Lesser Celandine or pilewort, as it more commonly known, grows freely in woodlands and other moist, shaded places and brightens the way whenever you pass it by. It’s Latin name, Ranunculus ficaria, refers to the resemblance of its tubers to figs and an old common name for it was figwort (not to be confused with the plant more commonly known as Figwort, Scrophularia nodosa). Piles, or haemorrhoids, for which the plants got its modern common name, also used to be known as figs, so this usage for our pretty spring friend is nothing new.
In Mrs Grieve’s classic, A Modern Herbal, she tells us, “Wordsworth, whose favourite flower this was (in recognition of which the blossoms are carved on his tomb), fancifully suggests that the painter who first tried to picture the rising sun, must have taken the idea of the spreading pointed rays from the Celandine’s ‘glittering countenance.’ ”
It is true that this little flower arrives early in the spring, appearing almost like a symbol of hope for the warmer days to come.
Used mainly to treat non-bleeding haemorrhoids and a sore or itchy anal area, it is oft quoted that the main indication for this plant came about from the doctrine of signatures as its bulbous tubers are not dissimilar to the appearance of piles. Many years of use however, as well as a modern understanding of its constituents, back up this traditional insight. Pilewort contains tannins and saponins and is both astringent and demulcent, so toning and soothing to inflamed or irritated membranes.
In the past an infusion of pilewort was commonly taken internally as well the the ointment applied topically but these days it is mostly the ointment that is favoured.
Bartram recommends making an ointment by macerating one part whole fresh plant whilst in bloom to three parts of benzoinated lard. I stuck to making an infused vegetable oil via the heat method.
After harvesting the whole plant – roots, leaves and flowers – I washed them thoroughly to get rid of the tenacious clay soil that stuck between each nodule and then spread them out to dry off in the dehydrator for a couple of hours. If you don’t have a dehydrator then just blot them dry as best you can and leave to wilt slightly overnight. This reduces the water content of your herb and helps prevent rancidity. I then infused the herbs in sunflower oil in a bain marie for several hours on a low heat. You can read my detailed instructions on how to make an infused oil here.
Many people combine the infused oil with horse chestnut oil or tincture to make a nice astringent ointment but, as I have none at present, I came up with this alternative.
40ml pilewort infused oil
20ml plantain infused oil (just use extra pilewort if you have no plantain oil).
20 ml calendula infused oil
5ml self heal tincture
5ml witch hazel
10 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops geranium essential oil
Melt the beeswax in a bain marie and add the infused oils, stirring until fully mixed. Add in the tinctures and witch hazel and whisk or blend with a hand blender until fully incorporated. Stir in essential oils and leave to set.
Apply liberally several times a day to affected area.