Herb: Bitter-Root


Latin name: Lewisia rediviva


Family: Portulacaceae (Purslane Family)



Medicinal use of Bitter-Root:

The root is cardiac and galactogogue. An infusion of the root has been used to increase the milk flow in nursing mothers, to relieve heart pain and the pain of pleurisy and also as a blood purifier. The root has been eaten raw to counteract the effects of poison ivy rash and as a treatment for diabetes. The pounded dry root has been chewed in the treatment of sore throats. A poultice of the raw roots has been applied to sores.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Perennial


Height:
5 cm
(2 inches)

Flovering:
June

Habitat of the herb:

Gravelly to heavy, usually dry soils. Rocky dry soils of valleys, or on foothills, stony slopes, ridges and mountain summits to about 2,500 metres.

Edible parts of Bitter-Root:

Root - cooked. The root was a staple food of some native North American Indian tribes. It is said to be extremely nutritious, 50 - 80 grams being sufficient to sustain an active person for a day. The root is, however, rather small and tedious to collect in quantity. It is easiest to use when the plant is in flower in the spring, because the outer layer of the root (which is very bitter) slips off easily at this time of the year. Whilst being boiled the roots become soft and swollen and exude a pink mucilaginous substance. The root swells to about 6 times its size and resembles a jelly-like substance. The root has a good taste though a decided bitter flavour develops afterwards. If the root is stored for a year or two the bitterness is somewhat reduced. The root can also be dried, ground into a powder and used as a mush or a thickener in soups etc.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame in a very freely draining soil. Sow stored seed as soon as possible in a cold frame. One months cold stratification should improve germination, though this is still likely to be very slow. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first two winters. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Division in March/April. Very difficult.

Cultivation of Bitter-Root:

Gravelly to heavy, usually dry soils. Rocky dry soils of valleys, or on foothills, stony slopes, ridges and mountain summits to about 2,500 metres.

Known hazards of Lewisia rediviva:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.