Medicinal plants

Buttercup - Sharp buttercups

Buttercup - Sharp buttercups

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Buttercup is a popular expression for various meadow flowers, especially for buttercups - the genus Ranunculus comprises around 400 species. In Germany, the perennial sharp buttercup (Ranunculus acris) most common. Dandelions are also known as buttercups.

Profile of the buttercup

  • Scientific name: Ranunculus acris
  • Common names: Buttercup is a common name for buttercups, meadow buttercups; Common name for the hot buttercup: beggar's buttercup, wart herb
  • distribution: Almost all of Europe, Asia, North America
  • Parts of plants used: The herb
  • application areas: Formerly used in folk medicine as a worming agent, bladder-pulling drug, against chronic skin diseases, rheumatism and gout

Where does the name buttercup come from?

The common name buttercup for different flowers with yellow flowers such as buttercups or dandelions stems from the fact that the butter turned yellow when the cows were fed with it. Our ancestors also dried such flowers and used them to color the butter in winter.

The Latin name Ranunculus for the sharp buttercup means little frog (reduction from lat. rana = Frog) and is due to the fact that many species of the genus have swamps, ponds, lakes and wet meadows as habitats. Acris comes from the Latin acer, which means hot or biting and refers to the hot taste of the plant.

Buttercup - toxic ingredients

Ranunculus acris belongs with the Burning Buttercup (Ranunculus flammula), the bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) and the poison buttercup (Ranunculus sceleratus) about the poisonous buttercups in Germany. All the species mentioned contain the toxic substance protoanemonin or its precursor, the glucoside ranunculin, when fresh.

The sharp buttercup is therefore toxic due to the toxins ranunculin, anemonin and protoanemonin. The latter irritates the skin and mucous membrane and gives the plant its pungent taste. There are also isoanemonic acid, vitamin C, amino acids, saponins and tannins.

Sharp buttercups - toxic effects

The lactone of the hydroxy penta-2,4-dienoic acid contained in the hot buttercup is a toxic substance that is very irritating to the mucous membranes and skin and tastes sharp.

Fresh buttercups are not only poisonous to humans but also to animals; Grazing animals mostly avoid the plants because of their pungent taste, so that the yellow-flowering cock's feet remain on pasture. In hay, however, animals can tolerate the flowers because the poisonous protoanemonin breaks down into non-toxic anemonin when it dries.

Sharp buttercups trigger so-called meadow dermatitis or meadow grass dermatitis (photodermatitis) when touched by humans. Blisters form on the skin, it turns red and swells. The skin irritation is severe and can be caused by picking the flowers, walking barefoot or lying with bare skin on freshly mown meadows.

Poison control centers and poison information centers also know about gastrointestinal complaints in children who have eaten buttercups. Consumption may also cause kidney irritation, inflammation of the urinary tract and paralysis. Parts of the plant absorbed through the mouth cause pain and burning in the mouth and throat, ingestion can result in severe gastrointestinal problems, liquid diarrhea, colic, nausea and vomiting. General body pain appears after admission, in rare cases there is paralysis of the respiratory center.

Deaths are very rare, but have been handed down especially from the past - although it is usually unclear which type of buttercup was responsible. In the case of oral poisoning, gastric lavage is just as necessary as the use of plasma expanders and diazepam for the cramps.

All parts of the plant are poisonous

All parts of the plant are poisonous, the toxins disappear when they are dried or heated. All components of the plant are sharp, trigger cramps, drive sweat and redden the skin. In evidence-based medicine, sharp buttercups are not used as medicines because of their toxic effects.

Buttercup in folk medicine and superstition

In folk medicine, the plant was crushed and placed on the chest to relieve chest pain and colds. Applied to the skin, the fresh leaves were used to treat rheumatism. The flowers and leaves were ground up and the powder pulled through the nose to relieve a headache.

An infusion with an extract from the roots was used against diarrhea and root placed on the skin in an abscess. Buttercups should blister and relieve chronic skin conditions as well as gout.

The basis for such treatments with the poisonous plant was the idea “to heal something similar with something similar”, that is, to use the buttercup against ailments with similar symptoms that it triggered itself. In the case of skin inflammation in particular, however, the existing symptoms became worse as a result of this “therapy”. The buttercup also served as a natural laxative and as an anti-war remedy. It acts effectively as a laxative, but its strong laxative effect is due to its toxicity. Buttercups should also help against the plague, eye diseases and hip pain.

The Asian buttercup related to the sharp buttercup (Ranunculus asiaticus) has historically been found in medicine, among other things as a remedy for genital warts, hemorrhoids and skin problems.

Bulbous buttercups in homeopathy

Homeopathy has a root in the premodern associations mentioned that diseases can be cured by means of means which, according to the analogies constructed by humans, produce similar symptoms. That's why she uses the bulbous buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus), but in dilutions that contain no or extremely little of the biochemical active substances. As in the pre-modern folk culture, the homeopathic Ranunculus bulbosus is said to help against irritation of the eyes, against a rash with blistering and against pain in the chest area.

Similarities to other buttercups

Hot buttercups can be confused with other species of the species-rich genus, for example with the burning buttercups, the bulbous buttercups, the mountain buttercups or the creeping buttercups. It is not necessary to specify the exact differences between these species, since all species contain the toxic protoanemonin and should not be collected for consumption or as a therapeutic plant. In the case of the edible plants that people also collect for consumption, dandelion and cinquefoil can be mixed up.

Confused with dandelions and cinquefoils

The dandelion and the cuckoo carnation are often found together with the sharp buttercup. In some places, dandelions are also called buttercups, but on closer inspection they are not very similar to the sharp buttercups - apart from the color of the flowers. Buttercup blooms from May to July and has loose panicles. The single flowers are one to three centimeters wide, wide open, flat and five-fold. The flowers are golden yellow and look oily shiny - similar to the marsh marigold. The leaves are in three to five parts, there are base and stem leaves - these should remind of a bird's foot.

Dandelions grow ten to 50 centimeters high, bloom from April to May and have an after bloom in August. The flowers are three to five centimeters wide and yellow like egg yolk. The leaves form basic rosettes, are lanceolate and toothed. The stems of the dandelion are hollow and filled with white milk juice. The seed heads (dandelions) are unmistakable, silvery-white; the individual seeds run out in rays and are hairy, countless seeds each form a ball.

Cinquefoil blooms at the same time as the buttercup and also has yellow flowers and usually five petals. But while the petals of the buttercup have an oily sheen on the inside, those of the finger herb look dull matt. The cinquefoil can be confused with the creeping buttercup rather than with the hot buttercup.

Sharp buttercups - spread

The sharp buttercup grows in almost all of Europe as far as Asia and in parts of North America. Like most buttercups, it loves moist soils, but unlike crowfoots in the swamp zone it is too wet. The soil should contain many nutrients, as well as lime and nitrogen. He likes to be on clay floors. In Germany it is one of the most common species of the genus.

It grows on meadows, pastures, on the edge of forests and paths and in bushes. In the meadows, he prefers fatty meadows, most of which are in Germany today - grasslands occupy only two percent of the area. In the mountains, the buttercup grows up to 2500 meters.

Buttercup - conclusion

Even though hot buttercup was used as a folk remedy in the past, today's phytotherapy does not use it. It is also generally not used in evidence-based medicine because it is a (weak) poisonous plant. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Biesalski, Hans Konrad et al .: Nutritional medicine: According to the nutritional medicine curriculum of the German Medical Association, Thieme, 2017
  • Dr. Dörken, Veit M .: Ranunculaceae - Ranunculaceae (Ranunculales), botanical identification exercises, University of Konstanz (access: February 13, 2020), University of Konstanz
  • Muhammad Shahzad Aslam; Choudhary, Bashir A. et al .: The genus Ranunculus: A phytochemical and ethnopharmacological review, in: International Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 4/5: 15-22. December 2012, ResearchGate
  • An, Isa; Ucmak, Derya; Esen, Mustafa; Gevher, Ozlem Devran: Phytocontact dermatitis due to Ranunculus arvensis: Report of three cases, in: Northern Clinics of Istanbul, 6 (1): 81-84, 2019, PMC

Video: Two Time (June 2022).


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