Greater Celandine




Greater Celandine

Family:    Papaveraceae
Genus:     Cheledonium
Species:   majus


Synonyms and Common names:   garden celandine, tetterwort, horned poppy, Welsh horned poppy, swallow-wort, balsam weed, jewelweed, slipper weed, snap weed, touch-me-not, and weathercock.

Description and Habitat:
Greater Celandine can grow up to 36” tall, the sparsely-hairy herb is characterized by greyish-green pinnate leaves with lobed margins.  The branching stems are topped with loose cymes of typically three to five yellow flowers, which can be up to 10” across, with four oval yellow flowers.   Easily recognised by the bright orange sap, which oozes from the easily snapped branches and leaves.

Greater Celandine is most often seen in urban hedgerows, beside woodland paths, and on sheltered tree-lined riverbanks, but occasionally the herb can be found on the disturbed scrubby waste ground too.   Once the herb gets a hold, it is difficult to remove and can become somewhat intrusive, most farmers and gardeners consider it to be a weed.

In Britain and Ireland, the first flowers of the Greater Celandine appear in April, but it is usually June or July before these lanky plants begin to bloom.

Parts used:  Aerial parts and roots.

Collection and preparation:
The aerial parts are collected during the flowering period from May to June, the roots in late summer or autumn.  As with all aerial parts, dry in a dark warm place, chop, and keep in sealed jars in a dark place so they don’t lose colour.

Roots:  Roots should be unearthed in late summer and dried in the sun or shade.   Dry as above.

Constituents:    Alkaloids including chelidonine, chelerythine, copsisine, and protopine.  Chelidonic acid, essential oil, saponins, yellow latex, and carotenoid latex.


Actions:   Anti-spasmodic, cholagogue, anodyne, purgative, and diuretic


Indications and Therapeutics:
At therapeutic doses, Greater Celandine is an excellent remedy for the treatment of infections of the gall-bladder and gallstones.  At higher doses, this herb is poisonous, causing powerful purging of the digestive tract.

It may be used as an anti-spasmodic remedy in stomach pain.  Externally the orange latex from the stem may be used in the treatment of verrucae, skin tumours, and fungal infections of the skin.

It has been found the alkaloid chelidonine inhibits and removes cataracts.    Greater Celandine is an old remedy for the removal of warts.

The plant has narcotic properties and reported anticancer activity.

The isolated alkaloids protopine, sanguinarine, chelerythrine, and chelidonine have antibacterial actions and are antitussive too. Chelidonine produces mild but the prolonged lowering of arterial blood pressure increases the production of urine and inhibits or delays the development of anaphylactic shock.


No harmful effects from therapeutic doses have been noted. Side-effects are mild and infrequent but can include dry mouth and dizziness.

At higher doses Greater Celandine is poisonous, causing powerful purging of the digestive system, and should only be used under qualified supervision.

It should not be taken during pregnancy.

Greater Celandine should not be confused with Lesser Celandine, also known as Pilewort (Ranunculus ficaria), part of the Buttercup Family of plants, and, to which it is not related.

Preparation and dosage:
Infusion: 1-2 teaspoonful of the dried herb in 1 cupful of boiling water, leave to infuse for 10 to 15 minutes, and drink 3 times daily.

Decoction: 1 teaspoonful of the dried rood in 2 cupfuls of boiling water and simmer for 10 minutes, leave to steep for 5 minutes and then pour through muslin to refine.  Drink 3 times daily.

Tincture:  1-2m three times daily.


Additional comments and Folklore:
The Latin name Chelidonium means ‘swallow’, and maybe a reference to the coincidence of appearance of the first flowers of Greater Celandine and the arrival of Swallows in Britain in late spring.  The word majus is Latin for ‘larger’, and this certainly describes the length of the stems of the Greater Celandine.

Culpeper described the greater celandine as ‘one of the best cures for the eyes, “most desperate sore eyes have been cured by this only medicine”. He added that it was “best to allay the sharpness with a little breast milk”.

The plant and root boiled in white wine and taken with aniseed “opens obstructions of the liver and gall, helps yellow jaundice… helps dropsy and the itch, and those that have old sores”.

A distillation of the greater celandine could be used “with a little sugar and a good little treacle against the pestilence”. Culpeper was reiterating the tradition of ‘plague-water’, the celandine being one of a dozen plants that, if distilled in white wine and stirred for three days, was thought to protect against contagion.

Mystics suppose that the greater celandine signals happiness, cures depression and, if put on a pillow, generates prophetic dreams.

Folklore had it that a witch who carried the herb Greater Celandine in a red bag hung around her neck hoped thereby to avoid detection and imprisonment.

Conversely, a floor scrubbed with water in which celandine had been infused was supposed to deter witches and burning the plant as incense had the same effect.