The Poisonous Path: Buttercup

The Poisonous Path: Buttercup

Pake Nielson

There are poisons that blind you, and poisons that open your eyes. - August Strindberg

Whether or not we realize it, there are times when we can benefit from something poisonous. Most commonly in medicine, of course, yet it stands to show that we tend to grow from the things and situations that pose a threat to our perceived well-being. This is because we adapt, we evolve, we find ways to deal with toxicity, though we never thought we would. It's what it means to survive, to live on is to be surprised. 

Surprise is a constant in the world of plants. These deceivingly simple beings are among the most fascinating and undecipherable. We can always look to the plant kingdom for new ideas and advancements in medical treatments and technologies. This is what makes herbalism so important to me. It's one of the wise and natural forms of that healing, which continues to develop and alter the way we think of medicine and health. 

Though it should not be misunderstood, herbs of potent properties can harm and kill you with little to no effort. However, these same plants of poisonous properties can heal and relieve conditions where other herbs fall short. This is what gives them their value. Not to mention the ceremonial and spiritual uses acclaimed to these powerful herbs. In this blog, we will be discovering the lively and dangerous personalities of each plant along the poisonous path. 

Buttercup: Ranunculus spp. 

Buttercup, or Ranunculus spp., also known as Crowsfoot, is a yellow flowering plant usually consisting of 5 petals, which grows among wet forests and moist urban areas. The flowering parts are supported by long-standing dark green vines separating from one another, each vine with its own yellow flower at the top. Buttercups are perennial meaning they reappear and bloom each year in season. This is made possible by the bulbous root of the plant, which preserves the flower's life force in the form of sugars. 

However, If sugars were the only thing this plant was made of, I wouldn't be writing about it. What makes Buttercup poisonous is either one of two toxic constituents known as ranunculin and protoanemonin, which both are secreted from the plant when damaged or crushed. Species of the Ranunculus family contain these constituents. and as such, all forms of buttercup are considered poisonous. 

Ranunculin and protoanemonin are most effective on the skin and can quickly cause dermatitis to almost every man and beast who comes in contact with it. Ranunculin and protoanemonin is not something Buttercup naturally releases, instead it is when the plant is crushed or broken that these toxins are released. It is because of this that the toxins are considered a defense mechanism to punish animals who might have grazed on the plant. 

While these toxins are effective enough to make a large horse sick, the common pig cannot be stopped, let alone bothered by, the consequences. In fact, as if out of pride or spite, pigs are very fond of buttercups and will devour as much as they are able to find. This usually results in the pigs lips and mouth becoming totally inflamed and blistered from the ranunculin and protoanemonin constituents. 

Herbal Uses for Buttercup 

Buttercup is not used by many herbalists today, but in the recent past it has been used to treat rheumatism, headaches, chest colds, gout, boils, abscesses, sore wounds, shingles, and for the removal of warts. All treatments were topical, as using buttercup internally will severely irritate and inflame the digestive tract. Buttercup was most commonly broken down and mashed into a poultice or salve to later be applied to skin ailments.

It is from the ranunculin and protoanemonin constituents that give Buttercup its value as an all-heal for the skin. This is because when an area of skin becomes inflamed, nutrient-rich blood rushes to the sight aiding in tissue repair and regrowth. A more potent tincture of Buttercup has historically been applied to shingles, rotting skin, and warts, in order to dissolve the compromised tissue and promote inflammation to then assist in the healing process. 

Buttercup’s toxic irritants have even gone as far as to treat tumorous growths at the dermis level. This herbal use is recorded among the Traditional Tibetan Buddhist herbal methods, in which it is described that Tibetan Buddhists would use Buttercup as means to dissolve tumorous growths and protect the surrounding skin from further growths. All of these treatments are made possible by Buttercup’s herbal actions which list Buttercup as an acrid, anodyne, antispasmodic, diaphoretic, sedative, and rubefacient herb. 

Buttercup in Myth and Legends 

There is a legend of the ranunculus that can be found in Persia. It tells the story of a young prince who comes across a beautiful nymph-like creature. The prince becomes totally intoxicated by this creature, but before he could get close to her the nymph disappears among the woods. In days following, the prince returns and sings for her in hopes to invite her out of hiding. Instead, the nymph becomes terribly annoyed by the boy and casts a spell on him to shut him up for good. The prince is then turned into Buttercups, and left to live out his life in the woods as a Ranunculus. 

Poisons might at first come across as loss and devastation. And without the knowledge or know how to tame its volatile temperance, its danger will be known much more to you than an insightful other. There are few herbs as useful for skin related ailments as Buttercup, however it might come at a cost within the wrong hands. As always, consult a qualified practitioner before using Buttercup and other poisonous herbs. Oftentimes, there is an alternative and safer option which should be considered beforehand.

Thank you for joining us here on the poisonous path for this month of March, and as we continue down our way, take caution. After all, you never know how these deadly green beings might inflict their wrath upon you.

Back to blog