Cinquefoil

  • Family: Rosaceae
  • Type species: Potentilla reptans
  • Other species: Potentilla erecta, Potentilla aurea, Argentina anserina
  • Related genera: Agrimonia, Alchemilla, Argentina, Fragaria
  • Names: European Cinquefoil, also known as creeping cinquefoil and ‘fingers’

This herb is of special relevance to my area, since Theodor Wolf, who spent his last years in Dresden, gathered and wrote several treatises on the cinquefoils. I found it growing on a meadow in the park. The leaves typically show five or more ‘fingers’. The plant could easily be mistaken for strawberries. The flowers are yellow with five heart-shaped petals. It is a creeper, often considered a weed, because once it grows somewhere it is almost impossible to erase. On the other hand cinquefoil has been used medicinally to ease stomache pain, which is also reflected in the alternative name tormentil, from medieval Latin tormentilla = “small pain” (even though the species more often referred to as tormentil is the Potentilla erecta).

The scientific name potentilla is probably derived from French potence = “strong”, “powerful”, “mighty” or “potent”. Cinquefoil is sometimes used in heraldry as an emblem representing these qualities, as well as honor and loyalty. It is frequently found in the architecture of medieval churches.

In herbals and herb magic cinquefoil is also referred to as five-leaf grass and five-finger grass or simply as ‘fingers’, in reference to the shape of the leaves, which are often divided into five leaflets. In German it is also called Fünf-Fingerkraut (literally ‘five-finger-herb’).

Cinquefoil should not be mistaken for Silverweed, which is a different species.

Magical attributions: health, wealth, luck, power, love, wisdom, protection from negative influences, success in business matters, protection in court, divination incenses, dream-pillows and baths, traditional Midsummer herb

Planet, element, zodiac sign: Mercury (also Venus), air, Gemini

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