The favourite wild flower of the poet Wordsworth, who wrote to the small celandine “Pleasures newly found are sweet / when they lie about our feet’
The lesser celandine, ficaria verna, is a pretty little herb which grows wild along ditches and at the edges of fields in damp shady places. It is a low-flowering plant with heart-shaped glossy leaves on long stalks and light golden flowers. The flowers resemble a buttercup but have more than five petals. The whole plant spreads rapidly by means of small tubes which grow from the roots, each producing a new plant. One of the earliest of the wild herbs to bloom, lesser celandine flowers in the spring from February to May:
as soon as the hot summer weather arrives the whole plant dies down.
Lesser celandine can become a tiresome weed once introduced into the garden but if it can be confined to a shady spot it is worth while growing. In early summer remove the small round bulblets which grow in the axils of the leaves of an established plant and put immediately into the ground.
In March and April when lesser celandine is in flower the whole plant, including the root, is collected for drying as the flowers are at their best. This is then dried and stored in the usual way.
Lesser celandine is abundant in Vitamin C and for this reason was used in the treatment of scurvy. The fresh herb should never be taken internally and although its toxicity can be destroyed by drying and heating it is safer to use it externally only. The country name for this herb is pilewort and its main medicinal use is for the relief of discomfort from the distressing complaint of haemorrhoids (piles).
* To make a concentrated decoction: Use a handful of lesser celandine in I ½ cups of water. Leave to soak for 30 minutes. Bring the mixture gradually to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then strain.
For a fomentation dip a piece of lint into the decoction, wring out the cloth and put as hot as possible on to the affected part.
A poultice may prove a more effective treatment.
* To make a poultice: Use either the fresh herb mashed to a pulp or dried herb moistened with water to the right consistency. Put the mixture between pieces of muslin or cheesecloth and heat between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. Use as hot as possible on the affected part.
* To make an ointment: Use a handful of grated fresh root to 4 heaped tablespoons of pure lard or shortening Heat the lard slowly in a pan and when melted add the herb and mix well together. Bring the mixture to the boil then simmer very gently for 30 minutes. Strain into small pots and cover when cold.