A friend posted this great article about using the plant, Arrowleaf Balsamroot Provides Medicine and Nutrition for the Lean Times, by Stephen Christensen, MD, and while I've heard all parts of the plant are edible, I have only found the seeds to be mildly pleasing to eat (albeit tiny) the rest of the plant is BITTER. Since I really love this abundant spring perennial on our property, this article gave loads of ideas on how and why to use the plant more than just nibbling the seeds.
If you have a bent for chemistry, you might be interested in some of the compounds that are believed to confer Balsamroot’s salutary powers. According to Michael Moore, author of Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, both the stems and roots of Balsamroot contain an array of flavonoids, including 7-methyl-ether and 6-hydroxykaempferol, inulin, glycans, resins and terebinthine principles (mainly in the root), and caffeic acids similar to those found in Echinacea.
Though I'm most excited to use the dried leaves to help heal wounds as Christensen suggests. We are talking about making an herbal wound healing powder out of arrowleaf balsamroot, yarrow, lavender, oregon grape, comfrey...I'm not sure what else.
Native Americans relied on all parts of arrow-leaf balsamroot for food. Young leaves and shoots were peeled and eaten raw, boiled or steamed. The peeled roots have a bitter, strongly pine-scented sap. When cooked for several days (roasted or steamed) the root became edible and was often ground into meal and mixed with grease and made into cakes, or mixed with powdered berries and eaten with a spoon. The small, sunflower-like seeds were dried or roasted and pounded. The plant was also used for medicinal purposes, with the leaves being used as a poultice for burns, the roots boiled and the solution applied as a salve for wounds, cuts and bruises, and a tea derived from the roots used as a treatment for tuberculosis and whooping cough. Today, it is added to muffins, breads and granola, and can also serve as an emergency survival food. Modern herbal practitioners may use the root as an immunostimulant or expectorant.
Jocelyn, you mentioned that the leaves are bitter. If you waited for the plant to bloom that may have been the reason. Try the young leaves and shoots, that may help. If you still use the bitter ones, try scrambling eggs into the steamed greens.
Location: Carnation, WA (Western Washington State / Cascadia / Pacific NW)
Liz Hoxie wrote:Jocelyn, you mentioned that the leaves are bitter. If you waited for the plant to bloom that may have been the reason. Try the young leaves and shoots, that may help. If you still use the bitter ones, try scrambling eggs into the steamed greens.
I tried the leaves last year and now I can't recall if it was before they bloomed though I thought it was. I will try again. Thanks for the tip, Liz!
I know this for lambs quarters (Chenopodium album) and sheep sorrel (Rumex acetocella) which turn really awful tasting after they seed, though it's not as much of an issue with our dandelions (which are simply less bitter after a good rain), so I forgot. The reminder helps!
The bitterness tends to hit ALL leafy greens as they bolt. My mother would see a lettuce plant starting to bolt, pull it up, and harvest the whole plant. Usually at the end of the season we'd have a BIG wilted lettuce salad. The bitterness was part of the flavor.
For those of you living on the west coast of the United States (northern CA through WA) and in BC there is another very similar plant that does a bit better here than arrowleaf balsamroot. Deltoid balsamroot looks about the same as arrowleaf balsamroot (leaves are a bit different in shape) and it's also edible. Young shoots can be harvested, the roots can be used and the seeds can be used. I planted a bunch of it last fall on my property and it's all coming up in one of my more open food forests. Can't wait to see it in bloom! I grew up in eastern WA and always loved seeing arrowleaf balsamroot in bloom--deltoid balsamroot is a great alternative now that I live in western WA.