have long had a soft spot for this common creeping perennial of
damp grassy places, seaside and bare ground; it is different in
a subtle sort of way. With its golden flowers and silver leaves,
it reminds me of finding a piece of real jewellery in grandmother's
button box. Its range across the globe is phenomenal, almost as
large as that of our own species the sub-arctic to the sub-tropical
zones of both east and west hemispheres, north of the equator,
and probably as an introduction in the temperate southern hemisphere.
The plant was formerly always classified in the
genus Potentilla some authorities have reclassified it into the
genus Argentina which includes only two other very similar plants
'Eged's or Pacific Silverweed' (Argentina egedii), a less hairy
plant some regard as being merely a sub-species and Argentina
anserina (L.) Rydb. subsp. groenlandica (Tratt.) Á. Löve.
(The Potentilla classification is still widely used by many authors,
the Argentina classification seems to be more accepted in North
The apparently plain yellow flowers are actually
extremely strongly marked with a bull's eye pattern visible to
the U.V. sensitive eyes of a bee as also are the flowers of Tormentil.
The Gaelic name of this plant, an seachdamh
aran (the seventh bread), shows its past economic importance,
B.P. (before potatoes), although I suspect few modern urban Scots
can even recognise it. According to Carmichael, a place on North
Uist was so highly regarded, for the growing of brisgean, that
it was said a man could sustain himself on a square of ground
of his own length.
Silverweed of spring
Honey and condiment
Whisked whey of summer
Honey and fruitage
Carrot of autumn
Honey and crunching
Nuts of winter
Between Feast of Andrew
- from Alexander Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica.
I first tasted silverweed when I was living in Wales
and had a lot of it where I did not want it in my garden. Although
it is said to taste like parsnips I don't agree. I think this
is the root equivalent of the, it tastes like chicken, nonsense
remark that people are always making about unusual food animals
like hedgehogs. Especially nonsense now most chicken does not
even taste like chicken. It tastes like silverweed.
It was also an important food for many Indigenous
North American peoples, like the Highlander, they grew it in semi-cultivation
and dried the roots as a winter resource. The art of semi-cultivation
as practised by our ancestors is often forgotten about we are
addicted to false dichotomies in our analysis of reality and make
one between the hunter and the farmer but there are many options
in between. If we are sincere in searching for sustainable survival
we need to re-examine such techniques.
Non-medical uses of silverweed
Both leaves and root are edible, roots
raw or cooked. It can also be dried and ground into flour then
used in soups etc or mixed with cereals. It has a nice taste,
crisp and nutty with a somewhat starchy flavour. The wild roots
are rather thin, though their size is improved in cultivation
or semi-cultivation. Edible young shoots – raw can be eaten
raw. A tea can be made from the leaves.
A sprig placed in the shoe can help prevent blisters.
An infusion of the leaves makes an excellent skin cleansing lotion
(considered in the highlands as a freckle and sun-tan prevention
or remover, at a time when women regarded suntans as a thing to
avoid, steeping in wine vinegar was sometimes used for such cosmetic
preparations), it is also used cosmetically as a soothing lotion
for reddened skin and for the delicate skins of babies. With alum
as a mordant, silverweed yields a pale yellow dye. Blackfoot Indians
have used the runners as bindings for blankets/leggings etc..
Medicinal uses of silverweed
Analgesic, Antispasmodic, Astringent, Diuretic,
Foot care, Haemostatic, Odontalgic, Tonic.
of medical actions
Medical herbalists believe that silverweed's main
medicinal value lies in its astringency. It is less astringent
than the related Tormentil (P. erecta), but it said to have gentler
action within the gastro-intestinal tract. It has been used frequently
to treat menstrual cramps. Also, its high tannin content makes
it a useful treatment for sore throat, oral and skin ulcerations,
bleeding, and diarrhoea. The whole plant is antispasmodic, mildly
astringent, diuretic, haemostatic, odontalgic and tonic. Used
externally as a treatment for sore, swollen or excessively sweaty
feet. A strong infusion is used to check the bleeding of piles
and to treat diarrhoea; it is also used as a gargle for sore throats.
Externally, it is used as a powder to treat ulcers and haemorrhoids
whilst the whole bruised plant, placed over a painful area, will
act as a local analgesic. The roots are the most astringent part
of the plant, they are harvested in late summer or autumn and
dried for later use. The leaves are harvested in early summer
and dried for later use.
Carmichael, A. (1997 reprint). Carmina Gadelica:
Hymns & incantations collected in the Highlands and Islands
of Scotland in the Last century. Floris Books, Edinburgh.
Plants For A Future,
Flora Celtica, www.floraceltica.com/,
Flora Celtica is an international project based at the Royal Botanic
Garden Edinburgh, documenting and promoting the knowledge and
sustainable use of native plants in the Celtic countries and regions
Institute for Traditional Medicine http://www.itmonline.org/arts/silverweed.htm
Connecticut Botanical Society http://www.ct-botanical-society.org/galleries/argentinaanse.html
Native American Ethnobotany database http://herb.umd.umich.edu/