition, the toxicity effects of these compounds must be evaluated.

There are many and if you want to research I recommend Google Scholar to look for references of studies on Fumaria officinalis. 

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