Lesser celandine, Ranuculus ficaria syn Ficaria verna, Grán Arcáin in Irish or ‘Piglet’s Grain’. One of the first flowers of the Spring, they are appearing at the edges of paths, besides streams, damp areas, on roadsides and beside hedgerows all over the country. They are very widespread and often go unnoticed, they are low-growing, up to 5 cm in height at most and appear from February to May in Ireland. Members of the buttercup family, lesser celandine is a perennial, with beautiful shiny star-like flowers with a 2- 3 cm diameter, that have 8 to 12 petals, which open in the sunshine, and heart-shaped glossy leaves. They can form continuous carpeting in the shade such as woodland. Lesser celandine are indicators of ancient woodland sites, along with bluebells, wood anemones and primroses.
The flowers provide an important nectar source for queen bumblebees and other insects emerging from hibernation. This also helps with it’s own pollination
Wordsworth wrote poems about lesser celandine
This is from “The little Celandine”
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!
And from “To the small celandine”
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.
It is the only one of the buttercup family that can be used safely as an herb externally. It is not advised to take it internally as it can be potentially toxic, although foragers do pick young leaves to use cooked. They contain protoanemonin, levels of which increase as the season progresses. In olden times young leaves were collected as a remedy for scurvy as they also contain high levels of Vitamin C.
The root system has fibrous roots and small tubers which look like haemorrhoids earning it’s other name, pilewort. It is an old, effective and still used remedy for haemorrhoids. The whole plant can be used to make an ointment for the condition. As it is soothing and toning such an ointment is also very useful for varicose veins. To make an ointment collect the overground plant, cover with olive oil in a saucepan, simmer for 15-20 minutes, strain out the plant material and return the oil to the plant after measuring it. For every 100 ml add 10 g beeswax or 5 g candelilla wax, then stir on a low heat until the wax is melted. Pour into jars and put on lids when ointment is set (Seal and Seal, Wayside Medicine, pp115, 2017).