The Power of Lomatium
Surging Interest in Lomatium During the Coronavirus
The coronavirus has brought unprecedented changes to our lives as people practice social distancing to ‘flatten the curve.’ Many people are turning to the health benefits of native plant medicine to strengthen their immune systems during the pandemic. Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds has experienced a large amount of interest in lomatium seed over the last few weeks, primarily fernleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum), as people research plant species they can grow on their own to have a more self-sufficient way to stay healthy. The strong interest in lomatium is due in part to evidence that it was used by some Native American tribes “during the influenza pandemic of 1917, with reportedly good results.”
The coronavirus highlights a need to do more research about the medicinal uses of native plants. Lomatium dissectum has one of the largest ranges of any Lomatium in the United States. For this reason it is the most widely used Lomatium species in herbal medicine, however, many other lomatium species also have medicinal uses. “Of the 70 to 80 Lomatium species from western North America, only 20 occur in the ethnobotanical literature (Moerman, 2012).“
In this blog post we will discuss different species of lomatium, the benefit of lomatium for pollinators, how to grow lomatium, and the medicinal benefits of lomatium.
Lomatium is not typically grown in gardens or on a large scale for medicine or seed production, but there are many native plant enthusiasts, herbalists, habitat restoration practitioners, pollinator advocates and businesses that are trying to change that. It is a slow growing plant that can take several years to mature and set seed, or grow large enough to harvest plant material for medicinal use. Once established, however, growing lomatium is very rewarding. Although not showy in the traditional garden esthetic point of view, lomatium does have tremendous garden value because it is a larval host plant for butterfly species such as the anise swallowtail butterfly, and it is highly attractive to many pollinating and beneficial insects.
Anise swallowtail butterfly caterpillar on Lomatium utriculatum (top left and center) Lomatium triternatum (top right) and Lomatium californicum (left).
Although we have commercial seed collection permits to collect seed on both BLM and Forest Service land, a large percentage of the lomatium seed we sell is grown on our own land. For 17 years we have been growing a wide variety of lomatium species on our 24 acres of land in the Siskiyou Mountains. Various species of lomatium already naturally grow on our land and we have used wild tending techniques (seeding, forest thinning, strategic fire use to invigorate lomatium stands, etc.), that have drastically increased the amount of lomatium on our land that we use for seed increase and seed sales, as well as for personal medicinal use. In order to keep as much of our land in its natural state as possible we prefer to grow native seeds using wild tending techniques rather than agricultural methods, however, we do grow lomatium in some previously tilled and gardened areas of our land, close to our home and structures, where we are restoring previous agricultural areas into meadow systems for native seed increase.
Ecological integrity is important to us and we do not recommend harvesting lomatium root in the wild for medicinal use. We encourage people to grow lomatium from seed for ethical harvest in your own garden or on your own land. Lomatium dissectum, for instance, is on the United Plant Savers “At-Risk” list of wild herbs that may be under exceptional harvesting pressure.
There are many good sources of information about lomatium species both in books and online. For brief, yet dense information we recommend the USDA-NRCS Plant Guides that are available for some lomatium species that cover the ecology and growing requirements.
The USDA-NRCS Plant Guide for Lomatium dissectum is a great source of information. It covers plant identification, habitat requirements, ecology, wildlife and pollinator use, propagation, growing conditions, as well as ethnobotanical use.
A few quotes from the Lomatium dissectum Plant Guide:
“Fernleaf biscuitroot, known as Toza by the Numic speaking tribes of the Great Basin, was commonly used for food, medicine, and ceremonial purposes (Meilleur et al., 1990). It is one of the most widely used plant species in native North American culture (Moerman, 1998).”
“Fernleaf biscuitroot is still popular as a natural herbal medicine, and has been shown to possess antiviral and antibiotic properties (McCutcheon et al., 1992; 1995).”
“In Pullman, Washington, best results were obtained when seed was sown into containers in the fall that were left outside to overwinter. Germination begins in March and growth continues for 3 to 4 months until the plants go dormant in late July or August. Containerized plants should be left outside in a lath house for an additional winter before transplanting the following spring. Flowering and seed production typically begins 3 years after transplanting (Skinner, 2004).”
Growing Lomatium from Seed
Like many native plants, the seed of most lomatium species that grow in the Klamath-Siskiyou region require 60-90 days cold-moist stratification in order to trigger springtime seed germination.
For personal use, the seed can be sown outside in late fall in seed trays and other nursery containers and allowed to overwinter outside with full exposure to winter conditions. The seedlings will typically germinate in March. If started in shallow seed starting trays the seedlings will need to be upsized into deeper containers for growing out over the summer.
Lomatium seeds can also be direct seeded outside in late fall. Weed and prepare a well-drained, unirrigated garden bed to sow the seeds in the garden setting. For direct seeding on land outside the garden setting, either rake the area to clear it of duff and thatch, or follow our Site Preparation Techniques for Native Seeding.
For many years Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds has been growing lomatium from seed in our nursery and through direct seeding methods. Below are some photos from our nursery and our land.
For further reading, this enjoyable blog post below is a good account of growing lomatium species in a medicinal herb garden in Seattle. The experience the author shares is valuable not only for growing lomatium, but for growing native plants from seed in general.
Growing Lomatium on a Large Scale
Lomatium is beginning to be grown more on a larger scale for medicinal plant material and seed increase fields for habitat restoration and commercial seed production.
The American Society for Horticultural Science has published a paper with detailed research about growing Fernleaf biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) for commercial seed production.
Although most people don’t grow lomatium at this scale, it is helpful information even for backyard gardeners. The more lomatium can be grown from seed, the less pressure there is on wild populations from overharvesting for medicinal use.
Medicinal Use of Lomatium
Below is a select list of resources that address the ethnobotanical and modern use of lomatium for medicinal use.
We recommend the book, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West, by the great herbalist, Michael Moore. There is a section on Lomatium dissectum in Moore’s book where he says that lomatium’s “main value is for respiratory virus infections,” but we also wanted to share the following quotes:
“Lomatium has been used for centuries as a medicine by Native Americans who live in the Great Basin; it was used by many Mormon settlers in Utah and Nevada, and it was known by Oregon pioneers. They all used it for lung problems, bad fevers and pneumonia, and there are many references to its value for persistent winter fevers.”
“Lomatium definitely helps simple head colds and shortens the duration of overt influenza viral infections.” (Moore, p. 170)
- Coronavirus Scare: 5 Tips to Help Ward Off and Manage a Viral Illness With Herbs
“Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) root is a potent and effective antiviral that is warming and drying in part due to a resinous property. However, this is the kind of herb one might reserve for the instance of a novel or exceptional viral infection because it is not abundant. Its range is limited, and the root is the part used. It is on the United Plant Savers’ “At-Risk” list of wild herbs under exceptional harvesting pressure (United Plant Savers, 2018). If a household were affected by a novel virus and advised to do care at home under medical supervision, and this herb was in ones’ home apothecary, this would be the time to pull it out. Typically, it has been prepared as a tincture, and used in small amounts regularly, ½ ml several times throughout the day while affected (Buhner, 2013). Small amounts of herbal tea infusion would have a similar effect but the taste is quite strong!”
Naturopathic Approach to COVID-19
by Mar 4, 2020 | Of the Earth Wellness Naturopathic clinic|
“Lomatium dissectum: Anti-viral, helps break up mucous.”
- Lomatium dissectum: Medicinal use
The Naturopathic Herbalist
“Medicinal use: Lomatium is useful in acute and chronic viral, bacterial, fungal infections and other inflammatory disorders of the respiratory system. It is most effective in treating infections when it is given as early as possible and in small frequent doses.”
- Lomatium dissectum Inhibits Secretion of CXCL10, a Chemokine Associated with Poor Prognosis in Highly Pathogenic Influenza A Infection
“Conclusion: The observation that L. dissectum extract inhibits CXCL10 secretion provides a plausible mechanism for the efficacy of L. dissectum in influenza treatment reported in ethnobotanical studies and case reports. L. dissectum may reduce morbidity and mortality associated with influenza and merits further research.”
Kaiser Permanente website, 2019 Healthnotes, Inc.
“Native Americans of many tribes reportedly used lomatium root to treat a wide variety of infections, particularly those affecting the lungs.1 Lomatium was used, particularly in the southwestern United States, during the influenza pandemic of 1917 with reportedly good results.” https://wa.kaiserpermanente.org/kbase/topic.jhtml?docId=hn-2126009
- Lomatium Root: Possibly the Best Anti-Viral
Cultivation and Irrigation of Fernleaf Biscuitroot (Lomatium dissectum) for Seed Production
“Lomatium dissectum was used by Native American populations as food, medicine, and a piscicide. Specific uses described in historic, ethnobotanical records cannot be verifiably linked to L. dissectum as a result of the morphological similarities, especially in leaf morphology, among some Lomatium spp. and revisions of taxonomic classifications after the ethnobotanical studies (Ebeling, 1986; Jones, 1941; Meilleur et al., 1990). More than half of the Lomatium spp. are relatively rare with geographically restricted ranges (Soltis et al., 1997) making proper identification by a generally trained ethnobotanist less likely and perpetuating possible cases of folk underdifferentiation, the use of one folk name for two closely associated Linnaean species (Hunn and Brown, 2011). Of the 70 to 80 Lomatium species from western North America, only 20 occur in the ethnobotanical literature (Moerman, 2012).”
Klamath-Siskiyou Native Seeds has six species of lomatium seed available for purchase. Our inventory is limited, please limit your purchase of Lomatium dissectum to five packets or less per order during the coronavirus pandemic in order to make the seed as widely available as possible.