Lomatium dissectum

Common name: fernleaf biscuitroot

Scientific name: Lomatium dissectum

Native American names: Toza by the Numic speaking tribes

Plant family: Apiaceae

Description: This herb is a taprooted perennial extending approx. 30 cm long and 5cm thick[1]; thick stem finely ribbed and hollow.[2] Its leaves are finely dissected and fern-like with sheathing petioles that can be minutely pubescent to glabrous or glaucous. [2] Flowers bright yellow or purple in a compound umbel with 10-30 rays [1] and with bracts of umbellets being very narrow.[3] Fruit is woody or corky about 1-1.5 cm long with thick corky lateral wings. [5] Overall, it has a rapid growth rate growing up to 1.3 m. making it the largest member of the Lomatium genus. [1] It is resistant to fire with a fast after harvest re-growth rate. It blooms in early summer but begins growth in early spring shortly after snow melt.

 Habitat and Range: Dry, open, rocky slopes, grassy bluffs, and vernal meadows at low and middle elevations.[3] It cannot grow in the shade. It naturally occurs from British Columbia and Saskatchewan south to Carolina and New Mexico and extends inward into Wyoming and Colorado.[1]

Historical and Contemporary Uses

This plant is one of the most widely used plants in native North American culture used for food, medicine, and ceremonial purposes. The roots were very important food, used in several ways by many tribes. When boiled, they would make a refreshing nutritious drink.[4] Roots would be split, strung, and dried for storage and cooked whenever needed by the Thompson and Okanagon people.[4] The Shuswap, Nlaka’pamux & Lilloet  people dug them in May, peeled, steamed and ate fresh or strung them partially dried and stored them for winter use. In the winter, these dried roots would be soaked for two nights, and then steamed cooked often with yellow avalanche lily bulbs. They were also made into flour which would be mixed with water and flattened into cakes which would be sun-dried or baked. [4] To the Sanpoil tribe, young shoots were a special food eaten mixed with balsamroot and featured in the “first roots” ceremony.[5]

Biscuitroot is used for a wide variety of ailments. Infusions of dried roots are used for stomach disorders as well as to treat tuberculosis and arthritis.[1] The poultice of roots is used to treat wounds, cuts, bruises, and for rheumatism. Thompson people make it into powder mixed with grease for wounds.[5] In ceremonies, the root is smashed and burned to use as incense. The Navajo Indians make an infusion of dried and ground biscuitroot mixed with other plants to give to patients as a part of their Mountain Top Chant ceremony.[1]

Additionally, the more mature roots contain compounds from the furanocoumarin group which are toxic and so would be used to aid the catchment of fish by soaking and pounding them which would poison the fish.

[1] United States Department of Agriculture: Natural Resources Conservation Service. http://plants.usda.gov/characteristics.html

[2] Gilkey, Helen M. and Dennis La.Rea. 2001. Handbook of Northwestern Plants. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Press.

[3] Pojar, Jim and Andy MacKinnon. 2004. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Canada:  Lone Pine

[4] Kuhnlein, Harriet and Turner, Nancy. 1991. Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indian People. Gordon &Breach Science publishers.

[5] Turner, Nancy J., R. Bouchard and Dorothy I.D. Kennedy.1980. Ethnobotany of the Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington. Victoria. British Columbia Provincial Museum.