Lesser Celandine

Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) is one of the first signs of spring, with flowers appearing in late February/March. It is often present in large colonies along woodland floors, with its distinctive heart-shaped leaves forming a lush green carpet, punctuated with its bright yellow flowers. The flowers are between 2-4cm in diameter and have 3 sepals and between 7-12 petals. Lesser Celandine is plant characteristic of woodlands, and is often used as an Ancient Woodland Indicator species. However some caution must be used, as it can also be found in hedgerows, damp pastures and river/stream sides.

A atch of Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna) growing
in the woods near the Broad on the UEA campus.

There are many different subspecies of Lesser Celandine, however Ficaria verna sensu lato is native to central Europe, north Africa and Caucasus. It is not native to North America, though it has been introduced to many parts and is now considered as an invasive species. As with Marsh-marigold, and all other species in the Ranunculaceae family, Lesser Celandine contains a compound called ranunculin, which turns into the toxin protoanemonin when the plant is wounded. Contact with damaged/crushed Ficaria leaves can cause itching, rashes or blistering and ingesting the toxin can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness or paralysis. Due to its potential toxicity and its proliferation, Lesser Celandine has been banned or listed as a noxious weed in several US states.

It is actually possible to neutralise the toxicity of Lesser Celandine, and there are a few different methods that can be used. Simply drying out the plant is effective as the protoanemonin changes to the non-toxic anemonin, which is further broken down into non-toxic dicarboxylic acids. Cooking the plants also eliminates the toxicity, and after cooking or drying the plant can be incorporated into food or herbal medicines... Lesser Celandine has long been used by herbalists as a treatment for haemorrhoids, by applying an ointment of raw leaves as a cream to the affected area. Luckily most modern guides point out that medicines should be made from the dried herb or by heat extraction due to the toxicity of raw or untreated plant or leaf extracts.

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