Arrowleaf Balsamroot - Balsamorhiza sagittata

arrowleaf balsamroot botany with brit

The most impressive part of this plant is not visible to the casual observer. As if the bright yellow flowers and silvery arrow-shaped leaves aren't striking enough, the plant has a taproot that can extend up to 8.8 feet into the ground. This deep taproot makes balsamroot a very resilient plant, capable of withstanding drought, fire, grazing, and trampling.

Balsamroot is associated with sagebrush communities and likes open sunny slopes. The plant makes good spring forage for deer, elk, and cattle because the young tissues of the plant contain nearly 30% protein. Birds and rodents feast on the seeds, and it's often used in restoration plantings because of its ability to survive being stepped on.

People have also utilized all parts of the plant for food. The young leaves were eaten raw or steamed, immature flower stems were peeled and eaten raw like celery. The sunflower-like seeds were dried or roasted and then pounded into flour, eaten raw, or pressed for cooking oil. The taproot was also eaten, but you had to work hard if you wanted to munch on this part of the plant. For those who insist on digging out every single dandelion root in your yard, imagine this nightmare: digging up an 8ft taproot. Once you got the behemoth out you'd still have to roast or steam it for at least 3 days, dry it, then soak it overnight. Now if that isn't commitment, I don't know what is.

The root contains antimicrobial compounds and was used medicinally. The Shoshone traditionally used a poultice of the root for blisters, sores, wounds, and bites. The Blackfoot used root smoke to treat body aches, and root infusions were used by the Cheyenne and Flathead to treat fevers, whooping cough, and tuberculosis.

Edible, medicinal, pretty, and hardy. What more could you want from a plant?