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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

LESSER CELANDINE, WORDSWORTH'S FAVOURITE FLOWER: HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES OF LESSER CELANDINE


LESSER CELANDINE, PILEWORT, FIG BUTTERCUP, RANUNCULUS FICARIA
The lesser celandine is one of my favourite wild flowers although it is invasive in the US it is native to Europe including Britain, western Asia and North Africa. It appears early in February and by the end of April it has died back.  It is a member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae, but is easy to distinguish because it has nine or ten petals (the buttercup and marsh marigold (Calutha palustris) have five) and has a star-shaped flower. It likes moist shady places and can frequently be seen in hedgerows, and woods, although in Wales, it grows on mountains too, and is a welcome sight in spring. It forms a carpet of dark green heart-shaped leaves, sometimes kidney shaped, and with its shiny yellow flowers it look very attractive. The problem with it is the tubers which can spread and kill other plants.
   The Lesser Celandine, despite its name is no relation of the Greater Celandine, (Chelidonium majus) to which it bears little resemblance. They have different medicinal properties and should not be confused.
  Like the shrinking violet (banaf shah) and Tickle Me (choi moi), it is sensitive to weather conditions, as these lines from William Wordsworth’s poem, The Lesser Celandine show clearly:-
    “There is a flower, the Lesser Celandine,
      That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain,
      And the first moment that the sun may shine,
      Bright as the sun himself, ’tis out again!”
Celandines are carved on Wordsworth’s tomb as they were said to be his favourite flower.
  Its Latin name comes from rana meaning frog, a reference to the moist places where it grows, and ficaria is from the Latin ficus or fig. This is presumably how it gets the name in the US of fig buttercup. It is called pilewort because for hundreds of years if not thousands, it has been used as a remedy for piles or haemorrhoids. The remedy can be either an ointment made from lard and the fresh bruised plant (whole) chopped, or taken internally as a tisane in wineglass full doses. The tisane is made with 1 oz of the fresh chopped herb to 1 pint of boiling water, left to steep for 20 minutes and then strained.
   The Lesser Celandine was well-known to herbalists in the Middle Ages and the first written reference we have is an illustration in the German herbalist’s “Kreutterbuch” (Rhodion) dating back to 1533. Gerard wrote about it, but as he may have got it confused with the Greater Celandine, I will only quote Culpeper the 17th century English herbalist
  “It is certain by good experience that the decoction of the leaves and roots doth
    wonderfully help piles and haemorrhoids, also kernels by the ears and throat called
    King’s Evil and any other hard wen or tumours.”
He went on to show how much regard he had for this little plant (it only grows to 2 inches under normal conditions)
   “The very herb borne about one’s body next to the skin helps in such diseases though it never touched the place grieved.”
  It is clear that the lesser Celandine was efficacious against piles but the Physicians of Myddfai had this remedy:-
   “Apply the calcareous droppings of a peacock (pounded) with fern roots and it will cure it.”
 The fern roots mentioned here were presumably those of bracken.
   The flower only opens at 9am and closes again at 5 pm, as well as being sensitive to the weather. Its buds can apparently be substituted for capers, but this is not to be recommended as all parts of the plant are slightly toxic, although the toxins can be removed by drying and exposure to heat in cooking. The young leaves have been eaten raw in salads, but they should not be consumed in quantities. Older leaves should only be eaten cooked. The young leaves and flower buds can be eaten like spinach but are best after boiling. You should collect the herb when it is in flower and dry it for later use. The leaves can be used in stews but they aren’t very tasty, others such as sorrel are much better. The tubers or bulbils as they are called may also be boiled and eaten as a vegetable. I’m told that the petals of the Lesser Celandine make good tooth cleaners, but can’t personally vouch for that. As far as I am concerned it makes and attractive and welcome appearance in early spring, and I have always loved to find the first celandine.



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