You’ve probably seen cyclamen gracing the shelves of flower shops during the winter season. This perennial plant is cherished for its beautiful flowers, which come with upswept petals in varying shades of white, pink, red and purple. Even its foliage is attractive, with patterned dark-green leaves that are usually heart-shaped or round.1
The cyclamen plant grows from a tuber (a short underground stem) and can reach a height of up to 12 inches when in bloom.2,3 Even though the term “cyclamen” is broadly used to refer to the plant itself, it actually refers to a plant genus that contains more than 20 species. The species that you usually see potted in gardens is the C. persicum, which is also known as the “Florist’s cyclamen.”4
You can grow cyclamen from seeds,5 especially if you want to have a whole bed of it in your garden. This may take a lot of time and effort, though, but the end result is worth it, with the attractive sight that it provides.
Aside from being a colorful addition to gardens, cyclamen has been traditionally used as an herbal medicine for a wide variety of ailments. However, its therapeutic uses are no longer as popular today as they were in the past.6 An essential oil can also be extracted from this plant. According to "The New Perfume Handbook," the scent of cyclamen essential oil is similar to the mixture of lily, lilac, violet and hyacinth.7
Before you pluck cyclamen from your garden to make an herbal medicine of your own, keep in mind that there is not enough scientific evidence yet to back up some of the therapeutic benefits of this plant. Plus, it may cause serious side effects when used incorrectly.8 Make sure that you use it with caution, preferably under the supervision of a health professional.
Health Benefits of Cyclamen
Triterpene glycosides known as saponins, which can be extracted from cyclamen’s tuber, are the active compounds that give this plant its medicinal properties.9 The extract of this plant has been used in the treatment of the following health problems:10,11
• Menstrual disorders
• Digestion problems
• Nervous emotional states
Some of the commonly used cyclamen species for homeopathic remedies are the ivy-leaved cyclamen (C. hederifolium), sowbread (C. europaeum) and purple cyclamen (C. purpurascens),12,13 although other species have shown promising medicinal effects too.
For instance, a study published in the Carbohydrate Research journal involved in vitro tests to measure the anti-inflammatory properties of the Cyclamen repandum extract. Results show that the saponins from this plant’s extract may indeed help regulate inflammatory response by influencing the behavior of human macrophages.14,15
Moreover, the C. europaeum species is found to be useful in the treatment of acute rhinosinusitis (ARS). According to a 2012 study published in the Journal of Rhinology, cyclamen may help reduce facial pain and ease mucosal obstruction in patients with mild to severe ARS if used as a nasal spray for seven days.16
Take a Look at Some of the Traditional Uses of Cyclamen
Cyclamen has been used in the past to help ease the following conditions:17,18
Dropsy (an old term for edema19)
Migraines and headaches
However, as I have mentioned above, there is not enough scientific evidence to support the efficiency and safety of cyclamen for these applications. If you’re planning to include cyclamen in your treatment plan, make sure that you consult your physician first.20
How to Grow and Care for a Cyclamen Plant in Your Garden
Cyclamen is an excellent houseplant that can bloom for weeks, brightening up your garden with its pretty, colorful flowers for a long time. Every cyclamen species has a different blooming cycle, but most of them go dormant in the summer, wherein their leaves will turn yellow and gradually fall off.21
During this period, the cyclamen plant may seem dead. Don’t throw it out, though, since its tuber may still sprout new leaves and flowers on the next blooming cycle, as long as it’s properly taken care of during its dormant stage. The good news is that it requires very little care.22
The proper ways to care for a cyclamen plant may differ according to the species that you have. Here are some general tips to keep this plant happy and healthy in your garden:23,24,25,26
• Water: While your cyclamen is in bloom, keep the soil moist by watering it whenever the surface feels dry. Be careful not to overwater, though, since this may cause the tuber to rot. Once the plant enters the dormant stage, gradually allow it to dry out for two to three months. Any excess water during this period will cause the tuber to rot.
• Humidity: Cyclamen does not grow well in places where the air is dry, so make sure that you plant it in a highly humid area, especially during the winter. You can also increase the air moisture around your cyclamen by placing it above a tray of water. Put it on a layer of pebbles or gravel to keep its roots from sitting in the water.
• Light: When in bloom, make sure that your cyclamen plant gets plenty of light without being exposed to direct sunlight. During its dormant stage, move it to a cool and shady area.
• Temperature: A cyclamen houseplant does not do well in extreme heat or freezing temperatures. The ideal temperature for this plant is around 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
• Repotting: Cyclamen corms are best replanted in a pot or garden bed while they’re still dormant, just before they start producing new leaves.
How to Properly Store a Dormant Cyclamen Tuber
In order for you to continue the life cycle of your dormant cyclamen plant, you have to store its tuber properly to prevent it from rotting. If your plant is potted, you can keep it indoors during the summer, preferably in a cool, dark place with proper air circulation.
If you want to keep the cyclamen tuber outdoors, lay the pot on its side to keep water out and place it under the shade of a tree. Avoid watering it, as doing so may cause the tuber to rot. You should only begin watering the plant during early autumn, when it starts sprouting new leaves.27,28
A Final Word of Warning Regarding Cyclamen’s Safety
Cyclamen has been reported to cause side effects with doses as low as 300 milligrams. Some of these side effects include stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.29 With that said, I suggest that you err on the side of caution — avoid using it without consulting your physician first, especially if you’re pregnant, as it’s believed to promote birth and induce menstruation.30,31
It’s also important to note that this plant can be toxic to cats and dogs because of its saponin content. If consumed, this may cause drooling, vomiting and diarrhea. Ingesting cyclamen in high amounts may even lead to abnormal heart rhythms, seizures and death. If you’re planning to grow cyclamen in your home, make sure that you keep your pets away from it to prevent these serious side effects.32