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Biscuit root

Category: Medicines - plant based



Introduction and description

Gray's biscuitroot plant at Escure Ranch, Washington

Lomatium is a genus of about 75 species of perennial herbs native to western North America. It was once classified as Cogswellia. And before WWII as Leptotaenia.

Lomatium grows in a variety of habitats throughout western North America with many endemic species from coastal bluffs to piles of basalt rock.

It is in the Apiaceae family and related to many edible species like carrots and celery, it too is edible. The common names for it are Biscuitroot, Indian parsley, and Desert parsley.  It was extensively used by North American Indians in the inland northwest as a staple food.

And it also has healing power.  Its other common names are Cough root and Indian consumption plant

In healing

Nineleaf Biscuitroot (Lomatium triternatum) roots

Lomatium dissectum has been used as herbal medicines for cough and upper respiratory infections, including tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is a bacterial infection, which implies the plant has anti-bacterial properties.

Dr Duke has no information on this plant thus information on the genus is, sadly, rather sparse.  Given that there are well over 70 species in the genus there is the added problem of knowing which of the many are medicinally active.  This is why it is better to use the edible varieties, as even if they have no medicinal value, they are at least nutritious and have shown to do you no harm.

The principle properties that the plant appears to possess are anti-viral.  It cannot fight against all viruses, and it only helps at one stage in the progress of the virus in the body, but it is a rather crucial stage

Stephen Harrod Buhner – Herbal anti-virals

Lomatium dissectum var. multifidum

During the process of endocytosis, the virus stimulates the cell to create what is called a vacuole, essentially a sealed bubble that will be held inside the cell.  Cells do this to sequester substances that can damage them.  Microbes have learned to use such vacuoles for their own purposes, usually to protect the virus or bacteria from intracellular antimicrobial actions.
The virus uses its hemagglutinin to bind itself to the inside of the vacuole membrane, where it opens a pore to the cell’s cytoplasm ie its interior spaces.  To do this the virus uses what is called the M2 ion channel – ion channels are tiny pores in cells that allow charged molecules to enter and exit cells, bringing food in and allowing waste out.  Using an M2 inhibitor blocks this process and stops the virus from replicating.

Lomatium is one of the most potent M2 inhibitors known, stronger than pharmaceuticals.  Use of the M2 channel is specific to the influenza A virus, which is why the development of blockers for it was considered crucial.

Unfortunately, the extensive use of chemical M2 inhibitors in poultry farms has now created nearly complete resistance to them in all influenza strains

So farmers have done us no favours.  But it is possible that other viruses with similar action can be combatted using this plant - see the observations.

Description and Habitat


Most Lomatiums are a desert species or grow on bluffs where there is limited water for most of the year. They are green and grow the most during the spring when water is available, then set seed and dry out completely above ground before the hottest part of the year- while storing the energy they gained from photosynthesizing while water was available to them in their deep seated roots. For most of the year you wouldn't even know a plant was there, the brown tops often are blown off or easily crushed, but it lies in wait underground for the next spring.


It has either white or yellow flowers, more rarely a purple or maroon colour. As with most Apiaceae the fruit is really what sets the genus apart from other yellow or white flowered look-alikes like Cymopterus and Oreogenia. Uniquely they are dorsally flattened and winged- which can be papery or corky but help the seed to dispurse a little further on the wind. The dorsal ribs may or may not be there on the fruit, but are narrowly winged if at all. Leaves are mainly basal and dissected (ternately, pinnately, or ternate-pinnately dissected or compound), many look like ferns or can be mistaken for such by botanical novices except ferns don't have flowers or seeds- they have spores, because their leaves are so thin and branched.

Conservation concerns


There are many species whose habitat is under threat by development, grazing and wildfires. There is also some concern about particular species like Lomatium dissectum which is mainly harvested from the wild for herbal uses.

Because the genus is so difficult to identify but has great genetic diversity new species are still being found today such as Lomatium tarantuloides, many species often have a very limited range, part of the reason they were not found before is that they exist nowhere else and there are few to begin with.

The advice given by all herbalists and those who care about the environment is to only harvest the plant if it is very common in your area and not endangered.


.... or you can use vodka and add rowans

Although the seeds are highly active medicinally and seem to be a lot stronger in their actions than the root, the use of the seeds endangers the plant and the root is the edible part.  The advice is thus to ensure the plant has set seed and then use the root.

Liqueurs and syrups - One of the ways in which a syrup can be made that can be used for coughs, influenza etc is to use a combination of sugar [or honey] and alcohol – something like gin is good because it already contains a number of herbs and spices – to leach out the essential ingredients from the plant. 

Vodka works too, whatever you use it must be a spirit. 

In effect you are making a sort of Biscuit root gin, much as one might make sloe gin.  This then gives you a ‘medicine’ for use at all times, even when the plant is unavailable.  The root must be pounded or pulverised first so that the leaching action works better.

This drink is like a liqueur, and can be treated like one.  Sloe gin is delicious and medicinal, so can Biscuit root gin, although it may need a little extra to make it really tasty.

To this can be added, liquorice – another anti-viral – and Asclepias tuberosa -  a species of Milkweed native to eastern North America, also anti-viral.   Another ingredient which adds fruitiness to the syrup and anti-viral action are rowan berries, an alternative is elderberries.  All these are edible, and all have medicinal action.   All add flavour. 

As a vegetable - The root can also be simply eaten.  These are or have been traditional Native American foods, eaten cooked, or dried and ground into flour. Some Native Americans ground Lomatium into mush and shaped into cakes and stored for later use. Their flavor has been compared to celery or parsnip.  If you cook them and mash them they can be used as an alternative to parsnip, although most people seem to recommend you mix them with something else - such as carrots.

Stephen Harrod Buhner – Herbal anti-virals

The roots of many of the lomatiums, before they attain marurity, are highly edible - though the tatse may take some getting used to.  The roots have traditionally been eaten fresh, steamed, roasted, boiled, in soups and stews, canned or dried to crispy and very tasty sticks.  Larger immature rots or the sweeter varieties were peeled, pounded into cakes and dried in the sun, hence the biscuit part of the common name.  Lewis and Clark compared the tatse of the dried cakes to bread.  Most lomatium species were apparently used similarly.


References and further reading



Stephen Harrod Buhner – Herbal anti-virals - The book from which the quotes above come provides an extremely comprehensive analysis of this plant and a great deal of extra useful information about its medicinal properties. 

One side effect according to this book of using the tincture [ie extract and thus concentrated version] appears to be a rash that disappears after a week. 

This section is about the plant itself.



Stephen Harrod Buhner – Herbal anti-virals
For a while, the reports of the efficacy of this plant stimulated study of its actions, but the emergence of pharmaceuticals stopped research on the plant until Michael Moore began speaking about it in the early 1970s.  It is now considered among many herbalists, to be the primary antiviral medicine in the US herbal community


Related observations