Indian Strawberry, Potentilla indica

Potentilla indica: Mistaken Identity

One of the first things my uncle’s second wife said to me when I moved from Maine to Florida was “they have strawberries here with no taste.” And she was right, almost.

The Potentilla indica, (poh-ten-TIL-ah  inn-DEE-kuh)  the India Strawberry, indeed has no flavor but it’s not a Southern speciality. It grows in Canada.  In fact, it is found in most places except the Rocky Mountain states* and upper New England. Flavorless or not my cousins and I ate a lot of them.

On first glance the P. indica looks like you have found yourself a brilliantly red, juicy strawberry. And that is probably the public relations problem P. indica has. It’s not what people expect so a lot of commentators dismiss it as worthless, but that’s a bit unfair. The fruit is 3.4% sugar, 1.5% protein and 1.6% ash. It has 6.3 mg of Vitamin C per 100 ml of juice.  An eight-foot patch will produce about 5.5 ounces fruit annually, about the same as wild strawberries, and you can cook the leaves as a green. Some folks think the fruit has a hint of watermelon flavor. Others say it is sour so there may be some genetic diversity there, either in the plant or our taste buds. There is certainly no harm adding some of the plant to your wilderness stew.

Be forewarned though, there is descent into negative exaggeration. Many sites state the fruit is edible but tasteless. Others translate “edible but tasteless” into “not suitable for human consumption.” Some translate “not suitable for human consumption” into not edible. Others translate “not edible” into poisonous. Ph.d, herbalist and researcher James Duke, addressed the issue specifically in his “Handbook of Medical Weeds.” He says the plant is “often described as ‘poisonous.’ I have eaten hundreds and find the word insipid more accurate.”  As far back as 1914 author Harrison Garman, writing about weeds of Kentucky, said the berry was edible and “their appearance leading one to expect them to be more palatable.”

I have eaten many and seem to still be here.  Some 31 years after I had swallowed my first Potentilla indica (then called Duchesnea indica) I read in John Wizeman’s SAS Survival Handbook the berries are “highly poisonous, sometimes fatally.”  I think there is an error somewhere or two differnet varieties for there is an Indian herbalist who calls the P. indica mildly poisonous and a treatment for cancer. In my experience the leaves, besides a potherb, dried make a nice tea. The berries can help stretch other berries when making jam and jelly. On their own they make a mild jelly or juice for those hot summer days.

Potentilla means strong, powerful, and the plant and many of its relatives in a family considered to have good medical value. Indica means from India though the plant is native to southern Asia (though some also think it is native to North America… does it really many any difference?)

* In the fall of 2011 I received an email from “Becky” in Boulder, Colorado, definitely a Rocky Mountain state, and she said she uses Indian Stawberry as a ground cover. It not only thrives, she says, but is good at driving out other plants. Ground cover, food and gets rid of non-edible weeds. Not bad.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: Low, trailing vine, roots at the nodes. Single flower on long stem,  five yellow petals are notched at tip, five sepals. Long-stemmed leaves have three blunt-toothed leaflets, strawberry-like fruit, seeds on outside.

TIME OF YEAR: Fruits in September in temperate climes, sooner in warm areas.

ENVIRONMENT: Prefers moist, well-draind soil, sunny location with passing shade, can be invasive, spreading freely by runners, more or less evergreen in southern ranges.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Berries raw, leaves raw in salads, leaves cooked as a green, leaves dried for tea.

 

 

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 raeez williams November 9, 2011 at 18:43

Just discovered itz the same plant I got growing in my garden here in the western cape,south africa and I’m sure I’ll pop 1 in my mouth tomorrow to taste it…

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2 maggie January 29, 2012 at 20:39

I don’t know if it’s only the ones in certain areas or what, but I’ve had some really nice ones here that taste and have a texture almost like watermelon. I also found that if you scrape off about half of the seeds with your fingernail, it takes away most of the bitterness, if there is any. Anyways, I really like them :D

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3 maggie January 29, 2012 at 20:43

OH also for anyone wanting to try some, the calyx should be bent backward and fruit juicy and bloated with the seeds spread well apart. (ex: the only one in the top picture that would be ready is the middle one, right probably needs one or two more days, left needs at least three, probably more)

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4 ed June 1, 2012 at 10:00

Can I eat the raw leaves in significant quantities without harm?

I make green smoothies (raw greens plus bananas/other fruit and water and honey).

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5 Green Deane June 1, 2012 at 10:14

They are usually used sparingly. I would think 50 leaves would be excessive and foolhardy.

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6 Feral Kevin July 27, 2012 at 22:18

I ate these when I was a kid thinking they were of course, real strawberries. I would describe them as mostly tasteless, and when I ate a handful or more was a kid I would always get a belly ache for a few hours.

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7 Carolyn Deane January 13, 2013 at 21:38

Is this the Potentilla indica/Wild Strawberry that is referred to in Ruach photography as the special plant (which may have been a vine growing in a tree). Is it “the tree of life” that Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat because they were being punished for eating the forbidden fruit. “The tree of life” was supposed to prolong life and the forbidden fruit was to prevent them from knowing the difference between good and evil. God told them they would die if they ate the fruit from the forbidden tree. The forbidden fruit may have been special berries or apples on a poisonous type of plant that produces something that makes the eyes change (belladona maybe). It was thought to impart wisdom upon those who used it. I am researching this on the internet — it’s hard to get accurate information sometimes because their is so much information. If you know anything that would help — maybe a good website or information that others preceding me have found. Thank you for your time.

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8 bh March 15, 2013 at 12:52

hello green deane!
i love all your stuff
(i have a jug hanging outside waiting for a vinegar mother)

i have indian strawberry, henbit(i’m still calling it purple archangel even though it isn’t), wild geranium, white clover, lady’s thumb, lyre leafed sage, bulbous buttercup(poisonous), english plantain, curly dock, etc. and waiting for the dandelions seeds i blew out into the yard. fingers crossed here in central mississippi.

i don’t think you mentioned that indian strawberry isn’t actually in the same genus as “real” wild strawberries. “fragaria”
just a fun fact.

tootles!

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9 Rita Tucker April 4, 2013 at 08:54

was hoping to be able to add an amendment to enhance flavor , but we have these all over our yard .In northeastern Oklahoma

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10 Kevin McGee June 1, 2013 at 23:49

In some areas this plant is called snakeberry. Snakeberry is also a common name for some species of nightshade, which does have poisonous berries. So when someone who identifies this name with the indian strawberry hears that snakeberries are poisonous, or reads in the newspaper that some kids died from eating snakeberries, he or she comes to the belief that indian strawberries are poisonous. This false information then gets passed along.

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11 Ellen August 29, 2013 at 00:26

I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten these in Illinois. I know I found tiny red “strawberries” that were round, sub-spherical, with seeds on the outside, growing very close to the ground (in my grandmother’s lawn). I remember being disappointed by their dullness.

They seemed much too boring to bother with unless one is starving, but nothing bad happened to me.

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12 Kerry May 30, 2014 at 18:49

I ate 2 cups of the raw berries just over 2 hours ago. I picked then right out of the backyard along with some clover and wood sorrel. Not tasty but not bad. It reminds me of when you eat watermelon and bite into the white part “the rind”. I feel fine and plan on drying the leaves for tea later. So much dis-info out there, these are definitely not poisonous.

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13 Dede June 21, 2014 at 12:20

I live just northeast of Boulder, Colorado and recently discovered these volunteering along my fenceline. Most definitely the Rocky Mountain area. I like their subtle flavor and find they add a nice pop of color to my wild landscaping. I’m training them up a scrolled, iron, wall sconce. I see the leaves in other areas of my yard, as well. I read elsewhere that the leaves can be used in a poultice for eczema. I just started displaying signs of eczema on my hands, so this is fortuitous.

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14 Kathleen June 25, 2014 at 18:10

This year I found them growing in the yard, we have not had them before. I want to make sure the grandkids don’t get sick. Thank you internet. I would love to hear more uses for this berry.

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15 Kevin July 7, 2014 at 20:49

I have these all over my yard (Central Virginia) – over the last few years, they have spread into most of the bed areas (where wife had tried planting flowers, they seem to be taking over).

I tried a couple – bland with a very faint strawberry flavor – apparently something likes them – I find many bitten of at the stem some mornings.

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16 Thomas Shoesmith July 13, 2014 at 11:45

According to “Wildflowers in the Field and Forest” by Steven Clemants (Oxford University Press, 2006) You are describing Duchesnea indica, called Indian strawberry, mock strawberry, etc. It has three leaflets; Potentillas are cinquefoils, nearly all of which have five.

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17 mike August 14, 2014 at 13:57

I have these in my yard in Fort Collins, Co which is an hour north of Denver/Boulder. Wondering if they’re safe to eat. Looks like it’s ok so I’ll try some…

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