To the small celandine
Pansies, Lilies, Kingcups, Daisies,
Let them live upon their praises;
Long as there’s a sun that sets
Primroses will have their glory;
Long as there are Violets,
They will have a place in story:
There’s a flower that shall be mine,
‘Tis the little Celandine.
Following on from my dream identification of plantain, I shortly after identified lesser celandine intuitively. I don’t remember ever learning these plant names, I just have this sense sometimes that I just know something without any idea how or why. Anyway, for me, this means that the lesser celandine has a personal connection with intuition and knowledge.
Lesser celandine is related to buttercups and is known, less beautifully, as pilewort. It has heart shaped leaves and little yellow petals which close up in bad weather and display as gorgeous stars in good weather. Appearing with the swallows in spring, they were traditionally a sign that it was time to sow crops. This was an important part of the year for our ancestors so the arrival of the little golden flowers will have been significant.
These are not plants that are to be eaten. If you ingest them raw they can be fatal. This goes for grazing animals as well. Despite their pleasant demeanour, they can be deadly. All plants from the buttercup family contain a chemical which turns into a toxin when the plant is wounded. This toxin can cause itching, rashes and blistering if it comes in contact with skin. If eaten, it can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, spasms, paralysis and jaundice.
In addition to harming humans and animals, they are harmful to other plants and are considered invasive species in some parts of the world. They grow to dominate areas rapidly and have an intensive mat of roots. This, and it’s early flowering, give it a strign advantage over most plants and it can quickly form a monopoly along the rivers and waterways that it prefers.
Despite all this, lesser celandine has been used medicinally. As you might guess from it’s alternative name pilewort, it was used to treat haemorrhoids in the past. It also has antifungal and antibacterial properties, but the plant must be heated or dried to alleviate the effects of the toxin.
The lesser celandine also redeems itself through it’s duty to bees. As it is one of the first flowers to appear after winter, they are an important source of nectar for insects who are emerging from hibernation. In particular, they provide vital food for queen bees, without whom we would have no bees and pollination the world over would be fatefully affected.
This role as one of the early flowers of the year has led to it symbolising joy to come. It is a glimpse of the summer sun and the warmth and harvest that will be reaped.
None of the above should be considered medical advice, do not eat anything unless you’ve done your research. Plants go by different names in different places and have different properties at different times of year. Some of the possible uses of this plant have come from folklore and should not be taken as fact.