Silverweed (botanical name, Potentilla anserina) is a very short perennial herb that grows up to a height of 8 to 16 inches. This herb has runners that are about 3 to 6 feet in length linking new plants having tufts of leaves. Each tuft of leaves produces a solitary, vivid golden yellow flower with five petals between June and August. These flowers appear on top of leafless stalks measuring anything between 2 inches to 12 inches in length. Interestingly enough, flowers of silverweed, also known as goose plant, close at night time and in cloudy weather conditions.
The rootstock of silverweed is starchy and has served as a food for the Native Indians in North America, Eskimos and people inhabiting the northern regions of Europe for several years. They have been consuming the silverweed rootstock raw, boiled or in roasted forms. There have been occasions when the silverweed rootstock, which is know to have a flavour akin to sweet potatoes, parsnip or chestnuts, has helped the regional population to survive when no other edible substance was available. In addition to humans, silverweed also serves as food for a number of wildlife species. In effect, the leaves of silverweed are a favourite of geese and, hence, it has been commonly called goosewort denoting ‘goose plant'. The plant's species name anserine has been derived from the Latin term that denotes ‘of or relating to geese'.
Silverweed propagates by sending out its runners. The roots of these long runners go under the earth and produce leaves. When the mother plant dies or withers away, new parts which have grown the length of the runners turn out to be separate plants. In effect, this method of propagation enables the herb to resist grazing by various animals.
Silverweed has got it's genus name ‘Potentilla' from the Latin term ‘potens', which means ‘powerful' and denotes the known power of this herb to cure a variety of ailments. An herbal tea prepared with silverweed was extensively used earlier for treating indigestion and menstrual cramps. A decoction produced by boiling the whole herb was used in the form of a mouthwash to cure tender gums as well as toothache. An infusion prepared with silverweed is mixed with honey and taken internally to alleviate sore throat.
Aerial parts, root.
Present day herbal medicine practitioners are of the view that the primary therapeutic value of silverweed is its astringent property. In effect, silverweed is used to prepare a helpful gargle for treating tender throats. However, compared to its close relative tormentil, silverweed possesses lesser astringent properties. Nevertheless, this herb also has a gentle action in the gastrointestinal tract. Externally, silverweed is used in the form of a lotion or salve to cure bleeding hemorrhoids.
An herbal tea prepared with the underground silverweed roots is employed to facilitate childbirth as well as in the form of antispasmodic agent to cure diarrhea. Long back, people also placed the herb inside their shoes to soak up sweat. In earlier times, people thought silverweed to be effective for treating epilepsy and also believed that it possessed the aptitude to protect against evil spirits and witches.
For several years, people have been cultivating silverweed in their gardens and fields as a food crop owing to its edible roots. However, the common wild forms of the species are not used for this purpose since they are very small and difficult to clean. It may be noted that silverweed may often turn out to be a problem weed when grown in gardens.
For several centuries, Native American Indians, Europeans and even the Chinese have been consuming silverweed rootstock in different forms - raw, boiled and roasted. The rootstock of silverweed has helped people in different regions to survive in times when no other food was available. During the last few decades, Tibet has been reeling under the problem, particularly among children, and the root of silverweed, which is also known as ‘droma' in the region, might be a possible help in solving this problem in the mountainous region. In effect, silverweed is found growing on plains all over Tibet. Earlier, the Tibetans harvested droma (silverweed), pounded the dried herb and provided it as a food for their children. Anyone visiting the market places in Nepal (where the herb is reaped from the high plateaus) and Tibet, they will find bundles of silverweed rootstock (droma). In effect, a nutrient study of droma has shown that the amino acid content of the plant's rootstock is equivalent to that of barley - a staple of the Tibetans. As barley flour is mixed in tea and provided as a food to children in Tibet from a very tender age, droma too may be included in the mixture to make it a complete protein meal.
A small portion of silverweed put inside the shoe may help to avoid getting blisters. On the other hand, an infusion prepared with silverweed leaves is a wonderful lotion for cleansing the skin and it is also employed cosmetically in the form of a calming ointment for treating reddened skin as well as for nurturing the delicate skins of infants. In the highlands, people considered the infusion prepared with silverweed leaves to help in preventing or removing freckles and sun-tan in those days when women believed that it was beneficial to avoid sun tans. They steeped the leaves of the herb in wine vinegar and occasionally used them for such cosmetic purposes. Using alum in the form of an astringent (mordant), silverweed produces a light yellow colorant. In addition, Blackfoot Indians in North America have long used the runners of silverweed in the form of bindings for leggings, blankets and other things.
Silverweed has often been used for treating menstrual cramps. In addition, as the herb encloses a high level of tannins, it is effective in treating sore throats, bleeding as well as oral and skin ulcerations. The whole silverweed herb possesses antispasmodic, diuretic, gently astringent, tonic, odontalgic (any medication that provides relief from toothache) and haemostatic (any medicine that helps to stop bleeding) properties. Silverweed is used topically to cure aching, distended or extremely sweaty feet. A potent infusion prepared with the leaves of silverweed is employed to regulate hemorrhage from piles. The herb is also used in the form of a powder externally for treating hemorrhoids and ulcers, while when the whole battered herb is placed on top of the excruciating area, it works as a local pain-reliever.
The leaves as well as the roots of silverweed or goose plant are edible and they can be consumed in their raw form or after cooking. They may also be dried up and pulverized into flour and subsequently blended with cereals or used in soups. Silverweed possesses a pleasant flavour, crunchy and nutty having a slightly starchy taste. In fact, the roots of silverweed growing in the wild are somewhat slender, but their size is augmented when they are cultivated or in semi-cultivation. The young shoots of silverweed too are edible and can be consumed raw. An herbal tea is also prepared with the leaves of silverweed.
Habitat and cultivation
Silverweed is native to Europe, North America and Asia. This herb prospers well in arid, grassy regions in these places. The aerial parts of silverweed are harvested in the later part of summer, while the roots are collected during the same time or in autumn.
Presently, researchers are examining a different group of elements present in silverweed - the long and medium-chain polyprenols, which build up in the leaves of silverweed at an intensity or concentration of maximum 0.3 per cent fresh weight of the herb. These long and medium-chain polyprenols seem to possess anti-viral actions.
For therapeutic purpose, silverweed is taken in various forms - infusion, tincture, and also used externally as a compress.
Infusion: In order to prepare an infusion with silverweed, add two teaspoonfuls of the dehydrated herb to one cup (250 ml) of boiling water and allow it to infuse for about 15 minutes. For best results, drink this infusion thrice every day.
Tincture: Silverweed tincture should be taken in dosage of 2 ml three times daily.
Compress: Boil one to two tablespoonfuls of sliced silverweed in 0.5 litre (one pint) of water and allow the mixture to settle for about 20 minutes. Make a wet compress using the tepid liquid. Dampen it again immediately when the compress starts drying up.
Collection and harvesting
The roots of silverweed are extremely astringent and they are collected during the later part of summer or autumn and dried up for use when necessary. The leaves of this herb are collected in early summer and also dried up for future use. It is important to note that silverweed ought to always be dried in shade.