Water cuckoo

Due to this plant growing in wet places, the Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis) was known as ‘water cuckoo’, or ‘wet cuckoo’.

The ‘cuckoo’ relates to the similar timings at which the cuckooflower blooms, and when cuckoo birds start to sing (both occur in late Spring, early Summer).

Lady’s Smock is another common name for the cuckooflower.

The cuckooflower is widespread across the UK, and prefers damp grassy habitats. This can include wet meadows, marshes, lakeshores, streambanks, and riverbanks.

Between April and June, C. pratensis produces very pale pink-purple or white cruciform flowers (four petals arranged in a cross shape). Four petals appear most commonly, however, double-flowered varieties can bloom. These flowers also droop and close during the night and heavy rain.

The cuckooflower’s leaves are pinnate, and compound (leaves that are opposite each other on a stem, and have one terminal leaf at the end), which are thin when growing from the flower stem. Also, when these leaves touch the ground, they can root and grow new plants.

The cuckooflower has also gained the nickname ‘Cuckoo’s spit’, which refers to the foamy substance sometimes found on the plant. This froth is produced by froghoppers (Cercopoidea family), which protects their larvae from predators as it feeds on the plant’s young shoots.

C. pratensis‘ alternate common name, lady’s smock, arose due to the flowers often being seen on Lady Day, which was celebrated on the 25th March. The term ‘smock’ was used in the Middle Ages, and referred to a woman’s undergarments (which by the 18th century became ‘shift’, then later ‘chemise’).

Parts of the cuckooflower are also edible (please check before consuming), with the leaves said to taste like hot mustard or wasabi. The flowers too apparently taste faintly of cress with sweet and hot hints. These can be harvested in Spring and Summer.

C. pratensis is high in vitamin C, which is why it was once used as a treatment for scurvy. This plant was also used traditionally as a remedy for fevers, and also for kidney stones and ulcers, as a diuretic.

Nowadays, research shows cuckooflowers contain a wide range of chemical compounds, such as flavonoids, phenolic acids, fatty acids, amino acids, and other trace minerals.

C. pratensis also has the potential in many medical uses, due to the plant showing a selection of features. This includes being antibacterial, antidiabetic, antifungal, anti-infective, antiviral, and antioxidant.