Sulphur Cinquefoil – Weekly Weeder #26
Today’s featured plant is Sulphur Cinquefoil, Potentilla recta.
Sulphur cinquefoil is also known as sulfur cinquefoil, rough-fruited cinquefoil, roughfruit cinquefoil, upright cinquefoil, erect cinquefoil, five-finger cinquefoil and yellow cinquefoil.
Range and Identification of Sulphur Cinquefoil
Sulfur cinquefoil is native to the eastern Mediterranean region of Eurasia, but can now be found throughout most of the United States and Canada, except for the extreme northern area (see map). Sulfur cinquefoil populations in North America are commonly associated with roadsides, vegetation disturbance, abandoned agricultural fields, and “waste areas”. (source)
The plant is a tap-rooted perennial , standing 1 1/4 to 2 1/2 feet tall, with many branches near the top of the plant. The stems are covered with long white hairs. The leaves somewhat resemble those of pot (hemp, marijuana), but do not have the same effects when smoked or ingested. The blossoms are very different. (See photos of hemp blossoms to compare.) Lower leaves have five to seven leaflets arranged in a fan shape, while upper leaves are smaller with 3 leaflets. leaflets are about 3 1/3′ long and 3/4″ across, with side leaflets being smaller than the center leaflets.
Flowers are sulphur yellow in color, about 1/2-3/4″ across with 5 heart shaped petals. They have around 30 stamens in the center with yellowish anthers, and a yellow nubbins in the center that ripens into something resembling an itty-bitty wild strawberry, to which the cinquefoil is related. You can eat them green or ripe, but I'm waiting patiently for the plant in my flowerbed to ripen.
If you want to see some truly beautiful photos, including close ups of the ripe fruit of the sulphur cinquefoil, visit Microscopy UK.
Sulphur cinquefoil for Food and Medicine
Cattle and other livestock will eat the leaves of sulphur cinquefoil, as will rabbits, but it is not a preferred food source, except by goats. (source) It has a high tannin content, which makes it bitter, but there are no reports of it being toxic.
The Illinois Wildflowers site states:
The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract Halictid bees, masked bees (Hylaeus spp.), Andrenid bees, Syrphid flies, and small butterflies. Two aphids, Chaitosiphon fragaefolii and Macrosiphum pseudorosae, suck sap from Potentilla spp. (Cinquefoil species), while the larvae of a moth, Tinagma obscurofasciella, are leaf-miners. Some grasshoppers, such as Melanoplus borealis (Northern Grasshopper), feed on the foliage.
Herb Rowe states that “The Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington pounded the leaves to make a poultice to treat open sores and wounds.”
Grass Roots Civil Defense claims that sulphur cinquefoil leaves can be used as a poultice and applied to burns, sores or wounds, and that the leaves can also be used to make a tea to treat dysentery, sore throat and diarrhea. They also say the leaves and fruit are edible in spring and it tastes great raw or cooked, which is find fishy. If it's so astringent the animals won't willingly eat much of it, I can't believe it's tasty any time of year. (Battling a stomach ache right now and it's dark outside, or I'd go taste a leaf just to check.) You can watch the YouTube video here and decide if you're willing to believe the gentleman. I think I'd go for other trusted plants first (but I still want to taste those tiny berries when they ripen).
As always, any medical information is for informational purposes only. Always exercise caution when using any wild plants and make sure you have positively identified the plant.
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Sorry for the delay in posting. WordPress ate this post twice when I was nearly finished, and life has been a bit extra crazy this week as our eldest interviewed (and was accepted) for an internship at his father's place of employment. We're very proud of him, but now mom's got to scramble to help him get all his paperwork in order since he's only 14.
Very timely post for me…this week I had a medical procedure, and the doctor and nurses were discussing potentilla! They described it and I thought I’d figure out what it is once I got home. After seeing this post, I recognize it and know I have it at my place too!
What condition did they want to treat with potentilla?
Thanks for the feature M xx
Hello! Have you ever tasted the Sulphur Cinquefoil yourself? It’s definitely not bitter! I don’t think it has a high tannin content. But my goats will eat it it!