Silverweed Potentilla anserina

Status Green - Least concern
Best Time to See May, June, July, August
Colour Yellow
Habitat Grassland, Wetland, Coastal

‘Honey under ground, Silverweed of spring. Honey and condiment, Whisked whey of summer. Honey and fruitage, Carrot of Autumn. Honey and crunching, Nuts of winter’Alexander Carmichael, ‘Carmina Gadelica’

As its name suggests, the compound leaves of this wildflower have a silvery sheen, with leaflets arranged in pairs. The older name was Wild Tansy since the leaves are similar to those of Tanacetum vulgare in miniature.

When in bloom, it prduces a dainty, yellow, saucer-shaped flower with five petals. Frequently forms large patches over trampled or damp disturbed ground.

Distribution

It is found throughout the UK.

Habitat

Wasteland, pastures, waysides, sand dunes, roadsides and damp places such as the margins of ponds.

Best time to see

Flowers from May to August.

Did you know?

Silverweed was allegedly plucked by Roman soldiers to use as padding in their shoes - no doubt to ease the strain of a long march down their roads! This perhaps explains the vernacular names for the plants including Traveller's ease and Traveller's joy. The original jogger’s inner-sole was perhaps used because it flourishes even when trampled and was said to keep the feet of long-distance messengers cool and dry.

Up until the end of the nineteenth century, the roots were eaten in times of famine especially in the Scottish highlands and islands, and they were cultivated. In North Uist it was said a man could sustain himself on a square of ground his own length growing silverweed. Suitable common land was allocated by lottery in the same way as fishing grounds. The roots could be traded for meal or corn of the same quantity and quality.

The roots can be baked, boiled, roasted, dried and ground into a rough flour for bread or porridge and have even been seen eaten raw by children at Settle in Yorkshire. Martin described them being eaten with melted giben (fowl fat) on St. Kilda. Although quite a meagre vegetable they taste a bit like parsnips.

Gaelic names include brisgean, briosglan or brislean, meaning brittle. It is also known as an seachdamh aran, one of the seven breads of the Gael which refers to its great importance in the diet of people in the highlands and islands of Scotland before potatoes became common in the mid-eighteenth century.

Potentilla means ‘little powerful one’ since the plant has astringent, anticatarrhal, anti-inflammatory and diuretic properties. Medicinal uses for dried leaves include gargling or mouthwash for sore throats, gum infections or mouth ulcers, or to be taken internally or applied as a compress for haemorrhoids, stomach ache or heartburn.