Pulsatilla, also known as pasqueflowers, meadow anemones or prairie smoke, is an herbaceous perennial native to dry grasslands across the Unites States, Europe and Asia. Pulsatilla can reach up to 18 inches in height and has feathery leaves, violet flowers and yellow stamens. After the flower has bloomed, the long hairy threads attached to the fruit turn to a silk-like consistency. When the wind blows, they resemble smoke, thus the name "prairie smoke." Pulsatilla contains saponins, which are phyto-chemicals; tannins, classified as polyphenols; and volatile oil, which is a mixture of hydrocarbons and oxygenated compounds.
Pulsatilla is used to treat eye problems such as cataracts and urinary tract infections, and is thought to lower arterial tension and reduce respiration. Pulsatilla is also used for spasmodic pain of both the male and female reproductive system and is also thought to relieve headaches and coughs. It is sometimes used as a sedative to promote sleep. According to Christopher Day, veterinary surgeon, homeopathic medicine works on a principle called the "law of similars," stating that a substance capable of producing symptoms in a healthy body can cure similar symptoms in a diseased body; he cites the use of pulsatilla for dogs with itchy skin.
You should sow pulsatilla seeds in mid- to late August in a shaded part of the garden using a growth medium of six parts peat, one part vermiculite and one part perlite. After the plants have emerged through the soil, you should cover them with glass. Pulsatilla seeds usually take from one to six months to germinate. At the end of autumn or before the first frost, bring the plants indoors for the winter. If seedlings have emerged, transplant them to a sunny location, placing them 8 to 12 inches apart. Return the plants that do not yet have seedlings to their previous area and transplant any seedlings to a sunny location in the fall.
When used as a tea to soothe respiratory problems, you should infuse ½ to 1 tsp. of the dried pulsatilla herb with 1 cup of boiling water, let it steep for 15 minutes and drink the infusion three times per day. When using pulsatilla as a tincture for skin problems, use 1 to 2 ml three times per day. Pulsatilla sprays, tablets, pellets and ointments are available online and in natural food stores.
Pulsatilla is poisonous in large doses and can cause coma, breathing difficulties, convulsions and asphyxiation. You should avoid touching a fresh pulsatilla plant, as it can irritate the skin. According to Creighton University Medical Center, pregnant women should not take pulsatilla because it could cause abortions and has also been shown to interrupt the growth of a developing fetus.