potentillaanserinaCommon name: silverweed

Scientific name: Potentilla anserina

Native American names: xit ts’aalaay (Haida), uk’al (Bella Coola), ki’chapi (Makah), k’lik’li’cit (Quileute), xilxel (Salish), kita-kop-sim (Blackfoot)[1]

Plant family: Rosaceae

Description: Silverweed is a low growing perennial with spreading runners and long thick roots. Leaves are compound, 10-20 cm long, with 13-15 oval, sharply-serrated leaflets, which are green on the upper surface and silvery-white on the underside. Flowers are yellow, with 5 oval petals, which grow on stalks that are up to 10 cm long. They bloom from May to August[4]. Fruits are 2 mm reddish-brown, flattened ovals. Roots are light to dark brown in color and typically grow in clusters of 2-6 per plant. Some roots are short and curly, while others are long and straight.[1] 

Habitat/range: Potentilla anserina grows on coastal dunes, beaches, estuarine flats, marsh edges and stream banks along the Pacific coast west of the Cascade Range, from Alaska to southern California. It also occurs in meadowlands, along stream banks, pond margins and mud flats from Alaska to California, as well as in northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada.[3]  It is common at low to middle elevations.[4]

Historical and contemporary uses: Potentilla anserina roots have been eaten by almost all Pacific Northwest coast indigenous groups, including the Haida, Bella Coola, Nootka, Makah, Salish, Chinook, Quileute, Athapaskan, Blackfoot,[7, 4] Klamath and Modoc tribes.[4]At one time the roots were dug in large quantities, cooked, and often dried for winter use and/or as a trade item.[3] Along the Oregon coast, the roots of Potentilla anserina are normally harvested after the leaves turn color or even fall off, during the autumn. The roots can be dug from this time until around March but it is much easier to find them while they still have their leaves.[1]  Pacific crabapple or oceanspray was used most often for prying up silverweed roots.[5]

The roots are usually steamed or roasted to remove their bitterness. When cooked, they taste similar to sweet potatoes, but retain a slightly bitter flavor. Silverweed roots were often eaten as an accompaniment to other foods such as salmon. The Bella Coola frequently cooked them into a stew that also included: clover roots fermented dog-salmon eggs, oolachen grease or seal oil, and kinnikinnick berries. Sometimes the roots are served whole, cold and dipped in oil (fish, whale or seal) and sprinkled with sugar.[6] The roots are rarely eaten by any indigenous groups in the present day,[1, 7] although there has been a resurgence of interest in native foods among many tribes in recent years.[1]

Common name: trailing blackberry, dewberry, California/Pacific/wild blackberry.

[1] Turner, Nancy J, and Harriet V. Kuhnlein. “Two Important “root” Foods of the Northwest Coast Indians: Springbank Clover (trifolium Wormskioldii) and Pacific Silverweed (potentilla Anserina Ssp. Pacifica).” Economic Botany. 36.4 (1982): 411-432. Print.

[3] USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services. Plants Database. http://plants.usda.gov/

[4] Pojar, Jim, Andrew MacKinnon, and Paul B. Alaback. Plants Of The Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska. Lone Pine Pub, 1994.

[5] Deur, Douglas, and Nancy J. Turner. Keeping It Living: Traditions of Plant Use and Cultivation on the Northwest Coast of North America. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2005. Print.

[7] Deur, Douglas. In the Footprints of Gmukamps. D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, 2008.