Narcissus species – the common daffodil – can be used to slow the progress of Alzheimer’s disease
Daffodils. Look so innocent, don’t they? Bobbing up and down like that, all yellow bonnets and winsomeness. They’re not thinking of anything except sunny days and warm springtime breezes.
Yeah … as it turns out, the daff is seriously underrated. Far from being the airheads of the March garden, they’re actually miniature yellow chemists, using the nascent sunshine and warm rain to create underground stores of a darn useful chemical called galanthamine*.
You may not have heard the word galanthamine before, but if you’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s – or you know someone who has been – you probably know of a drug called Reminyl. Licensed for mild-to-moderate Alzheimer’s, Reminyl is actually a preparation of galanthamine. Although scientists do know how to make galanthamine from scratch, they generally don’t bother, because it’s more economical to extract it from plants – mainly daffodil bulbs, but also from a few types of snowdrop. It’s a real springtime chemical.
A Welsh company called Alzeim specialise in growing vast expanses of daffodil for the pharmaceutical industry. They prefer to use a particular variety of daffodil, called Narcissus pseudonarcissus ‘Carlton’. This particular plant can give us up to 3 mg of galanthamine per gram of dried bulb, which is pretty good by daffodil standards. And research suggests that a Spanish daffodil species, Narcissus confusus, may be even better, with its bulbs storing up to twice as much of the chemical.
Berkov, S., et al (2009).Plant sources of galanthamine: phytochemical and biotechnological aspects. Biotechnology & Biotechnological Equipment 23 (2) Free full-text article available
There’s also a Countryfile feature on Alzeim’s research, broadcast in April 2011.
*Some people spell the chemical’s name without an h: galantamine. Both spellings are correct; I just think it sounds better with its h intact.