Arrowleaf Balsamroot-Balsamrrhiza Sagittata
Also known as: balsamroot, arrowhead, duck potato, swan potato, katniss, wapatoo
Parts used: roots, root bark, leaves, seeds, sap
Meridians/Organs affected: immune system, respiratory, skin
Properties: antifungal, antibacterial, immune stimulant, expectorant, antiseptic, diaphoretic, antimicrobial
There are twenty some odd species of this plant, all with similar qualities and minor differences.
It is a member of the Sunflower family and indeed, the flowers look like small versions of sunflowers. The flowers are two to four inches in diameter and are a bright yellow hue. The leaves are shaped much like an arrowhead and can get up to a foot long; they protrude directly from the root on petioles. The entire plant is covered with small hairs that give it a silvery-gray appearance and a somewhat sticky texture. Arrowleaf Balsamroot is often mistaken for Mule's Ears, also known as Wyethia, as they have similar flowers, but the leaves are different and the Mule's Ears plant lacks the signature hairs of balsam root.
Balsamroot is a tap-rooted perennial that takes ALOT of sweat and effort to free from the ground. The root can get up to 30 pounds and even when freed from the ground, the work isn't done. The outer root bark must be cleaned and then stripped from the inner bark. The bruised bark exudes a sticky sap similar to pine.
Balsamroot grows on rocky hillsides, edges of ponds, streams or marshy ground, and in open meadows. It blooms from April to July although in some places you can still see the blooms as late as September. It can be found from British Columbia, Canada, to the Dakotas and as far south as Mexico.
The root is best gathered in early spring before the plant blooms or in the fall after the leaves have died back. The young leaves were often gathered very early in the spring and boiled or steamed. Some people would even eat them raw although there is some debate as to whether they taste good in that state. The peeled roots have also been eaten raw but are very bitter due to the pine-like sap it contains. The tuberous root is said to have a sweet taste when cooked but needs to be steamed or roasted for several hours to get to that point. The dried, cooked roots were often stored for later use (and re-lubricated at that point). The small seeds were also dried and roasted and pounded into flour. This would be mixed with grease or fat and made into small cakes, or added to breads, granola and/or muffins. In some cultures it is still used in this manner.
The root is the part used most for medicinal purposes. However, the leaves were used in poultices for burns and the sap was used by Native Americans for minor wounds, stings, bites and as a topical anesthetic. The roots were boiled to make a tea for rheumatism, tuberculosis, whooping cough, headaches, venereal disease, to increase the flow of urine, purge the bowel and to stimulate childbirth. The root was also used topically in poultices for wounds, bruises, blisters, sores and any kind of fungal outbreak or skin infection. Some native tribes also burned the root as incense in ceremonies.
Arrowleaf Balsamroot can be nauseating in large amounts and irritating to the kidneys is used for long periods of time so it is best used in small amounts for brief periods of time. As it does stimulate childbirth it should not be used by pregnant women until it is time to give birth.
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