Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Yellow-flowered strawberry

Yellow-flowered strawberry is believed to be native to south and east Asia but has become widely naturalised elsewhere, including the British Isles, where it has been cultivated since early in the nineteenth century, and first recorded in the wild in 1879 [1]. At present it appears to be becoming more common as a wild plant, but it seems as if populations can rapidly increase in size and then almost as rapidly disappear. In gardens it provides good ground cover but can be invasive.
In common with many other plants which are passed around between gardeners and have become recently naturalised, yellow-flowered strawberry has been given a variety of English names, including Indian strawberry, mock strawberry and Himalayan strawberry. The plant’s scientific name has changed over the years. Originally it was described as Fragaria indica, thus it was considered to be member of the genus Fragaria, which includes the familiar edible strawberries. However later botanists, noting that the yellow-flowered strawberry differed from other strawberries in having solitary yellow flowers, preferred to place it in its own genus, Duchesnea. This name commemorates the French horticulturalist Antoine Nicolas Duchesne (1747-1827), whose Histoire naturelle de Fraisiers (1766) is the classic work on the history and varieties of strawberries. However recently has been concluded that the yellow-flowered strawberry should be included in the genus Potentilla, so its current name is Potentilla indica.
Its attractive yellow flowers are followed by bright red, globular fruits, which are tasteless. Narayan P. Manandhar notes in his Plants and People of Nepal (2002), the ‘fresh fruits, which are insipid, watery, and entirely destitute of flavor, are edible’.
Hong-yen Hsu and colleagues in their Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide (1986) note the Chinese name She-Mei – ‘snake strawberry’ – which is given to the plant because ‘it serves as a snake nest’. According to tradition it ‘dispels heat, cools blood, disperses swelling [and] removes toxin’, while in present day medicine it can be used to treat ‘febrile disease, epilepsy, cough, hemoptysis, laryngitis, dystentery, furuncle, snake and insect bites, burns and scalds’.
Other uses are recorded in the journal Economic Botany. In volume 42 (1988), R.T. Yang and C.S. Tang, surveying plants used as pesticides in China, state that yellow-flowered strawberry was used against aphids, maggots and mosquito larvae. A.K. Gangwar and P.S. Ramaskrihnan, in volume 44, 1990, record the use of its leaves as a vegetable in northeast India. Perhaps more surprisingly, in an account of edible wild plants in Ohio and Kentucky, beyond the plant’s natural distribution, Thomas M. Zennie and C. Dwayne Ogzewalla (volume 31, 1977) report that the leaves could be eaten throughout the year, but were best in spring. Finally, B. Neogi, M.N.V. Prasad and R.R. Rao, writing of the ethnobotany of weeds in northeast India (volume 43, 1989), note that the ‘root and lower part of the stem are eaten as betle (sic.) nut’.

1. C.D. Preston, D.A. Pearman & T.D. Dines, New Atlas of the British & Irish Flora, Oxford, 2002: 334.

Image: cultivated, Terrapin Road, Tooting, London Borough of Wandsworth; September 2014.