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BALSAM ROOT

Balsamorhiza sagittata

Family: Asteraceae

Other common names: Oregon sunflower

Ecology & How to Locate

Occurs on open slopes and ridges anywhere from 1,000 ft elevation to 6,000 ft elevation.  The most prolific patches are found between 2,500 – 4,000ft elevation.  Tends to grow in more abundance on south facing slopes, but can be found at other aspects.  Can be found growing alongside sagebrush, lomatium, wild buckwheats, elderberries, manzanita, and ceanothus.

How to Identify

Flower – radiate inflorescence with showy light yellow ray flowers and slightly darker yellow tube-shaped disk flowers

 

Stem – Glandular, each stem will hold a single flower head

 

Leaf – leaves are triangular(form an arrow shape), the base of the leaf margins wrap inwards to form a heart shape space, the underside is always white/woolly(with hairs), sometimes the upper leaf will express hairs (much less or not at all)

 

Root – Tap rooted(with mature plants you will find the root anywhere from 8 inches to 6ft deep in the ground.  Mature roots will be more woody.  Roots will exude a fragrant balsam like resin (this changes dramatically depending on the season of harvest )(Baldwin et al, 2012; [2]

 

[2]Kozloff

Uses

Parts used

Collect the root in spring to early summer when it is juicy, resinous and sweet

Seeds are collected for food in late summer

Edible uses

Seeds – Collected late summer (late July through October 1st depending on elevation and season) The seeds are quite large (1/3 inch) in length with good flavor. Was a favorite amongst many tribes of the PNW.

 

Leaves – Were collected and wrapped around wild bulbs collected by many tribes of PNW. Traditional hot stone pits made by the local Kalapuya (Umpqua) and Takelma (Rogue) tribes would be used to roast camas (Camassia quamash) were wrapped with Balsam leaves to caramelize and receive the spicy refreshing scent and taste of the balsam plant

Medicinal uses

The root promotes the flow of mucous secretions in the respiratory tract.  It helps soothe and tone mucous membranes along with stimulating the movement of mucous out of the lungs.  

Balsam root is also supportive to the immune system, helping stimulate the production of white blood cells.  

Has been shown to have anti-microbial and anti-bacterial activity (Kloos, 2017)

Think of Balsam root medicine as one that directly supports the lungs and indirectly supports better oxygenation throughout the body, offering someone the sensation of improved focus and cognitive function and overall better vitality. 

Other plants in bioregion with similar medicinal uses

Osha (Ligusticum spp.) 

Black eyed susan (Rudbeckia spp.)

Toxicity

Because it acts as a circulatory stimulant, it is not suggested during pregnancy [4]

 

[4]Moore

Energetics

The yellow flowers are some of the earliest on this landscape, they illuminate and dull spaces in the body that have formed over a long winter

The roots exude a beautiful spicy gold resin which excites the mind, lungs and heart.  

This is a plant that lifts the spirits and brings life to all cells in the body.

Qualities

Pungent, stimulating, warming

 

Harvesting & Preparations

Ethical Wildcrafting

When collecting Balsam root, late spring tends to be the best season for harvest.  This is for several reasons.  1) The ground is moist, making a root harvest more accessible. Even though Balsam can grow in loose soil, it is often founds on rocky outcrops and hillsides where the ground becomes impenetrable during the hot season.  2) The Balsam roots themselves swells in spring, exuding a higher amount of resin and exhibiting a sweeter taste.  Harvesting later into the season, the root becomes increasingly woody and bitter. (even if the specimen is old and has a thick and fibrous root bark, it will undoubtedly be softer and easier to work with during spring harvests. 3) You harvest both a stronger medicine during spring and your able to practice better wildcrafting methods.  

A few ways you can practice ethical wildcrafting include replanting the root crown after harvest.  This includes using a pruners or hand saw(depending on the size of the root) to separate the trop few inches of the root along with the crown and a few inches of vegetative stalk together to replant.  Replant your root crown back into the spot you harvested from or close by where there is easier access to water.  The first 2 years, the plant will focus on root development while only sending out new vegetative growth no earlier then the 3rdyear from my experience.  Another technique would be going back to your patch you have been tending to disperse the seed in late summer.  I like to spread the seeds over a swath of several hundred years and with each seed I like to bury it roughly ¼ inch deep and compact the soil afterwards with a rock or stick.  I find compaction helps to create a sturdier environment to promote germination  

Note: These plants are long lived perennials and love up to 80 years old in some cases (Kloos, 2017)

 

Conservation considerations

In observing this plant in the field for many years, it is consistently grazed on by black tail deer and in researching more, you find that it is a shared affinity amongst many ungulates (elk, mule deer, black tail).  The seeds are rather large and are also a favorite amongst birds. Knowing this, this is an important food for local and native wildlife.  

Preparation Methods

Fresh Root Tea – cut a 3” section of the roots into 1/2” pieces, cover with about 16oz of water and simmer for 30min. 

Dried Root Tea – Use a handful of ½” pieces to 16oz water.  Bring to boil for 10 min with the lid on.  Remove the lid and let simmer for another 30.

Tincture 1:5 1 part dried root to 5 parts alcohol

1:2 1-part fresh root to 2 parts alcohol (Moore, 1993)

Balsam root cough syrup – Take a handful of fresh ½” root sections, place into a pot with 2 cups honey and 1 cup water.  Once at a simmer, continue to stir for 20 min. After 20 min, remove from heat and let sit for another 20.  After sitting, strain the root from the menstruum. Put your finished product into a mason jar to store in cool space(refrigerator suggested) stores for about 6 month.  Add a spoonful to syrup to 1 cup hot water and drink as an immune/cold season tea.