What is Corydalis? Its Benefits, Side Effects, & Contraindications

Published on June 06, 2024

By Kristen Boye BS, Natural Health

Kristen Boye

Kristen Boye is a natural health expert, writer, copywriter, and editor. Kristen was raised on an organic farm in British Columbia which inspired her life’s work. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Natural Health, is a Certified Natural Foods Chef, co-owner of a medicinal herb farm, and is a natural foods and children’s health advocate. Kristen lives with her husband and two children on their medicinal herb farm in Western North Carolina.

Corydalis isn’t an herb you hear about every day in North America. 

However, this flowering plant has been used for thousands of years in Traditional Chinese Medicine and for centuries in North America and other countries for its beneficial and protective properties.

For example, the root of Corydalis has long been prized by traditional herbalists for its cleansing actions, and Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors rely on it to help support the flow of Qi (the flow of energy throughout the body, pronounced “chee”) and movement of fluids.

In this article, you’ll learn more about these and the other studied benefits of Corydalis, its history, how it works, and review side effects and contraindications.

What is Corydalis?

A Google search of “Corydalis” will yield mostly garden-related articles on selecting, planting, and growing this beautiful flowering shade-loving plant.

However, Corydalis is highly prized as a functional herb in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other Traditional wellness practices in Asia.

Corydalis was also used extensively by Eclectic Physicians practicing in North America in the mid to late 1800s as an alternative or "cleansing" herb to support liver function and detoxification.

The Corydalis genus includes over 400 species belonging to the poppy family. 

Its name comes from the Greek word “korydalis,” meaning “crested lark,” which refers to how the plant resembles the lark’s crest via its tube-like flowers.

Corydalis grows in forests, and its bright yellow root or tuber (rich in alkaloids) is used in traditional herbal preparations and supplements. 

Research has shown Corydalis contains over 160 compounds, including:REF#4056

  • Alkaloids
  • Antioxidants
  • Organic acids
  • Volatile oils
  • Amino acids
  • Nucleosides
  • Alcohols
  • And sugars 

Alkaloids, which give the root its brilliant yellow color, are considered the most crucial active constituents, with over 80 types isolated and identified. 

Corydalis is also a source of Berberines, a specific plant compound known as an isoquinoline alkaloid found in the barks, leaves, twigs, rhizomes, roots, and/or stems of approximately 450–500 plant species.

Berberines have become popular due to their potential benefits for various aspects of metabolic, immune, and inflammatory function. More on this to come.

Traditional Uses Of Corydalis

As mentioned above, Corydalis root has a long history of use in the Northern Hemisphere, particularly in the Traditional Medicine systems of Asia, such as China, Japan, Korea, Russia, and North America.

Some traditional uses of Corydalis include:REF#4057 REF#4058

  • Blood function support
  • Cognitive support
  • Digestive support
  • Heart support
  • Liver support
  • Nervous system support
  • For easing menstrual cramps
  • For minor pain management
  • For overall menstruation support
  • To move stagnant Qi
  • To promote normal fluid movement and balance
  • To promote relaxation
  • To support emotional health
  • Spleen and stomach stasis

Today, Corydalis is still used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine and other systems of herbalism but has yet to be studied as extensively as other herbs, like Turmeric or Ashwagandha.

However, emerging research and analytical studies have revealed several possible benefits and methods of action, which we’ll explore next.

6 Benefits of Corydalis

As you’ve just learned, Corydalis has many uses in traditional herbalism and wellness practices and has been revered for centuries.

However, the science behind this ancient herb is still in its infancy.

Here, we examine the emerging research behind six potential benefits of Corydalis for minor pain management, relaxation, cognitive function, and more.

#1: Corydalis May Help with Minor Pain Management

Corydalis is widely used for minor pain management throughout Asia and, more recently, in North America.

But does it work?

Several animal studies suggest Corydalis may have analgesic properties that work via its effects on the nervous system and dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, comfort, and decreased pain.REF#4059 REF#4060

Researchers also believe various alkaloids in Corydalis, which promote normal inflammatory response, may be involved in its effects on pain.

Although more research is needed, Corydalis’ use for minor pain management is well-documented in Traditional Chinese Medicine texts and anecdotal evidence for its efficacy is strong.

#2: Corydalis May Support Heart & Cardiovascular Function

We now know that a normal and healthy inflammatory response is critical to heart and cardiovascular function.REF#4061

This is why most doctors now recommend taking measures to support a healthy inflammatory response as part of a heart-healthy lifestyle, like reducing stress, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, getting regular exercise, and reducing intake of processed foods and alcohol.

Studies have also found various herbs, including berberine-containing herbs, may help support normal heart and cardiovascular function.REF#4062

This includes Corydalis, which studies suggest may benefit normal cardiovascular function, either directly or indirectly, via its supportive effects on:REF#4063 REF#4064

  • Heart rate
  • Inflammatory response via its antioxidant compounds
  • Normal blood pressure
  • Liver function (the liver plays a primary role in cholesterol synthesis)
  • Stress response/nervous system function

More research is needed to recommend Corydalis for heart health.

#3: Corydalis May Provide Liver Support Benefits

Berberine-containing plants, specifically roots like Dandelion, Goldenseal, and Corydalis, have long been used by herbalists in liver-supportive formulas*.

It is believed the signature yellow color and astringent, bitter properties have a cleansing and protective effect on the liver and other organs of detoxification.

A large body of research has shown Berberine may support various aspects of liver function, including bile synthesis, inflammatory response, lipid metabolism, and oxidation resistance:REF#4065 REF#4066

Regarding Corydalis, research has shown its Berberine isoquinoline compounds may have liver-protective properties.

Although more studies are needed to fully understand how Corydalis may support the liver, this emerging research is consistent with Cordylasis’ use as a liver support herb in various Traditional Chinese Medicine and North American eclectic herbal formulas.

#4: Corydalis May Promote Feelings of Relaxation

One of Corydalis’ claims to fame is its purported relaxation effect, which advocates say can help reduce stress, support the nervous system, boost emotional well-being, and promote cognitive function.

There is research to suggest Corydalis does have a mild sedative effect and may be helpful for relaxation, stress, and healthy sleep.REF#4067 REF#4068 REF#4069 

#5: Corydalis May Promote Digestion

Several Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas use Corydalis for digestive function, including occasional stomach pain, reflux, and other common digestive complaints.

Research suggests Corydalis may promote digestion via its:REF#4070

  • Effects on the liver, which is responsible for the production of bile and key digestive enzymes
  • Positive effects on normal digestive inflammatory response
  • Positive impact on the microbiome, which preliminary studies suggest may benefit from Berberine-rich herbs REF#4071

More research is needed. However, these studies lend credibility to the traditional practice of taking bitter herbs, known as “bitters” or “aperitifs,” like Dandelion, Corydalis, Black Radish, etc., to promote healthy digestion. 

#6: Corydalis May Support Various Aspects of Cognitive Function

Nootropic herbs like Ginkgo, Lion’s Mane, and Saffron are well-known for supporting cognitive function.

However, several studies suggest Corydalis may also promote cognitive function, particularly related to memory and learning capacity, neuron function, and Berberine’s neuroprotective benefits, but more research is needed.REF#4072 REF#4073 REF#4074

Although more research is needed, this is consistent with its traditional use to protect and promote brain health.

Corydalis Side Effects & Possible Contraindications

Corydalis has been used safely for thousands of years to promote various aspects of well-being.

There have been some reports of mild gastric upset, which usually occurs when taking Corydalis or other Berberine-containing herbs on an empty stomach.REF#4075 REF#4076

Since Berberine-containing herbs may affect blood sugar, blood pressure, and the liver, Corydalis may be contraindicated with certain medications. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Per the National Institutes of Health, Berberine-containing herbs should not be taken with Cyclosporine (Neoral, Sandimmune) because Berberine might decrease how quickly the body breaks down cyclosporine.

Corydalis should not be taken during pregnancy due to the possibility of an increased risk of miscarriage. There is not enough evidence to know if it is safe during lactation.

If you experience stomach upset or other side effects from taking Corydalis or other Berberine-containing supplements, talk to your healthcare practitioner about adjusting the dose or alternatives.

Interested In Learning More About Berberine-Containing Herbs?

Corydalis is one of many Berberine-containing herbs that have become popular for their various health benefits.

To learn more about Berberines, check out: 

For more information on Traditional Chinese Medicine and other traditional herbal practices, see: 


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