Greater celandine – characteristics, cultivation and use

greater celandine
greater celandine

The greater celandine is found often along roadsides and banks of water. The plant with its curved leaves and yellow flowers is an old proven herb for warts and other skin complaints. Especially the orange milky juice, which is found in the stems and leaves of greater celandine, plays a major role. However, when using the herb, there is a lot to consider, as the milk juice and some other plant constituents are poisonous.

Profile of greater celandine:

Scientific name: Chelidonium majus

Plant family: poppy family (Papaveraceae)

Other names: nipplewort, swallowwort, tetterwort

Sowing time / Planting time: March – April

Flowering period: May – October

Harvest time: all year

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, juice, roots

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: nutrient-rich, loose soil

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: warts, gall bladder problems, eczema, stomach cramps

Use as aromatic herb: no use, greater celandine is considered a useful herb for some ailments. Nevertheless, one should know, especially with self-treatments, that the herb is slightly poisonous and is also listed as a poisonous plant.

Plant characteristics and classification of greater celandine

Origin and occurrence of greater celandine

The natural habitat of greater celandine is to be found in Northern and Central Europe. Today it is represented in almost all European countries as far as West Asia. The herb is grown today also on a larger scale in North America and is accordingly frequently found there. It came to North America in the early modern era by settlers and merchants.

In the wild one finds the plant mostly in regions that are slightly to moderately moist. These include close to the banks of streams and rivers, extensive meadows with higher nutrient supply, roadsides or at dumps and walls.

Plant order of greater celandine

Greater celandine (Chelidonium majus) belongs to the poppy family (Papaveraceae) and is one of the most important medicinal herb within this family of plants. Known representatives of this family are the poppy or the fumitory. The species Chelidonium majus is the only species within the genus Chelidonium.

From the greater celandine there are some varieties (subspecies), which differ marginally mostly in terms of flower and leaf size.

While the greater celandine belongs to the poppy family, the lesser celandine belongs to the buttercup family.

Look and characteristics of greater celandine


The greater celandine reaches stature heights between 30 and 75 cm (12 and 30 in) and is a perennial plant. In rare cases, however, it survives as a two-year herb. Its roots are rather flat and form a dense network of yellowish brown to brown root hairs. The root hairs arise from the dark brown to almost black rhizome, a subterranean thickened shoot axis.


Striking are the pinnate (feather-like) and almost kidney-shaped leaves of greater celandine with their notched leaf margins. The underside of the leaves is covered with a few glandular hairs. The leaves are alternatingly arranged on the stem. Petioles and the shoot axis (stems) are interspersed with fine milk tubes, which releases a yellowish milk juice when injured. This milk juice is poisonous due to its acrid effect. The stalk is usually conspicuously hairy.


In the flowering period, which is generally expected between mid-May to early October, the greater celandine produces its own golden-yellow flowers. The appearance and the color of the flowers are reminiscent of the St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). In contrast to this, the hermaphroditic flowers only consist of four petals and numerous stamens. Rarely flower mutations can form, so that a greater celandine flower can consist of up to 6 petals.


Subsequent to the fruit ripening from the flowers form delicate capsule fruits, which look like greenish pods. The fruits can be up to 5 cm (2 in) long and contain numerous black to slightly oval-shaped seeds. On the seed is still a whitish attachment, which is referred to in the botanical sense as elaiosome. This suggests that the seeds are mainly spread by birds or ants.

yellow flower of greater celandine
yellow flower of greater celandine

Greater celandine – cultivation and care


Greater celandine grows in both sunny and partially shaded locations. The plant prefers moist, loose and nutrient-rich soils. However, the plant can also survive in drier and less nutritious locations, whereby the plant usually grows smaller and the flowering times can be somewhat shortened.


Since the greater celandine easily adapts to its environment, you can spread the seeds of the plant in principle throughout the year. Sowing in spring is best between March and April, as the alternating cold and warm periods of early spring favor germination and make the plants more resilient in the later stages. If several plants grow next to each other, a planting distance of about 30 x 30 cm (12 x 12 in) is recommended. Greater celandine is rooted quite flat and extracts too much nitrogen from neighboring plants if the planting is too dense. The seeds need light to germinate, meaning the seed should not be pressed deeper than 1 cm (0.4 in) into the ground. The germination period is usually about 14 to 21 days.


Greater celandine loves nutrient-rich soils and has an increased nutrient requirement. Above all, nitrogen consumes the herb in considerable amount. Inasmuch as the soil in which the plant grows is nutrient-rich, in most cases it is not necessary to re-fertilize. In the following year you should then treat the soil in the spring with a nitrogen-stressed fertilizer. Good compost or long-term organic fertilizers such as pellets are particularly suitable here. In nutrient-poor soils, it is often necessary to re-fertilize at the beginning of the summer. The same applies to potted cultures. Here, about every 6 weeks small fertilizer should be administered.


Because the greater celandine prefers moist locations, the plant does not mind a damp soil. Short-term dry periods are often easily tolerated. However, on very hot days or longer periods without precipitation, the plant should be watered generously.


Greater celandine does not need special care. The herb is quite resistant to diseases. Due to the containing milk juice, Chelidonium majus is usually avoided by predators.


Greater celandine has a high frost tolerance and is one of the hardy plants. Special wintering measures do not have to be taken. The superficial plant parts usually die off. The existing rhizome is considered to be an overwintering organ.

Use of greater celandine

Greater celandine in the kitchen

Greater celandine is slightly poisonous and therefore not used in the kitchen. The plant has hardly any acceptable taste flavor.

Greater celandine as a medicinal herb

The main application of celandine is the treatment of skin diseases such as warts or corns. For cramps in the upper digestive tract, the herb was previously used internally as a tea or tincture.

About the poison effect

First, it must be said that the greater celandine is a strong-acting medicinal plant that can be toxic at too high a dosage. Especially the root contains a high proportion of toxic alkaloids. The juice is also very toxic. Especially in October, the alkaloid content is high. The dried herb loses the toxicity.

The toxicity of greater celandine is controversial. Some warn against any internal use, others even consider the consumption of large quantities of fresh pressed juice harmless. As usual, the level of toxins varies depending on the plant, location and time. In addition, humans are differently robust in terms of poisons. Therefore, the toxicity of the plant may vary.

Externally, the greater celandine juice can irritate the skin or trigger allergies. However, the toxic alkaloid effect is not dangerous when applied externally.

Conclusion: If the skin tolerates it, there is no danger of external use of greater celandine. As part of tea blends, which are drunk in normal mass, the dried herb is harmless even when used internally. In very small quantities, the fresh juice of the plant is harmless, but the juice should not be dosed high.

If you don’t want to risk it, just don’t try and use it. There are many other, harmless, herbs that can help with your ailments.

Greater celandine can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • acne
  • allergies
  • arteriosclerosis
  • asthma
  • bile
  • calluses
  • constipation
  • corns
  • eczema
  • edema
  • eye infections
  • gout
  • liver
  • menstruation-regulating
  • nessel rash
  • neuralgia
  • psoriasis
  • rheumatism
  • scab
  • scabies
  • spasmodic cough
  • spleen diseases
  • stomach pain
  • ulcers
  • warts
  • weave

Medicinal properties:

  • analgesic
  • antibacterial
  • antispasmodic
  • cell growth inhibition
  • fungicide
  • irritating to the skin
  • reassuring
  • sweaty

Greater celandine juice against warts

For the treatment of warts and corns, the celandine milk is suitable because of its antiviral alkaloids. Break some stems of celandine and apply the exuding yellow juice directly to the affected area two to three times a day for several weeks. The juice should be distributed only on the diseased tissue because of its corrosive effect. Anyone who has noticed the location of the celandine can use the juice of the root in winter.

Alternatively, you can make a tincture from the flowering herb or the root and use it like the milk juice. Greater celandine tincture is available in health food stores or online. Because the tincture is not as strong as the juice, the duration of application is prolonged.

You can also make an ointment for warts and skin diseases from the herb.

Preparation of a greater celandine tea

For menstrual problems and stomach cramps, greater celandine tea or capsules from the pharmacy can help. Note, however, the evidence of toxicity further up, because often the internal application is not recommended, since the ingredients can be toxic if too high dosage and too long application.

Diluted tea and diluted tincture can be applied externally to skin conditions such as eczema and acne.

Time needed: 10 minutes

This is how you prepare a greater celandine tea by yourself:

  1. put a teaspoon of the herb in tea strainer in a cup

  2. dash with boiling hot water

  3. let it steep for 10 minutes

  4. put a cloth in the tea and put it on the affected area as a compress.

Side effects

The internal use should always be discussed with a doctor or pharmacist, as the uncontrolled intake at higher doses could lead to liver disease. Because of the alkaloids it contains, greater celandine should not be used during pregnancy or lactation and for children under the age of 12 years.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy greater celandine – What is there to consider?

Greater celandine is used today mainly against warts and for cosmetic purposes. Due to its petite leaf shape and the bright yellow flowers, there are also some hobby gardeners who like the plant and cultivate it.

Fresh greater celandine plants are very rare in plant trade markets. For cultivation in the garden, it is usually sufficient to dig out wild plants and transplant them in your own garden. If no plants are found, it is also possible to order seed or smaller plants in online trading.


  1. When should I harvest the celandine seed pods… when the flower drops off or when the pods are completely dry.. as I intend to scatter them elsewhere .

    • If you want to sow them somewhere else in the garden, you should let them completely ripen. So take the dry pods.

  2. It is highly invasive in many locations in North America, and is spreading rapidly. Please do not buy or propagate this plant!

  3. How soon after harvesting should you start the tincture when wanting to use fresh leaves? And is it safe to tincture a plant harvested in October?

    • You can use fresh or dried leaves for the tincture, but if you want to use fresh ones, I recommend doing it as soon as possible. It is harvested during bloom. So if it is still blooming in October you can use it.

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