Synonyms: Tetterwort, Devil's Milk, Garden Celandine, Common Celandine, Swallow Herb, Swallow Wort
Scientific Name: Chelidonium majus L.
Family: Papaveraceae (Poppy Family)
Native to Europe and the temperate and coldest parts of Asia. Introduced to the Atlantic parts of North America.
In the sap: various alkaloids related to papaverine.
Maybe you have sometimes wondered why you have yellow fingers after weeding the garden. The culprit is almost certainly Greater Celandine. This herb, which can reach a height of up to one metre, can completely take over a flower bed if it is not called to order from time to time. When you pull it out it the plant exudes a yellow sap which is contained in all its parts, even in the roots. From May to September the fast growing plant with its bluish-green, almost pinnate leaves bears golden yellow flowers with four petals which are arranged in small umbels. The long seeds produced by the plant have a white attachment, an elaiosome or oil body, which ants find very tasty. A good trick for species distribution. The ants take the celandine seeds away with them when they carry the tasty morsels back home to eat. The hairy plant, which is related to the poppy, is common on nitrogen-rich soils close to human habitation.
As a result of the alkaloids Greater Celandine is mildly sedative and has antispasmodic action on the intestines and the gallbladder. It also stimulates bile flow. It is often used to alleviate intestinal symptoms and bile congestion. Warts can be treated by dabbing with the fresh sap several times a day. In homeopathy formulations of Greater Celandine root are used for gallbladder and liver disorders as well as in some eye diseases. Greater Celandine is also used as a home remedy for some skin diseases.
The generic name Chelidonium comes from the Greek word khelidon = swallow. Some people say the plant was given this name because the plant begins to flower when the swallows arrive and stops flowering when they depart for the south again. Others say it is because of the story that swallows used to open the eyes of their young with a branch of celandine. The epithet majus = large was originally used to distinguish it from Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) a plant which is in fact unrelated. The German name Schöllkraut has developed over the centuries from Chelidonium.
Dioscorides, Pliny and Theophrast already knew of the healing powers of Celandine and described its effectiveness in the treatment of jaundice, liver swelling, gallstones, constipation, warts and eye complaints.
Greater Celandine also has some more curious uses in its history: alchemists tried to make this oh so yellow plant into gold. And in some regions it was fed to cows which did not give enough milk.
The plant from another perspective
Paracelsus already saw a resemblance between the thick yellowish sap of Greater Celandine and the bile. And Chelidonium does in fact have a marked action on the liver and gallbladder. The bitter taste is also a pointer to the liver and gallbladder.