Sunshine with Roots

May 11, 2021

By Pat Loomis, Conservancy Volunteer

Have you noticed that profusion of yellow sunflower-looking flowers, blooming all over our area?  The Arrowleaf Balsamroot is a flowering perennial in the sunflower tribe of the aster family.  A beautiful and well-known local harbinger of spring!

Exuberant blooms at Palisades Park, Spokane, WA

Botanist Meriwether Lewis collected a specimen of the Balsamroot in 1806, but long before that, they were widely used by the Nez Perce, Kootenai, Cheyenne tribes as food and medicine.  The entire plant can be eaten!*  The leaves are best collected when young and have a citrus flavor while the roots can be boiled and have a bitter, pine-like taste.

More sunny wonders in Riverside State Park, Spokane, WA

Tribes employed the seeds as food and oil. The resinous root, from which “balsam” was derived, was made into a tea to treat tuberculosis and whooping cough.  The leaves can be used to relieve burns, wounds and bruises.  A wide variety of wildlife rely on the Arrowleaf Balsamroot.  Deer, elk, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn eat the leaves, stems, and flowers.  This spring perennial is a beautiful and critical piece of our local ecosystem.

*Consult with a professional before eating wild plants.

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