The Benefits of Pelargonium Sidoides

Can pelargonium offer all-natural cold relief?

Pelargonium sidiodes (black geranium)
Joshua McCullough/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Pelargonium (Pelargonium sidoides), also known as African geranium, is an herb long used in South African traditional medicine. Also known as black geranium, "umckaloabo" or "umcka," pelargonium is sometimes used as an ingredient in herbal cough and cold syrups.

Uses of Pelargonium Sidoides

Proponents claim that pelargonium may fight upper respiratory tract infections (including the common cold). Some proponents also suggest that pelargonium can help treat bronchitis and inflammation of the sinuses.

Benefits

In test-tube research, compounds in pelargonium have been found to fight bacteria and viruses, as well as stimulate the immune system. In addition, a few clinical trials have examined the cold-fighting effects of pelargonium. Here's a look at some key study findings:

Colds and Cough

For a 2013 research review published in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, researchers examined previously published studies on the use of pelargonium in the treatment of acute respiratory tract infections. Although they found some evidence that pelargonium may be effective in alleviating symptoms of the common cold, the authors found that the quality of evidence was very low.

In another review, published in Academic Pediatrics in 2018, scientists reviewed 11 previously published studies on herbal medicine in children and teens with respiratory tract infections. Although there was no clear evidence for the herb echinacea (a more commonly used herb for colds), there was moderate evidence for the effectiveness and safety of pelargonium in the treatment of respiratory tract infections.

Bronchitis

Pelargonium may help soothe bronchitis, suggests the 2013 Cochrane study. After reviewing evidence from previously published trials, researchers concluded that pelargonium may be effective in relieving symptoms of acute bronchitis in adults and children, but found that the overall quality of evidence was considered low. The report's authors also found that adverse events were more common with pelargonium (when compared to a placebo), but none were considered serious.

Possible Side Effects

Use of pelargonium may trigger a number of adverse effects, such as stomach upset, nausea, heartburn, allergic reactions, or worsening respiratory symptoms. Case reports have suggested that pelargonium products may have more serious side effects, such as liver injury (however some researchers suggest that other factors may have been responsible). According to one report, use of pelargonium drops for five days to treat cold symptoms was associated with fatigue and elevated liver enzymes.

Pelargonium leaves contain small amounts of dimethylamylamine (a substance with stimulant properties).

There's also some concern that use of pelargonium may increase the risk of bleeding. Therefore, people with bleeding disorders and those using blood-thinning medications should consult their physicians before using pelargonium.

It's important to keep in mind that supplements haven't been tested for safety and dietary supplements are largely unregulated. In some cases, the product may deliver doses that differ from the specified amount for each herb. In other cases, the product may be contaminated with other substances. Also, the safety of supplements in pregnant women, nursing mothers, children, and those with medical conditions or who are taking medications has not been established.

Where to Find It

Widely available for purchase online, syrups containing pelargonium are also sold in many natural-food stores and in stores specializing in dietary supplements.

Researchers caution that the increased demand for pelargonium has led to overexploitation of the wild plant in Africa.

The Takeaway

Due to the limited research, it's too soon to recommend pelargonium as a treatment for any health condition.

If you're experiencing symptoms of bronchitis (such as a cough that persists, disrupts your sleep, and/or produces blood) or any symptoms that concern you, it's important to consult your physician. Self-treating any condition with pelargonium and avoiding standard care may have serious consequences.

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