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David Watson Hood, visual artist.
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Silverweed: Potentilla anserina L. Synonym Argentina anserina (L) Rydb. An seachdamh aran (the seventh bread), Argentine, Bread-and-butter, Bread and Cheese, Briosglan/brislean (brittle), Brisgean, Crampweed, Dog Tansy, Dog's Tansy, Ewe-daisy, Fair Days, Fair Grass, Fern-buttercup, Fish-bones, Golden flower, Golden sovereigns, Goose Grass, Goose Tansy, Goosewort,. Mascorns, Moon Grass, Moor Grass, More Grass, Moss Corns, Moss-crop, Prince's Feathers, Silver feather, Silver fern, Silver grass, Silver leaves Silvery Cinquefoil, Silver-weed, Silverweed, Swine's Beads, Swine's Murriks, Swine's grass, Trailing Tansy, Traveller's ease, Wild Agrimony, Wild Tansy.


Silverweed: Potentilla anserina L.I 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 America).

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
"Honey underground
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
And Christmastide"
- 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.
Definitons 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.

Sources:
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, www.pfaf.org/index.html

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 of Europe.
Institute for Traditional Medicine http://www.itmonline.org/arts/silverweed.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eged's_Silverweed
Connecticut Botanical Society http://www.ct-botanical-society.org/galleries/argentinaanse.html
Native American Ethnobotany database http://herb.umd.umich.edu/



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