Herb: Quamash

Latin name: Camassia quamash

Synonyms: Camassia esculenta

Family: Hyacinthaceae

Medicinal use of Quamash:

A decoction of the roots has been used to induce labour. An infusion of the leaves has been used to treat vaginal bleeding after birth and to help expel the placenta.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

May to

Habitat of the herb:

Coastal mountain forests and wet meadows inland. Marshy meadows in coniferous forest, to 2300 metres.

Edible parts of Quamash:

Bulb - raw or cooked. The raw bulb has a mild, starchy flavour, but a gummy texture that reduces the enjoyment of it somewhat. When cooked, however, it develops a delicious sweet flavour somewhat like sweet chestnuts, and is a highly nutritious food. Excellent when slow baked, it can also be dried and made into a powder which can be used as a thickener in stews or mixed with cereal flours when making bread, cakes etc. The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes. The bulbs can be harvested at any time of the year, but are probably best in early summer when the seeds are ripe. One report says that the bulbs contain inulin (a starch that cannot be digested by humans) but that this breaks down when the bulb is cooked slowly to form the sugar fructose which is sweet and easily digested. Quamash bulbs were a staple food of the N. American Indians. The tribes would move to the Quamash fields in the early autumn and, whilst some people harvested the bulbs, others would dig a pit, line it with boulders then fill it with wood and set fire to it. The fire would heat the boulders and the harvested bulbs would then be placed in the pit and the whole thing covered with earth and the bulbs left to cook slowly for 2 days. The pit would then be opened and the Indians would feast on the bulbs until they could no longer fit any more in their stomachs. Whatever was left would be dried and stored for winter use.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring. It usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15C, but it can be erratic. Sow the seed thinly so that it does not need to be thinned and allow the seedlings to grow on undisturbed for their first year. Give an occasional liquid feed to ensure that the plants do not become nutrient deficient. When the plants are dormant in late summer, pot up the small bulbs putting 2 - 3 bulbs in each pot. Grow them on for another one or two years in a cold frame before planting them out when dormant in late summer. Offsets in late summer. The bulb has to be scored in order to produce offsets.

Cultivation of Quamash:

Coastal mountain forests and wet meadows inland. Marshy meadows in coniferous forest, to 2300 metres.

Known hazards of Camassia quamash:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.