The shiny yellow flowers of Lesser Celandine, Ranunculus ficaria, first caught my eye a few weeks ago. I noticed it had 8 to 10 petals and smooth, heart-shaped leaves that reminded me of violets. It’s all over the lawns here in Portland, usually in shady spots, often dominating gardens. I hit the botany books and found out it’s a member of the buttercup family from Europe, and it is edible. You’ll find it throughout the Pacific Northwest and in the northeastern states right now. The leaves of Lesser Celandine contain a mild toxin that can be destroyed with heat, so you can eat them after boiling. But foragers in the know say the tubers (underground parts) are the real prize. Root harvesting season for this plant is before the flowers bloom and then again after the flowers die in early June.
As Lesser Celandine is a European plant, I e-mailed UK expert Fergus the Forager to ask how he eats it, and he recommended boiling, roasting or hot pickling the roots. I’m excited to try it. Because the leaves resemble other plants, you can identify this plant now and come back to harvest in about six weeks.
Lesser Celandine is also known as Fig Buttercup and Pilewort. It resembles its relative the Marsh Marigold, Caltha palustris, a yellow flower with five broad petals that grows in bogs. (It, too, needs to be heated before eating to destroy toxins).
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