Friday, April 23, 2010

"Bright as the sun himself, 'tis out again!"

( from Wordsworth's "A Lesson")

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

Whether it be nestled in a gap in stone work, adding colour to roadside ditches or blanketing forest floors, the Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is in its prime at the moment. A relative of the buttercup, it is unrelated to its name sake the Greater Celandine (a member of the poppy family). In the past, it was used as a treatment for piles, as described by Nicholas Culpeper in his Complete Herball (c. 1653):

"The leaves are antiscorbutic and the root reckoned a specific if beat into cataplasms and applied to the piles."

This earned the plant the name Pilewort, its name derived from the shape of the root. Its medicinal properties were discredited about fifty years later by Lindley who stated:

"Confident as are these assertions (those of Culpeper and others), yet the use of the plant is all but discontinued in the present day, medical practitioners properly looking for sounder principles than those derived from the doctrine of similitudes."

It was however still being advocated as a cure for piles in 1901 (Birmingham Medical Review, May 1901), but consumption in herbal remedy has been shown to result in necrotizing hepatitis (Strahl et al., 1998 Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift 123 pp. 1410–4).

The classification of R. ficaria as such is in question, as several authorities consider it to be a genus of its own, Ficaria (Hörandl et al., 2005 Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 36 pp. 305-327).

Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)

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