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Once past the taste, bitterroot has its benefits

By on June 27, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

By Jaana Hatton

Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva) grows on grasslands and forests. It grows on low elevations and high on the hills. It is a survivor.

But, if you try to transplant bitterroot, it will most likely die. Bitterroot likes to take its time and grow from seed.

This tiny perennial herb is about an inch tall and the flower is about the same in width. The flower, usually with 15 petals, can be white, pink, or lavender. You can see bitterroot in bloom from April through July.

How do we know that the root is bitter? The knowledge comes from the generations of people who have been munching on this herb. Bitterroot is quite beneficial, if a bit strong for most taste buds. It can be eaten boiled, dried or in powder form. The outer layer is the bitter part: the actual taproot is more palatable and contains many nutrients.

Native tribes have been consuming bitterroot both for pleasure and medication. French trappers, no doubt, picked up on this and started utilizing the little powerhouse in the montiaceae family.

You may have suspected by the Latin name (Lewisia rediviva) that Meriwether Lewis came across bitterroot during his expedition in 1805-1806. “Rediviva” means secondhand or re-used: your guess is as good as mine as to how this applies to bitterroot.

Bitterroot, Photo by Susan Ballinger/Wenatchee Naturalist

What benefits does the plant have? There are so many I cannot list them all, but let’s look at some.

The root has analgesic properties, and thus helps with pain, such as headaches and injuries.

If you are prone to tension and nervousness, by all means, have a bit of bitterroot to take the edge off.

The plant also helps with gastrointestinal issues. Many native tribes believe in chewing on the leaves or consuming some of the root to help their uncomfortable tummies. The plant is playfully called “Indian Tums.”

The herb can also help diabetics to stabilize their blood sugar levels.

As with any herbal remedy, it is not recommended that anyone go collecting bitterroot and add them to their pantry basics without consulting a doctor first. As with anything, moderation is always best.

Jaana Hatton is a freelance writer and a  Wenatchee area resident since 2013. She grew up free as a bird in the woodlands of Finland and continues to be enchanted by all things living and wild.

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