SPP Plant Profile: Puget Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza deltoidea)
By Graduate Research Associate Evan Hayduk
Balsamorhiza deltoidea, or Puget balsamroot, is late spring flowering perennial with showy sunflower like flowers. The distinct leaves of this species are basal, wide, and spear shaped. The flower stems can be up to 3 feet tall, and it is found in open, grassy areas, at low to high elevations from Southern British Columbia to Northern California.
Considered critically imperiled but globally secure in Canada, only eight natural populations containing roughly 1,600 mature plants are thought to remain north of the border. These remaining populations are declining due to development and continued habitat degradation from competition with invasive species. There are 15 reported populations in the state of Washington. Evidence suggests that five of these populations may have been extirpated. A recent study by researchers at the University of Puget Sound* has shown that Puget Balsamroot appears to be incapable of self-pollination, and is dependent on pollinators for reproduction. However, decreases in pollinator species like bumblebees and honey-bee populations and increasing fragmentation and degradation of suitable habitat limits the natural reproduction of this and many other species.
Puget balsamroot is well known for its traditional culinary and medicinal uses. This includes its use as chicken feed by early settlers on Vancouver Island, suggesting that it was common in the area during that time period. The roots of Puget balsamroot are edible raw and when cooked have a sweet taste. Young shoots can also be eaten raw, and seeds eaten raw or cooked. The roasted root can be used as a coffee substitute and seeds can be ground into a powder and made into bread. Medicinally, a decoction of the roots was used in the treatment of coughs and colds.
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*This study can be found at: http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.3955/046.085.0220