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Gelsemium sempervirens - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-065.jpg
Gelsemium sempervirens
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Gentianales
Family: Gelsemiaceae
Genus: Gelsemium

Gelsemium is a genus of flowering plants belonging to family Gelsemiaceae. The genus contains three species of shrubs to straggling or twining climbers. Two species are native to North America, and one to China and Southeast Asia.

Carolus Linnaeus first classified G. sempervirens as Bignonia sempervirens in 1753; Antoine Laurent de Jussieu renamed the genus in 1789. Gelsemium is a Latinized form of the Italian word for jasmine, gelsomino. G. elegans is also nicknamed "heartbreak grass".[1]


All three species of this genus are poisonous. In December 2011 Chinese billionaire Long Liyuan was killed when the cat-stew that he was eating was allegedly poisoned with Gelsemium elegans.[2]

Gelsemium has been shown to contain methoxyindoles.[3]

Medicinal uses[edit]

As late as 1906, a drug called gelsemium, made from the rhizome and rootlets of Gelsemium sempervirens, was used in the treatment of facial and other neuralgias. It also proved valuable in some cases of malarial fever, and was occasionally used as a cardiac depressant and in spasmodic affections, but was inferior for this purpose to other remedies.[4]


Self-experimentation on the poisonous properties[edit]

Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the famous Sherlock Holmes series, once administered himself a small amount of gelsemium and kept increasing the amount every day until he could no longer stand the ill effects. In a letter written by him to the British Medical Journal on 20 September 1879, he described that he had persistent diarrhoea, severe frontal headache, and great depression, and therefore stopped his self-experimentation at 200 minims.[5][6][7]


  1. ^ Lewis, Leo (2012-01-04). "A purrfect murder? Tycoon killed by poisoned cat stew". The Times. Retrieved 2012-01-04. ...the fatal dose of Gelsemium elegans, a highly poisonous plant known as 'heartbreak grass' 
  2. ^ China tycoon "ate poisoned cat-meat stew", BBC
  3. ^
  4. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Gelsemium". New International Encyclopedia. 1906. 
  5. ^ Gibson, J.M., and R. L. Green, eds. 1986: University of Iowa Press. Letters to the Press: Arthur Conan Doyle.
  6. ^ Doyle, Arthur Conan (20 September 1879). "Arthur Conan Doyle takes it to the limit (1879)". British Medical Journal. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd. Retrieved 2 February 2014. (subscription required (help)). 
  7. ^ Doyle, Arthur Conan (20 September 1879). "Letters, Notes, and Answers to Correspondents". British Medical Journal. BMJ Publishing Group Ltd. Retrieved 2 February 2014. (subscription required (help)). 

External links[edit]