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Arum maculatum - L.

Cuckoo Pint

Author L. Botanical references 17, 200
Family Araceae Genus Arum
Known Hazards warning signThe plant contains calcium oxylate crystals. These cause an extremely unpleasant sensation similar to needles being stuck into the mouth and tongue if they are eaten, but they are easily neutralized by thoroughly drying or cooking the plant or by steeping it in water[65].
Range Most of Europe, south and east of Sweden, including Britain, south to N. Africa.
Habitat Hedgerows, woodlands, copses etc, especially on base-rich substrata[9, 17].
Edibility Rating apple iconapple icon 2 (1-5) Medicinal Rating apple icon 1 (1-5)

Physical Characteristics

icon of man icon of perennial/biennial/annual Perennial growing to 0.45m.
It is hardy to zone 6 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from April to May, and the seeds ripen from July to August. The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Flies.

The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It requires moist soil.


Woodland Garden; Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; Deep Shade; Hedgerow;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves; Root.

Tuber - cooked and used as a vegetable[2, 177]. A mild flavour, the root contains about 25% starch[74]. A farina can be extracted from the root[2]. Roots can be harvested at any time of the year, though they are best when the plant is dormant[K]. At one time, the tubers of this plant were commonly harvested and used for food, but they are very rarely used nowadays[268, K]. The root must be thoroughly dried or cooked before being eaten, see the notes above on toxicity. Leaves - must be well cooked[177]. Available from late winter. Caution is advised, see the notes above on toxicity.

Medicinal Uses

Antirheumatic; Diaphoretic; Diuretic; Expectorant; Homeopathy; Purgative; Vermifuge.

Cuckoo pint has been little used in herbal medicine and is generally not recommended for internal use[268]. The shape of the flowering spadix has a distinct sexual symbolism and the plant did have a reputation as an aphrodisiac, though there is no evidence to support this[268]. The root is diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, strongly purgative and vermifuge[4, 9, 19, 21]. It should be harvested in the autumn or before the leaves are produced in the spring[4]. It can be stored fresh in a cellar in sand for up to a year or can be dried for later use[4]. The plant should be used with caution[9], see notes above on toxicity. The bruised fresh plant has been applied externally in the treatment of rheumatic pain[268]. A liquid from the boiled bark (of the stem?[K]) has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea[213]. A homeopathic remedy is prepared from the root and leaves[4]. It has been used in the treatment of sore throats[4, 268].

Other Uses


Starch from the root has been used as a laundry starch for stiffening clothes[4, 66, 100]. Its use is said to be very harsh on the skin, producing sores and blisters on the hands of the laundresses who have to use it[66, 100], though another report says that the powdered root makes a good and innocent cosmetic that can be used to remove freckles[4].

Cultivation details

Prefers a humus rich soil and abundant water in the growing season[1, 13]. Prefers a shady damp calcareous soil[13, 31]. Succeeds in sun or shade[90]. Plants are very shade tolerant[17] and grow well in woodland conditions[1]. The inflorescence has the remarkable ability to heat itself above the ambient air temperature to such a degree that it is quite noticeable to the touch[4]. Temperature rises of 11�c have been recorded[245]. At the same time, the flowers emit a foul and urinous smell in order to attract midges for pollination[245]. The smell disappears once the flower has been pollinated[245]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233].


Seed - best sown in a greenhouse or cold frame as soon as it is ripe[134]. The seed usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15�c[134]. Stored seed should be sown in the spring in a greenhouse and can be slow to germinate, sometimes taking a year or more. A period of cold stratification might help to speed up the process. Sow the seed thinly, and allow the seedlings to grow on without disturbance for their first year, giving occasional liquid feeds to ensure that they do not become mineral deficient. When the plants are dormant in the autumn, divide up the small corms, planting 2 - 3 in each pot, and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for a further year, planting out when dormant in the autumn. Division of the corms in summer after flowering[200]. Larger corms can be planted out direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up the smaller corms and grow them on for a year in a cold frame before planting them out.


PIW Logo Details of this plant in the project, a community plant and permaculture database.


[K] Ken Fern
Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1] F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956 Oxford University Press 1951
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).

[2] Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World. Dover Publications 1972 ISBN 0-486-20459-6
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.

[4] Grieve. A Modern Herbal. Penguin 1984 ISBN 0-14-046-440-9
Not so modern (1930's?) but lots of information, mainly temperate plants.

[9] Launert. E. Edible and Medicinal Plants. Hamlyn 1981 ISBN 0-600-37216-2
Covers plants in Europe. a drawing of each plant, quite a bit of interesting information.

[13] Triska. Dr. Hamlyn Encyclopaedia of Plants. Hamlyn 1975 ISBN 0-600-33545-3
Very interesting reading, giving some details of plant uses and quite a lot of folk-lore.

[17] Clapham, Tootin and Warburg. Flora of the British Isles. Cambridge University Press 1962
A very comprehensive flora, the standard reference book but it has no pictures.

[19] Stary. F. Poisonous Plants. Hamlyn 1983 ISBN 0-600-35666-3
Not very comprehensive, but easy reading.

[21] Lust. J. The Herb Book. Bantam books 1983 ISBN 0-553-23827-2
Lots of information tightly crammed into a fairly small book.

[31] Brown. Shade Plants for Garden and Woodland. 0

[65] Frohne. D. and Pf�nder. J. A Colour Atlas of Poisonous Plants. Wolfe 1984 ISBN 0723408394
Brilliant. Goes into technical details but in a very readable way. The best work on the subject that I've come across so far.

[66] Freethy. R. From Agar to Zenery. The Crowood Press 1985 ISBN 0-946284-51-2
Very readable, giving details on plant uses based on the authors own experiences.

[74] Komarov. V. L. Flora of the USSR. Israel Program for Scientific Translation 1968
An immense (25 or more large volumes) and not yet completed translation of the Russian flora. Full of information on plant uses and habitats but heavy going for casual readers.

[90] Phillips. R. and Rix. M. Bulbs Pan Books 1989 ISBN 0-330-30253-1
Superbly illustrated, it gives brief details on cultivation and native habitat.

[100] Polunin. O. Flowers of Europe - A Field Guide. Oxford University Press 1969 ISBN 0192176218
An excellent and well illustrated pocket guide for those with very large pockets. Also gives some details on plant uses.

[134] Rice. G. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 2. Thompson and Morgan. 1988
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.

[177] Kunkel. G. Plants for Human Consumption. Koeltz Scientific Books 1984 ISBN 3874292169
An excellent book for the dedicated. A comprehensive listing of latin names with a brief list of edible parts.

[200] Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992. MacMillan Press 1992 ISBN 0-333-47494-5
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.

[213] Weiner. M. A. Earth Medicine, Earth Food. Ballantine Books 1980 ISBN 0-449-90589-6
A nice book to read though it is difficult to look up individual plants since the book is divided into separate sections dealing with the different medicinal uses plus a section on edible plants. Common names are used instead of botanical.

[233] Thomas. G. S. Perennial Garden Plants J. M. Dent & Sons, London. 1990 ISBN 0 460 86048 8
A concise guide to a wide range of perennials. Lots of cultivation guides, very little on plant uses.

[245] Genders. R. Scented Flora of the World. Robert Hale. London. 1994 ISBN 0-7090-5440-8
An excellent, comprehensive book on scented plants giving a few other plant uses and brief cultivation details. There are no illustrations.

[268] Stuart. M. (Editor) The Encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism Orbis Publishing. London. 1979 ISBN 0-85613-067-2
Excellent herbal with good concise information on over 400 herbs.

Readers Comments

Arum maculatum

Rob from Gippsland, Victoria, Australia Mon Aug 28 2006

I found this very interesting. The plant has become a highly invasive weed in our garden. I have tried several control measures, including powerful herbicides, but the plant has not responded and is continuing to spread.

Arum maculatum

Tue Aug 29 2006

I thought it was highly poisonous?

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