Family: Ranunculaceae, or Buttercup
Synonyms and Common names: Pilewort, small celandine, small wort, figwort, bright eye, and butter and cheese.
Description and Habitat: Lesser Celandine is a common perennial which is indigenous to Britain, Europe and western Asia.
The leaves are mostly radical, the petioles up to 15cm long, and the lamina up to 4cm long and 5cm broad. They are ovate, cordate or reniform.
Bright yellow solitary flowers on long peduncles appear in spring and have three sepals, and 8-12 lanceolate petals, each with a nectary at the base.
The fleshy roots, up to 3cm long, are oblong or club-shaped, and there can be no doubt as to their use once the roots are dug up. They are shaped like a hanging pile.
Lesser Celandine can be found all over Britain, mostly under hedgerows and on the sides of fields, and they will prosper in a garden once the herb gets a hold. They are propagated by the production of small tubers along the stems, and each of these can grow into a new plant.
Parts used: Root
Collection and preparation: The root should be unearthed during late spring and early summer. They are chopped and dried in a cool, dark and airy place, and then sealed inside a jar and kept in the dark until needed.
Actions: Astringent, and demulcent.
Indications: Specifically used for shrinking haemorrhoids, and for internal or prolapsed piles with or without haemorrhage. Used by topical application as an ointment or suppository.
Constituents: Saponins (based on hederagenin and oleanolic acid), anemonin and protoanemonin, and tannin.
Indications and Therapeutics: As suggested by this herb’s common name of pilewort, it has a traditional use in the treatment of piles, both as an internal remedy and in the form of an ointment or suppository.
Today it is only used externally because of its acrid nature. The saponins are locally anti-haemorrhoidal, an action enhanced by the astringent tannins. The saponins have a fungicidal action. Protoanemonin in the fresh plant is antibacterial but it is only found in the fresh root, it is not found in the dried root.
Contraindications: It is only recommended for external use.
Preparation and dosage:
Ointment: Make an ointment and apply 3-4 times daily.
Additional comments and Folklore: According to the Doctrine of Signatures, the tubers of this plant resembled piles. In the Western Isles of Scotland, they were believed to resemble a cow’s udder, and they were hung in cow byres to ensure high milk yields.
Wordsworth was so fond of the flowers that he had them carved on his tomb. Although known as lesser celandine, this herb is not related to greater celandine, Chelidonium majus, which is a member of the poppy family of plants, and not the buttercup Family that Lesser Celandine belongs to.
As one of the first flowers to appear after winter, they provide an important nectar source for queen bumblebees and other pollinators emerging from hibernation, and for other early insects.
It was once thought that lesser celandine could predict the weather as they close their petals before raindrops. The leaves are high in vitamin C and have been used to prevent scurvy, although today the aerial parts of the herb are not recommended for ingesting.
Lesser celandine has long been a traditional remedy for piles; its common name of figwort alludes to ‘fig’ as an old name for piles. An ointment of the roots was also said to cure corns and worts.