Lesser Celandine – A Foraging Guide to Its Food, Medicine and Other Uses

Lesser Celandine belongs to the buttercup family. The bright yellow flowers appear briefly in early spring.

The plant has a long history as a wild edible with its large fleshy roots and green shoots that appear as one of the first signs of spring.

Scientific Name

Ficaria verna syn. Ranunculus ficaria

Family

Ranunculaceae.

Botanical Description

The stem and leaves are brightly coloured green, younger leaves are heart-shaped and become ivy-like in appearance with darker markings. The shiny flowers are composed of seven to twelve golden-yellow petals with a green underside. The fruit appears like grains of corn, being globular and whitish.

Status

Perennial. Native to Europe, western Asia and North Africa.

Habitat and Distribution

Distributed across Europe, western Asia and North Africa, found in fields, hillsides, riverbanks and woodlands.

Parts Used For Food

Young leaves picked before the plant flowers. Roots. All parts of this plant must be cooked.

Harvest Time

Early spring.

Food Uses

The plant’s roots swell up to form bulbs or tubers, which are reputedly delicious and can be eaten as a starchy vegetable.1 Lesser celandine has been used as a potherb in central Europe2 and the young parts of the plant have been added to salads.3

All parts of this plant need to be cooked.

Nutritional Profile

Lesser celandine may contain antioxidants that make it worthy as a springtime tonic, although further research into its biological activities is needed.4

Lesser Celandine Recipes

Traditional Medicine Uses

Lesser celandine was a traditional remedy for piles; its common name of figwort alludes to ‘fig’ as an old name for piles.5 An ointment of the roots was also said to cure corns and worts.6

Other Uses

An unusual use for the petals and leaves recorded in Cumbria, England, was for cleaning teeth.7

Cautions

Do not eat lesser celandine raw. Protoanemonin, which is the toxic compound in the plant is destroyed by cooking and drying.

As a member of the buttercup family, lesser celandine may cause contact dermatitis in humans and animals.8 The plant sap may also cause nausea and vomiting if taken internally; the plant’s safety during pregnancy or when breastfeeding is not established and therefore best avoided.9

Further Reading

References

  1. Klooss, S et al, Charred root tubers of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna HUDS.) in plant macro remain assemblages from Northern, Central and Western Europe. Quaternary International, 2015.
  2. Turner, NJ et al. Edible and Tended Wild Plants, Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Agroecology. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 2011. DOI: 1080/07352689.2011.554492.
  3. Flora of the U.S.S.R. Volume VII. Editor: Komarov, VL. Published for the Smithsonian Institute and the National Science Foundation, Washington, DC, by the Israel Program for Scientific Translations.
  4. Barla, GF et al. Antioxidant activity and total phenolic content in Allium ursinum and Ranunculus ficaria. Journal of Faculty of Food Engineering. 2014.
  5. Grieve, M. A Modern Herbal. Tiger Books International. London. 1996. ISBN: 1-85501-249-9.
  6. Hatfield, G. Hatfield’s Herbal. Allen Lane, Penguin Books. London. 2007. ISBN: 978-140-51577-0.
  7. Allen, DE, Hatfield, G. Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition. An ethnobotany of Britain & Ireland. Timber Press. Portland, Oregon. 2004. ISBN: 9780881926385.
  8. Jackson, PW. Ireland’s Generous Nature. The Past and Present Uses of Wild Plants in Ireland. Missouri Botanical Garden Press. St Louis, missouri. 2014. ISBN: 978-0-915279-78-4.
  9. Karalliedde, Dr L. Gawarammana, Dr I. Traditional Herbal Medicines. A guide to their safer use. Hammersmith Press Ltd. London. 2007. ISBN: 978-1-905140-04-6.

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  1. This little plant is so pretty and delicate, but obviously very punchy!! I shall keep my eye out for this little marvel. Information is fascinating, thank you.

    Reply
  2. I have this plant growing in my garden, its my favourite flower, it grows on my rockery. I often see it in the woods near me too, its lovely to see it in the dimness of the shaded woods ,it brings a welcome glow of colour, and I often stop and just look at it in wonder as its so beautiful.

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    • same sentiments as above. Have never tried to eat but it’s so plentiful in my front garden between the other shrubs that maybe I will pull the swollen but tiny roots and try eating.

      Reply
  3. This lovely plant was my Fathers favourite. It grows around my old a Apple tree with the Violets & Primroses that are now in flower too. I am interested in testing this plant as I know the use for Greater Celandine regarding wart removal etc. Thank You

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  4. Great write up Robin!!

    I am experimenting with planting Lesser Celandine in Forest Gardens, with other ground cover vegetables that surface later – like Oca (Oxalis Tuberosum) for example.

    This extends the ground cover period from January when the Celandine first surfaces, to December when the Oca is harvested, both providing edible leaves and roots – nibbles for the whole year!

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  5. We have lesser celandine growing in our garden. I love the idea that when it flowers it is the right time to sow seed. I will look out for the flowers this spring!

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  6. Very Interesting. the area i live in we have a abundance of lesser celandine, we have just had a cold wet year, but celandines are at there best, large starry flowers with glossy mottled green leaf. they have always been a joy.

    Reply
  7. Does this plant also grow in North America? Or is there a similar plant here? I’m in Massachusetts, and have a plant like this in my yard. It can grow up to 12 inches high, and maybe 18 inches diameter .

    Reply
    • Yes, it is in North America. It was brought over in the 1800s as an ornamental flower to be enjoyed by the masses. However, it had no natural predators or disease here and has become a noxious weed in many of the northeastern states. It spreads through both tuber and seed and once established becomes labor-intensive to remove.

      Reply
  8. I’ve been eating this plant many times, raw, as a salad (mistaken in for nasturtium). Never noticed that I would be sick or nausious.

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  9. Interesting information about parts being edible, which I hadn’t known before. Whilst appreciating its appeal in woodland settings, I have discovered, since moving house, that our front garden is absolutely full of it; I would really like to reduce the quantity, but it is proving very difficult to do so! Any

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  10. It always makes me feel good when I spot the first blossoms in spring and later, as more open, a carpet of the cheerful little flowers.

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  11. Here we are in the Carona pandemic> I live in Queens, NY, Close to the epicenter of things in NYC> I live in a house, have kept a veggie garden for a couple of years. My family will not let me leave the house to grocery shop. We have almost run out of fresh veggies. I have some sorrel thankfully that I make salads of. There is a lot of lesser celandine growing. I wondered if it was edible. It looks so tempting. I just want to be sure of how to use it. Looks like the roots are ok…based on what I am reading on line. Can the leaves be eaten raw or do they have to be cooked? I’m a little unclear about that. Saddly I do not have a copy of your book. Can you please give me some reliable, trustworthy guidance? Thank you soo much. I hope you are well there in the British Isles!

    Reply
  12. Hi Karen – sorry, I should have made that clearer… all parts of the plant must be cooked. And the leaves need to be picked before the plant flowers. I’ve just amended the instructions above.

    Reply
  13. This is a continuation of my prior question. The lesser c. is flowering. Does that mean I should not use it for food at this time?

    Reply

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