Caltha palustris (marsh marigold)

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Painting by Meta Carr

Artist’s statement:

I find the luminous, almost phosphorescent color of this plant beautiful. The smooth petals and deeply veined leaves make a lovely contrast.

Medicinal Uses:

Also known as cowslip, cowflock, meadow routs or kingcup, the marsh marigold is found in marshy areas, hardwood swamps, and alongside ponds. Its roots were used by Native Americans to treat colds and sores, to induce vomiting, to protect against love charms, and as an aid in childbirth. A tea made from its leaves was also believed to relieve constipation. The plant’s leaves, well cooked, can be eaten like spinach, but when left raw, every part of the plant is a strong irritant, and can damage the gastrointestinal tract, the skin, or mucous membranes. The buds soaked in vinegar have been used as a substitute for capers.

A Dr. Withering wrote in the early 1900’s, “It would appear that medicinal properties may be evolved in the gaseous exhalations of plants and flowers, for on a large quantity of the flowers of meadow routs being put into the bedroom of a girl who had been subject to fits, the fits ceased.” Early colonists of the southern Appalachian region used the plant as an antidote to snake venom, and learned from Native Americans the trick of mixing the tea with maple sugar to make cough syrup.

More recently, the marsh marigold as well as many other plants in the family Ranunculaceae (the buttercups) has been found to contain a toxic compound called ranunculin. Ranunculin is an inert glycoside which is enzymatically converted to protoanemonin, an acrid, poisonous compound that may have some beneficial effect in fighting tumors. This compound acts as a skin irritant causing redness and blistering and potentially can cause abdominal pain and diarrhea.

(Foster and Duke, p.101,, &