Tetterwort (chelidonium majus)

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.
- Winnie The Pooh

It’s an interesting fact that some of the most valuable herbs are those considered “undesirable” ; that is to say, weeds. Indeed, the strange human obsession to control Nature and the unshakeable conviction that everything lies on the human shoulders fascinates me. For example, the whole idea of “maintenance”, while certainly useful if You’re trying to get Your orchard to produce as much fruit as possible, is really strange when applied to forests. And yet there is this constant pressure, shared by the majority of human race it seems, to interfere, to cut and fell and uproot and generally throw our weight about. Exactly how much good this does could be debatable, but only if You’re in an indulgent mood.

Plants such as stinging nettle, chase-devil or ribwort are commonly regarded as a nuisance, mostly because they are common and grow pretty much everywhere. Of course, if humans in general were taught more about their uses, they might see things differently. Sadly though, we are constantly taught about the value of gold and never about the value of tetterwort.

This common and unassuming plant, going by the Latin name of chelidonium majus (I’m told the name means some other plant in America) is a living, flowering proof of our strange, selective sense of worth. It needs no maintenance, no care, no human supervision. It grows wherever it can, and flourishes in most unexpected places. The leaves are a jolly, bright, somewhat yellowish-green and it sprouts small, brightly yellow flowers You might want to be looking out for. Because, despite being as unimpressive as a plant can get, it is definitely worth Your attention.
The whole plant contains a thick, yellow juice that oozes from the stems and dries very quickly when exposed to the open air. This juice is Your very good friend if You have any sort of skin problems : boils, warts, good old acne, everything that makes Your skin look abnormal can be cured by direct application of tetterwort juice. I have known many a despairing teenager who found a pimple on their great day – the school dance, the long awaited date – and could have used this amiable weed to end their suffering. There are some cases where tetterwort juice won’t help, such as scars or skin changes brought about by other illnesses,¬† but it’s still worth a try.

Of course, like any other herb, chelidonium has a limited lifespan. It can start as early as February and thrive well into autumn, thus giving us a nice supply of ever-fresh juice, but once it bears fruit the medicinal properties diminish greatly.  The juice itself cannot be stored separately, but the harvested herb can be dried for future use, and alcoholic tinctures made from both fresh and dried plants can still be very useful. For best results, a flowering plant should be harvested.

Internally, tetterwort can be used to help with liver diseases, but wrong dosages often result in digestive system irritation and even internal haemorrhage. I strongly advise against internal self-medication with this particular herb.

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5 Comments

  1. martha klassanos said,

    May 22, 2011 at 00:13

    The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This plant is very invasive and crowds out native vegetation. I understand your appreciation of medicinal plants, but some of these that come from other continents will escape and cause havoc in the environment. In Massachusetts, 20% of our native plants are threatened by escapees such as this. We have an infestation that is choking out a colony of spring beauty (Claytonia virginicus) which is endangered.

    • Cykuta said,

      May 22, 2011 at 10:25

      You’re right, of course. That’s one of the things I was trying to say: that meddling with Nature inescapably leads to problems, which humans are as yet unable to solve in other ways than more meddling. However, tetterwort is no intruder where I live, but a very native plant indeed, and still people will try to eradicate it because it’s not fashionable at the moment. My comments about weeds were directed at them.

  2. April 17, 2012 at 22:31

    Thank you Cykuta for clarifying. I found your post helpful and by the questionable comments above figured you’re from Europe. In America Tetterwort is known as “Celandine” or “Celandine Major”. I to have found that if others really took the time to learn about the plants they are planting or removing we would have far less endangered natives.

    Have you used Tetterwort before? I have read it can cause skin irritation and is what latex is made from. By your post it sounds like if the flowering plants are dried, one might be able to use them in a cream or lotion for treating skin conditions like acne or boils.

    • Cykuta said,

      April 18, 2012 at 10:02

      Hi Laurella,

      The sad thing is that everybody is free to do as they please with the natural environment. I’m a big fan of the idea that “the land belongs to the people”, but it would be nice if the people in question had some idea on how to act with it, especially now that a) information is freely available, b) the environment is in much worse state than it was. I have to tell you it really maddens me when people talk of “weeds” and “harmful vegetation” (of course I do NOT mean non-native intruders). And kids in our schools are still taught the nonsense about “serviceable” and “un-serviceable” plants and creatures.

      Anyway, the best way to use tetterwort is to squeeze some juice out of a freshly picked plant – it’s most potent that way. But yes, dried herb can be used in preparations such as tinctures or creams, although a tetterwort ointment is hard to make at home because it needs special cream base.

  3. September 22, 2012 at 21:48

    l use it for eco-dying …it is fantastic weed!!!!!


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