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Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup

Summary

One of the prettiest meadow flowers so it is surprising that so few cases of harm are recorded.

Blog Entries

Read more about Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup, in these blog entries (most recent first);
Research into Equine Grass Sickness suggests buttercups may be associated with outbreaks.

Family

Ranunculaceae

Meaning of the Name

Ranunculus
Literally from the Latin for ‘little frog’ and said to be because the plants like wet conditions but it may have come via a derogatory name for people who lived nears marshes.
 
acris
‘Biting’ or ‘sharp’ from the unpleasant taste.

Common Names and Synonyms

meadow buttercup, buttercup

Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup

Ranunculus acris, meadow buttercup

How Poisonous, How Harmful?

The plant produces protoanemonin, which is at its highest concentration at the flowering stage. It is quite unstable and drying of the plant leads to its polymerisation into a crystalline non-toxic anemonin. Protoanemonin is formed from the glycoside ranunculin when the plant is crushed.

This instability may explain why buttercups are not viewed with the same venom as Jacobaea vulgaris (syn. Senecio jacobaea), common ragwort, when it comes to livestock deaths. Since the toxins rapidly degrade, there is little risk of harm if Ranunculus species are included in conserved forage.

Ingestion produces inflammation of the mouth followed by abdominal pain. Ulceration of the mouth and damage to the digestive system follow. Diarrhoea occurs and urine can be bloody. Convulsions precede death. Protoanemonin is volatile and can be given off when handling the plant leading to eye and nasal irritation.

Incidents

The following are all taken from American Medicinal Plants by Charles F. Millspaugh

A man in Bevay, France drank a glass of juice made from buttercups. He suffered severe colic after four hours and was dead the next day.

A lady who applied the bruised plant to her chest, based on the premise that use of an irritant would counter an existing irritation, became ill-humoured, fretful and cross.

A sailor, who inhaled the fumes of the burning plant, suffered epilepsy for the first time in his life. Two weeks later, he suffered a further attack which led to his death.

Folklore and Facts

Is said to give a brighter yellow colour to butter. On May Day, the Irish used to rub buttercups onto cows udders, a tradition to supposedly encourage milk production. In some places, this tradition continues.

If a buttercup held beneath your chin casts a reflection against the flesh, you are fond of butter.

Victorians believed it stood for ingratitude and childishness. Some folklore believes yellow to be an evil colour and, hence, gives the plant an evil side.