Our early spring wild flowers are starting to appear along the boardwalk, including: Marsh Marigold, Lesser Celandine, Golden Saxifrage, Wood Anemone, Dog’s Mercury and Dandelions. Many of these have been used in various ways as medicines or foods throughout history.
Marsh Marigold – Caltha palustris
The Marsh Marigold is part of the Buttercup Family and is thought to have been around since before the last ice age, making it one of Britain’s most ancient native plants. It is found in damp areas such as ponds, marshes, wet woodland etc. It is known by many names, commonly ‘King Cups’, the botanical name comes from the Latin for ‘cup of the marsh’. It is also known as the Mayflower, on the Isle of Man there is a tradition on the eve of May Day of putting flowers on doorsteps. The leaves and stems were eaten by the Native American Abnaki Tribe and are poisonous if not boiled. The flowers have been used to make drinks and the flower buds have been pickled and eaten as capers. The Marsh Marigold has been used as herbal medicine within traditional folk medicines.
Lesser Celandine – Ficaria verna
The Lesser Celandine is also a member of the Buttercup Family, found in: woodlands, hedgerows and parks. Most members of the buttercup family, including Lesser Celandine, are poisonous. However the leaves of Lesser Celandine can be eaten when cooked. Charred remains of the plant have been found in a Mesolithic site on Oronsay, where it is thought to have been collected as food. The Mesolithic period lasted between 9600 – 4000 BC. Lesser Celandine is also known as pilewort, it has small knobble pile-like roots and has been used in Scottish medicine as a treatment for haemorrhoids. A decoction (involves first mashing and then boiling in water to extract chemicals) of leaves was used to bathe piles. On a nicer note this wild flower was the favourite of Wordsworth who wrote three poems about it.
Golden-Saxifrage – Chrysosplenium oppositifolium / alternifolium
This flower belongs to the Saxifrage Family and there are two different kind of Golden Saxifrage. Opposite leaved (Chrysosplenium oppositifolium) where the leaves are opposite each other on the stem, and alternate leaved (Chrysosplenium alternifolium) where the leaves alternate along the stem, this kind is bigger and rarer. These flowers like to grow in damp areas, such as alongside running water, or in wet woodlands. The leaves of Golden Saxifrage can be eaten in salads or as cooked greens. Unusually the flowers have no petals, instead they have four greeny-yellow sepals surrounding bright yellow stamens.
Dog’s Mercury – Mercurialis perennis
Dog’s Mercury is common in woods and shady places in Europe, belonging to the Spurge Family. In its fresh state Dogs Mercury is poisonous to animals, however on the Isle of Skye an infusion of the plant would be drank as a salivation. Leaves of the plant were also used as a dye. The plant has a fetid, rotting smell due to the presence of a chemical which produces a smell similar to rotting fish, this is used to attract insects to the plant. This species is dioecious, meaning it has separate male and female plants. It can easily spread and form a carpet of plants due to underground rhizomes (stem-like structures which penetrate the soil).
Wood Anemone – Anemone nemorosa
Wood Anemone is also part of the Buttercup Family and grows in woodlands and hedgerows. Wood Anemone is a good indicator of ancient woodland as it takes 100 years to spread just 6 feet. Known by the Chinese as the flower of death, it is poisonous to humans. It is also known as “Fox Smell” due its musty scent. Hoverflies are fond of this flower and help to pollinate it. The Romans picked this flower, using it as a charm against fevers. Ancient Greeks believed the flowers to be sent by Anemos, the God of Wind, in the early Spring to herald his coming.
Dandelion – Taraxacum
The name Dandelion comes from the French “Dent-de-lion” meaning Lion’s tooth, this refers to the sharply toothed leaves. It is a member of the daisy family. There are over 200 micro-species of Dandelion and it has a variety of forms over different regions. The plant’s leaves can be eaten in salads, and the roots can be roasted, ground and used as a coffee substitute. In the early 17th century the plant was used in Scottish medicine and has diuretic properties. For stomach and liver problems a decoction of roots was taken, for colds an infusion of flowers was drunk, and after winter a decoction of leaves was used to cleanse the blood and rejuvenate the body. The plant is also known as “Milk Gowan”, or in traditional Scots as “Deil’s milk-pail”. Did you know, the seeds of a dandelion are often carried as far as 5 miles from their origin?
Jess Dewhurst – Scottish Wildlife Trust, Falls of Clyde Assistant Ranger
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