Silverweed

(Potentilla anserina) The roots of silverweed were a marginal or famine food in the Scottish Highlands

(Grigson. 1955), and in Ireland (Drury. 1984), and they were known as a food of the fairies, too (MacGregor). The roots were roasted or boiled (Ferneie), or even eaten raw, or they could be ground into meal to make porridge, and also a kind of bread (Drury. 1984). Perhaps not so marginal, for Carmichael says that it was used a lot before the potato was introduced; it was cultivated, so it grew quite large. Records of cultivation go back to prehistoric times, and the Anglo-Saxons are known to have grown silverweed as a root crop (Jordan). Particularly remembered for the cultivation of Brisgein (its Gaelic name) was an area in North Uist, Outer Hebrides, where a man could sustain himself on a square of ground of his own length (Carmichael). The Gaelic Bliadhna nan Brisdeinan means Year of the Silverweed roots. This year was shortly after Culloden, and is remembered in Tiree as a year of great scarcity. The land had been neglected in previous years because of the state of the country, and the silverweed sprang up in the furrows, and people made meal of them (Campbell. 1902), the "seventh bread" (MacGregor). Martin records the use on Tiree, as does Duncan. Children were still digging it up in recent times. They know that putting the roots for a moment on red hot cinders makes them swell a little, and makes them taste sweeter, rather like parsnips (C P Johnson).

Campbell. 1900 mentions silverweed roots as fairy food. They lived on the roots that were ploughed up in spring (Spence. 1946). The tops of young heather shoots were fairy food, too, but this was a Lowland Scots tradition (Aitken). Another superstition connected with silverweed is that of putting a sprig inside each shoe to prevent blisters when walking long distances (Freethy), hence the names Traveller's Ease and Traveller's Leaf.

It is known that silverweed has been used to try to remove the marks of smallpox (Billson), and it was certainly used, steeped in buttermilk, as a cosmetic, to remove freckles and brownness (Black). Gerard also advised its use: "the distilled water takes away freckles, spots, pimples in the face, and sun-burning: but the herb laid to infuse or steep in white wine is far better: but the best of all is to steepe it in strong white wine vinegar, the face being often bathed or washed therewith". The cosmetic use was recorded even earlier, in Anglo-Saxon times (Cockayne).

A compress made from the chopped herb is said to be good for piles (Thomson. 1978), and a strong infusion will stop their bleeding (Wickham). It has been used for stomach cramp (Fernie), and a decoction is claimed to be a cure for mouth ulcers (Wickham). Boiled in salted water, it "dissolves clotted and congealed bloud in such as are hurt or bruised by falling from some high place" (Gerard).

Sison amomum > STONE PARSLEY

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