Western Isles Wildflowers
Western Isles wildflowers is a collection of information about our Hebridean wildflowers including identification hints, traditional herbal uses and general plant lore.
This wildflower has a bulb beneath the ground that provides the plant with a growth burst in early February, so it is one of the very first to flower, flowering from March to May.
Flowers are bright yellow, and starlike, with 8 -12 glossy petals.
A Lesser Celandine flowerhead is about 2 - 3cm across
The flowers open and close with the coming out of the sun.
Lesser Celandine has shiny, dark-green leaves which are heart shaped (cordate) or kidney shaped.The leaves of this wildflower sometimes have toothed edges. The eaves form a rosette. (All join together at the base of the plant)
This wildflower grows 5 - 25cm tall (2 - 6 inches)
When in woodland or short grass Lesser Celandine often forms colonies - lots of bright yellow starlike flowers on a deep green carpet of leaves.This wildflower grows happily in the shade.
Lesser Celandine likes rich, nitrogenous, loamy soils with plenty of humus, in fairly wet situations - ditches, meadows, and woodand, it prefers less acid soils and will grow on the machair banks (usually in the more shady areas).
Lesser Celandine - Names
The meanings of some of the different names of this wildflower draws such a character of the plant that identification becomes easy.
Lesser Celandine is a member of the Ranunculae - the buttercup family .
Ranunculus is Latin for "little frog", members of this plant family also like wet habitats and are well represented here in the Western Isles!
The common name - lesser celandine is from the Greek chelidon meaning a swallow (the bird) - the swallow is the herald of spring as is lesser celandine.
The second part of this wildflower's latin name is ficaria. This comes from ficus, the Latin word for the fig, and relates to the appearance of the root-tubers of the plant.
Herbal History and Plant Lore of Lesser Celandine
Apparently here in the Western Isles of Scotland the roots of Lesser Celandine were believed to resemble a cow’s udder, and so the plants were hung in cow byres to ensure high milk yields.
There was a widespread medical belief called "The Doctrine of Signatures".
The theory was that plants could be used to treat the parts of the body which they resembled by colour, shape etc. (sometimes the results were effective and sometimes fatal)
Parts of the root tubers of lesser celandine were thought to look like haemorrhoids (piles), this led to the plant being used as a popular treatment for the condition.
Pilewort became the plant's common name, and herbally it is still considered a useful plant from which to make an ointment for exernal application to haemorrhoids.
Lesser Celandine is very astringent and It has been used to treat ulcers, and sore throats.
This wildflower has also been used to treat varicose veins and there are refererences to the juices from the tubers of this wildflower being used as a topical treatment for warts.
At one time fresh young leaves of lesser celandine were added to salads, and also used like spinach. They contain lots of vitamin C, but the juices become bitter, acrid and POISONOUS when they are older, handling them can cause skin irritation, and that they should not be used internally. Beware!
Some references describe the whole plant as being poisonous. It is said that heating or drying breaks down the poisonous element of the juice of this wildflower.
There are records of the buds of lesser celandine being preserved in vinegar, and used in a similar manner to capers.
It was believed that beggars would use lesser celandine juice to create sores on their bodies to encourage people to give them alms.
Boiled with white wine and sweetened with honey then drank before bed, lesser celandine was believed to induce pleasant dreams. It was used as a visionary herb to increase psychic abilities and as a wash in divination, to consecrate a divinatory tool or to bath the body.
Related Wildflowers found in the Western Isles
Lesser celandine is related to buttercup, marsh marigold, and spearwort
Other Names for this Herb
This plant is sometimes called small celandine, pilewort, smallwort, brighteye, figwort, or butter and cheese.
Greater Celandine is a tall yellow poppy-like plant and not related to Lesser Celandine.
Photography © Suzanne Harris
Rodel - Isle of Harris - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
14th April, 2007
Please email the webmaster if you have any more lore or identification tips that we can add to this, or if you spot any inaccuracies.