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NEW! Pharmacopeia of Flowers: Foods, Drinks, Health & Beauty

Buttercup Flowers are Poisonous!

Buttercup |ˈbətərˌkəp| noun
a herbaceous plant with bright yellow cup-shaped flowers, common in grassland and as a garden weed. All kinds are poisonous and generally avoided by livestock.
• Genus Ranunculus, family Ranunculaceae (the buttercup family): numerous species, including the very familiar common buttercup ( R. acris). This large family also includes anemones, celandines, aconites, clematises, and hellebores, many of which have poisonous seeds.

Buttercups Flowers
Ranunculus are mostly herbaceous perennials with bright yellow or white flowers (if white, still with a yellow center); some are annuals or biennials. A few species have orange or red flowers. There are usually 5 petals, but sometimes 6, numerous, or none, as in R. auricomus. The petals are often highly lustrous, especially in yellow species. Buttercups usually flower in the spring, but Buttercup flowers may be found throughout the summer, especially where the plants are growing as opportunistic colonisers, as in the case of garden weeds.

The Water crowfoots (Ranunculus subgenus Batrachium), which grow in still or running water, are sometimes treated in a separate genus Batrachium. They have 2 different leaf types, thread-like leaves underwater and broader floating leaves. In some species, such as R. aquatilis, a third, intermediate leaf type occurs.


Buttercup PowerPuff Girl cartoonButtercup Poisoning

All Ranunculus species are poisonous when eaten fresh by cattle, horses, and other livestock, but their acrid taste and the blistering of the mouth caused by their poison means they are usually left uneaten. Poisoning can occur where buttercups are abundant in overgrazed fields where little other edible plant growth is left, and the animals eat them out of desperation.

Symptoms include bloody diarrhea, excessive salivation, colic, and severe blistering of the mucous membranes and gastrointestinal tract. When Ranunculus plants are handled, naturally occurring ranunculin is broken down to form protoanemonin, which is known to cause contact dermatitis in humans and care should therefore be exercised in extensive handling of the plants. The toxins are degraded by drying, so hay containing dried buttercups is safe.

Buttercups are usually a family that foragers stay away from. It was one of the few flowers I was told as a kid that were poisonous that really are. They grew in a damp spot right behind the house. But not every one in the family will make you ill. Among the edible members is Ranunculus bulbosus, also called St. Anthony’s Turnip. I don’t know if that is a compliment to St. Anthony or not. Caution is recommended as the plant can have a strong, acrid juice that can cause blistering. Bulbs of the plant are eaten after boiling or thorough drying. The young flowers are pickled.  In North America the plant is found in the eastern US except for Florida, and also growing along the west coast. It skips Texas north, the high plains, Rocky Mountains and desert southwest.


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