An Indian story tells how the
bitterroot came to be. It says the sun heard a mother crying because she
couldn't find food for her family. The sun changed her tears into the
bitterroot so she would always have food for her children. You can find the
bitterroot growing near the mountains and boulders of western Montana in
spring and summer. Bitter root is a succulent with gorgeous almost
glowing blooms that range it color from white to pink and some peachy colors
too in early spring, athough a full sun plant the flowers will last longer
if given some afternoon shade.
The many succulent, linear leaves form a rosette resembles that of hens and chicks and usually wither by flowering time. This needs good drainage perferring sandy soils. Great for rock gardens, edging and containers too. Spreads but is shallow rooted therefore not invasive. A nice addition to any succulent garden. Likes high altitudes and benefits from mulch.
Bitterroot is the state flower of Montana. 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. The Indians usually dug the roots early in the spring as the leaves are developing and long before flowering time, when the root becomes most bitter. They believed that only certain areas produce palatable roots. 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 flavor develops afterwards. If the root is stored for a year or two the bitterness is somewhat reduced, however they are again cooked before use. The root can also be dried, ground into a powder and used as a mush or a thickener in soups etc.
The root affects the heart and promotes secretion of milk. 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.