Lesser celandine – Edibility, distribution, identification
- Edibility – 2 – but see warning below
- Identification – 3 – look for bright yellow flowers, individually stalked cordate veined leaves and (often) bulbils on roots – which give it its old english name, pilewort! It is a low-growing plant, often forming substantial mats.
- Distribution – 4
- Season – January – May – One of the earliest spring leaves.
- Habitat – Damp deciduous woodlands, meadows, shady waste ground, hedge banks, roadsides, river banks and other areas that are seasonally flooded. Those pictured were growing adjacent to a large puddle in the road and were enjoying a good dousing by every passing car. As I drove further I noticed that all the larger bulges of it corresponded with puddles in the road.
Prior to flowering, lesser celandine is one of the milder spring leaves, so excellent for bulking out salads of more pungent leaves like hairy bitter-cress and ramsons. As a member of the generally toxic buttercup family, lesser celandine does contain small levels of toxins so should not be eaten raw in large quantities, and not at all by anyone with health issues. Boiling or steaming the leaves and stems or stir-frying like spinach/pak-choi neutralises the toxins and makes for a tasty green vegetable. Bulbils can be boiled or roasted and added to salads for crunch.
Not recommended for eating once they have flowered as they become higher in protoanemonin – a chemical that is unlikely to cause major problems in low dosage, but not particularly good for you. The whole plant becomes increasingly bitter and not very pleasant to eat – especially when there are likely to be many tastier things about in mid-spring.
Browse more edible plants in the wild plant guide.