A Review of Five Key Medicinal Plants of the Pacific North West

This document describes the botany, chemical constituents, pharmacology, clinical applications, pharmacy and folklore of five commonly used botanicals indigenous to the north western parts of the USA and the western seaboard and Rocky Mountains of Canada. The Native peoples of this area use a great variety of plants, many of which have never entered the materia medica of the non-Native herbalist. This paper identifies and describes some of those which are now beginning to enter common usage.

The biogeoclimatic zones of the Pacific Northwest encourage the growth of hardy plants which can withstand the deep winter and the hot summers. Many of the harvesting locations are extremely isolated and completely pristine and unspoilt. Other harvesting sites are in cleared forest land, the herbs being considered a potential second source of revenue for the forestry industry who are now seriously investigating this possible cash crop.

As pollution and overcrowding despoils land in Europe, the vast untouched acreage of the New World can seem as attractive to modern day herbalists as it once did to our pioneer forebears. There still exists the possibility of harvesting unpolluted plants and there is an ever-increasing interest shown by American herbalists of the traditional Native uses of herbs which might one day become substitutes for some of our more popular, and hence most threatened, species.

This paper is an attempt to introduce some of those species to European herbalists and to contribute to the widening of our materia medica. The plants I have chosen to write about are all well recorded in traditional use and grow in local abundance. They represent a significant opportunity to utilize empirically proven and inherently safe plants that are, in Canada and increasingly in the UK, readily available and which may alleviate the burden on some of our species.

Usnea spp Old Man’s Beard Lichen

Many different species of Usnea are used as medicine, including U. Hirta, U. Barbata, U. Florida, U. Longissima, U. Dasypoga, U. Bayle and U. Lobata. It has a recorded history of therapeutic use dating back to ancient China (where it was called Sun-lo and used for cooling an overheated system and as treatment for surface infections) and it was mentioned in the Formulary of Al-kindi ca. 850 AD.


A tufted, descendent lichen, of greyish green and dry appearance. Strands are variable in length according to species but are easily differentiated from other lichens or hanging mosses by their dry almost brittle state. Some species have an inner core of white material which may be exposed by gently pulling on either end of a strand. The outer coating will tear apart to reveal the tough inner cord. It is believed to provide tensile strength to the strand and may be a polysaccharide food store. These white-cored species are considered to offer the most valuable medicinal effect. Some Usnea species reproduce by soredia which permit a primitive vegetative method where a few algal cells surrounded by fungal filaments break off and dust the surface of the plant, to be swept away by passing winds or on the fur of an animal. In others, reproduction is simply by way of pieces of lichen thallus breaking off and being carried elsewhere by animals. Usnea spp. grows over a wide geographic zone ranging from sea level to sub-alpine and on many different host trees including Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine, Oak and Larch. Usnea has a preference for old growth trees and its habitat is being steadily eroded by modern logging practices. Usnea also has the tendency to accumulate heavy metals from the air so caution is required when harvesting to ensure that there is sufficient distance from any significant sources of pollution.


Traditionally Usnea was harvested in the spring as the snow melted and metabolic activity resumed in the plant. It would be harvested on a dry, warm morning and laid on sheets to dry. Drying normally takes very little time (2 – 3 days) because the plant is so dry naturally and spoilage of Usnea in storage is unusual. For medicine making the strands should be chopped into small pieces with sharp scissors or shears.

Constituents and actions

Because of their long tradition of use as antimicrobial agents by indigenous peoples, lichens attracted attention early on in the search for antibiotics. By 1944 it was found that as many as half the lichens studied contained lichen acids which exhibited variable antibiotic activity. They are particularly active against gram positive bacteria such as streptococcus, staphylococcus and mycobacteria and are generally not effective against gram negative bacteria such as salmonella and E. Coli.1

Medicinal Use of some species of Usnea (after Hobbs)

  • Usnea hirta
  • usnic, thamnolic & usnaric acids
  • antibiotic
  • Usnea barbata
  • barbatolic, usnic, lobaric & tartaric acids
  • used homeopathically against headaches and sunstroke
  • Usnea florida
  • usnic, stictinic & lobaric acids
  • antibiotic and anti-tubercular
  • Usnea longissima
  • usnic & evernic acids
  • expectorant

Usnic acid and its derivatives appear to be the main active constituents in Usnea spp. It is believed to work against gram positive bacteria by disrupting cell membrane functions and so preventing ATP formation and oxidative phosphorylation. Human cells are less permeable to usnic acid and so are not adversely affected.

Usnic acid is only poorly water-soluble so tinctures with about 70% ethyl alcohol will allow a faster action while simple decoctions are suitable for long term use.

Unidentified constituents in Usnea spp. have also been suggested as offering an immuno-modulating effect upon the whole leucocyte protection system.

Usnic acid had, in an in vitro experiment, completely inhibited the growth of human tuberculosis bacillus in dilutions as low as 1 : 50,000 and weakened their growth at dilutions of only 1 : 200,000. It also inhibited the growth of streptococcus, Staphylococcus and Pneumonococcus at a dilution of 1 : 20,000.2

Clinical applications

Antifungal – effective against tinea infections such as ringworm, athletes foot and also against Candida albicans.

Antiparasitic- effective against Trichomonas and Chlamydia in vaginal infections.

Antibacterial – effective against gram positive bacteria in local or systemic infections

Immune regulator & supporter – boosts the immune system in cases such as acute and chronic lung infections (pleurisy, TB and pneumonia, colds and flus and any other time of poor immune function.

Dosage and pharmacy

Traditional uses of Usnea include dusting the powdered herb directly onto open or infected wounds, making strong decoctions, and tincturing the herb in alcohol to optimize the immune enhancing effect. It is also successfully employed in a salve where fat is used as the solvent for lichen acids.

Tincture 1 : 3, 70% alcohol standard adult dose is 3 mL three times daily or more in acute cases.


Caution should be used if applying the herb directly to the skin because an allergic contact dermatitis may occur. In this event, try using the herb internally instead.

There are no reported side effects of using the tincture or decoction. Many herbalists consider it a safe herb to use in auto-immune conditions but I would advise caution and regular monitoring of blood components and immune fractions.

Oplopanax horridum Devil’s Club Araliaciae

This spiny shrub, growing only in a narrow coastal mountain zone, is related to ginseng and has been revered as a sacred plant by many generations of First Nation people.


It grows 1 – 3 meters high with stems that may be erect or sprawling along the ground and putting out adventitious roots. The stems are savagely armed with spines that cause festering sores if they pierce the skin. The leaves are alternate and deciduous, reaching an impressive size of up to 50 cm. across and having 7 – 9 palmate lobes. Even the underside of the leaves is armed with spines. The inflorescence is a raceme of small, whitish-green flowers that appear in June. They give way to a striking show of bright red berries in the fall. Devil’s Club grows in moist shady woodland, preferring well drained areas with heavy rainfall, and reaching the sub-alpine or timberline level in the mountains. Its range is Alaska to California, east to Idaho and Montana.

Part used

The preferred part is the inner root bark. For medicinal purposes it may be dried, but the spiritual and adaptogenic properties are strongest when it is fresh.


Traditionally the Devil’s Club root was harvested in the spring or fall as the sap rose and fell. Because it grows quite prolifically in its particular ecological niche, and because both roots and stems can reproduce into a new plant, it is possible to harvest quite heavily. As long as this is not repeated too soon (ie. the regrowing plant is given time to mature) then a stand of Devil’s Club can continue to produce a harvest indefinitely. The roots are dug and then scrubbed clean. The inner bark is peeled off with a sharp knife and cut into quills. These are air dried then stored in an airtight container. It is recommended tat he bark be used as soon as possible and that it not be stored for over 6 months because it will lose potency.

Constituents and actions3

The chemical components of this plant are not identified but it has been known as a powerful medicinal agent for many generations. In modern times its primary use is as an hypoglycaemic and blood sugar regulator. It seems to have a synergistic effect with insulin, thus lowering the required dose of the drug; and it also seems to have an amphoteric effect on blood sugar to keep it within normal homeostatic parameters. It has traditionally been used during fasts and vision quests where it may help to curb hunger pangs as well as possibly providing some psycho spiritual effects.

Clinical applications

Anti-arthritic -It has traditionally been used by many Native bands for the treatment of arthritis, both by oral ingestion and in the form of poultices, ointments and washes.

Antiseptic – The root bark burned to a white ash was applied to open sores and would to prevent infection and reduce inflammation

Blood cleanser, laxative, stomachic and spring tonic. It is effective for constipation and skin afflictions due to poor liver function.

Lung tonic and antimicrobial – Tuberculosis, pneumonia, bronchitis and other chest infections are treated by oral ingestion of the root bark and by inhalation of the steam or smoke from the boiled or burned plant.

Post-parturition tonic and regenerative, providing strength and sustenance to the new mother and to aid in re-establishing the normal menstrual rhythm.

Anti-galactogogue – The Lummi band bind the root bark over the breasts to reduce milk flow.

Anti-parasitic – used as a strong decoction to wash the hair in cases of lice and nits.

Dosage and pharmacy

The decoction is made to the standard strength (30 g. to 1 Liter) and may be used internally or topically. The internal dose would be equivalent to 30 g / day.

The tincture is considered to be stronger. It is usually made to 1 : 5 strength with 45 – 60% alcohol. The normal adult dose would be 5 mL once or twice a day for long term use or up to 4 times daily for short term use.


It is somewhat cathartic and emetic in larger doses.

Ritual and ceremonial use

Traditionally this herb was used as an adaptogenic or stress reducer by warriors preparing for battle, by hunters preparing for a chase or by people undertaking a long journey by foot or canoe. The fresh root serves to reduce the sensations of fatigue and physical pain and to improve stamina and endurance. It also has some mood altering properties that were traditionally used to access the sub-conscious states. Frequently taken before ritual fasting, vision quests and sweat lodges, it opens the mind and reduces inhibitions. It seems particularly to aid in contacting the Nature spirits and the rooted ones.

Another traditional attribute of the plant is as a purifier and protector from evil spirits. The dwelling of a powerful shaman might be constructed from Devil’‘s Club boughs, shorn of their spines, so that he would be protected from all evil influences. Its emetic properties were sometimes employed as a purifying technique as well. The smoke from smouldering Devil’s Club was used as incense to cleanse the air.

Pieces of the bark are still sometimes tied around the necks of children as amulets to ward off evil spirits. These may be pithed out to form beads which are often painted and decorated.

Ganoderma lucidum Reishi Basidiomycetes / Fungi

One of the most ancient and venerated herbal medicines of the Orient, this shelf or bracket fungus ranks along with ginseng as one of the great panaceas. It has a breadth of beneficial effects that cause it to be classified as one of the best invigorating, tonic herbs. It has many other names, reflecting its widespread usage among indigenous peoples. Some of these names include Auspicious Herb, Holy Mushroom, Herb of Spiritual Potency, Ling Chih and Ling Zhi. The Latin name translates as ‘Lustrous Skin’. Its recorded use goes back over 500 years to ancient Chinese dynasties. Although not widely used by First Nation healers, it is beginning to enter into the indigenous materia medica as Chinese research demonstrates its significant clinical efficacy.


This fungus normally grows horizontally as a shelf mushroom but may also grow vertically, developing a stalk and cap formation over time. It has a hard, shiny surface, reddish brown or burnt orange color and almost appearing to be lacquered. The underside is rough. It grows mostly on the east coast, on hardwoods, but also occurs on the coast of the Pacific Northwest where it grows on coniferous trees as well. Other species that can be used more or less interchangeably with G. lucidum include G. oregonense, G. applanatum, G. japonicae and G. tsugae.

Part used

Traditionally the whole fruiting body is used (ie. the above ground parts). Recent research indicates that the mycelium may, in fact, be the more medicinally active.

Constituents and actions4

Probably the most significant active constituents, among many useful chemicals in the plant, are the polysaccharides that provide an immunological effect and support the functioning and regulation of the whole immune system. These are water soluble constituents, and this may account for the traditional use of Reishi in teas and soups as an immune enhancing herb. Triterpenes are also clinically active, especially in the cardiovascular system. These are not readily water soluble and hence have not been utilized clinically until more recent times.

Active Constituents of Reishi (after Jones)

  • active compound
  • action
  • part used
  • Polysaccharides
  • (Beta D glucans)
  • Immuno-regulator
  • Anti-tumor
  • Fruiting body & mycelium
  • Ganodosterone
  • (steroid)
  • Anti-hepatotoxic
  • Mycelium
  • Triterpenes
  • Anti-allergic
  • Anti-hypertensive
  • Reduces cholesterol synthesis
  • Fruitingbody
  • Protein-bound
  • polysaccharide
  • Anti-hypertensive
  • Mycelium

Various polysaccharides seem to act synergistically in the immune system to regulate and normalize its functions, thus supporting the healing process at its very core. Reishi has specifically been shown to increase the function of macrophages and to stimulate T cell formation. Some of this may be due to a powerful anti-oxidant capability, which also contributes to its reputed use as a herb of longevity.5 The polysaccharides are also believed to responsible for the anti-tumor effect and for blood sugar balancing.

The triterpenes inhibit angiotensin converting enzyme in the lungs and thus serve a similar purpose as the ACE inhibitor class of anti-hypertensive drugs. They have the added advantage that, unlike the drug, the plant terpenes also regulate platelet aggregation and thus prevent the formation of thrombi, and strengthen and tonify the walls of the erythrocytes and thus prevent their early demise.6 The Triterpenes are responsible for the regulation of hepatic cholesterol synthesis and can be very effective in cases of hyperlipoproteinaemia, especially of the familial type where standard dietary restrictions do not help.

The lanostanoid (steroidal) components of Reishi called ganodosterone, actually comprise ganodermenonol, ganodermadiol and ganodermatriol. They have been shown to collectively offer great support in cases of hepatotoxicity and liver cancer. They also serve to reduce mast cell lysis and histamine release.7

Clinical applications

Immune dysfunctions – especially chronic immune weakness and poor resistance to airborne or other infections. Sometimes cited as being especially effective for infections in the upper body such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Cancer and other disease involving massive oxidative damage, including chemical toxicity and liver damage.

Hypertension and hyperlipoproteinaemia – as a long term prophylactic and regulator for the circulatory system

Allergic tendencies – by inhibiting the release of histamine from the mucosa it reduces the immune response to inhaled or ingested allergens, especially those allergies mediated by immunoglobulin E.

Antibacterial – especially against staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria.

Antiradiation – the antioxidant effect protects against radiation damage so it can be utilized if exposure to X rays is expected.

Anti-inflammatory – by regulating immune function and mopping up free radicals, the Reishi can reduce inflammation without interfering in the healing response.

Dosage and pharmacy

Traditional Chinese medical texts call for up to 9 grams of Reishi powder daily. This may be taken stirred into hot water as a broth or simply added to soups and gravies where it serves as something of a flavoring agent as well and imparts a rich, woody, smoky flavor to foods. It has more recently been made into tinctures because the use of alcohol facilitates the extraction of steroidal and triterpene compounds. There is no standard strength of extract or consequent dosing, so the recommended dose can only be as an equivalent to 5 – 10 grams of powdered herb.


In an animal experiment no side effects have been noted after 30 days of consuming >5g / kg body weight – equivalent to some 350 grams / day in an average adult. When commencing treatment many people experience transient cleansing reactions such as pimples, sore muscles, dizziness, bowel disturbance and itchy skin. These pass within a few days as the toxins are eliminated from the body, and can be controlled by regulating the daily dose.

Thuja occidentalis / plicata

Eastern / Western Red Cedar Cupressaceae (Arbor vitae)

The provincial tree of British Columbia, this large tree forms most of the temperate rain forest of the Pacific North West. It derives its name from two sources:- from Jacques Chartier who boiled the tips into a tea and saved his sailors from scurvy which caused him to name it Arbre de vie, and the Latin translation of a the Native name meaning Tree of Life referring both to its rot resistance and its incredible importance in the survival of the Native people of the north west coastal regions. Thuja derives from the Greek word for Juniper and for a fragrant wood, and plicata derives from the pleated appearance of the leaves in this western species.


This tree is not, in fact, a true Cedar but is a Cypress family It is an evergreen and reaches heights of 50 metres with buttresses at the base. Branches droop considerably then turn up at the ends. The leaves are scale-like and occur in pairs. They are an acid green at the tips in the spring, turning to a glossy dark green as they mature. In the species plicata the leaves are closely pressed to the stem and overlapped in a shingle arrangement. It has male and female parts separately on the same tree, pollen from the male parts being wind borne to the female cone in which the seeds develop. The bark on mature trees becomes a rich red brown and tends to peel off in shreds. The tree grows in moist to wet soils at relatively low elevations and forms dense forests with new trees growing off nurse logs and many forest floor plants in mature stands.

Part used

The medicinally active part is the leaf, preferably the leaf tips harvested in the early summer for maximum content of volatile oils. The volatile oil can be distilled out or the leaf tips can be soaked in alcohol or vegetable oil as a solvent. The leaf tips can also be boiled and the steam inhaled.

Constituents and actions

There are a number of flavone glycosides including quercitin, kaempferol-3-0-a-rhamnoside, and mearnsitrin. These contribute to its ability to induce phagocytosis by leucocytes and to its mucolytic properties. It also contains catechin, gallocatechin and proanthocyanidins which contribute to its antibacterial properties by interfering with viral and bacterial cell membrane function and by increasing tone and resistance in the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract. The volatile oil has notable amounts of thujone, pinene, fenchone and umbellliferone.8 Thujone is a dicyclic ketone monoterpene and acts as an irritant of smooth muscle, causing contractions of the uterus and stimulating expectoration. In large and repeated doses thujone may cause brain injury (as in heavy consumption of Absinthe made from Artemisia absinthium) so Thuja is recommended for short term use only. Ketone volatile oils also tend to promote tissue growth and healing.9

Clinical applications 3,8,9,10

Antifungal – the volatile oil may be applied undiluted to fungal skin infections such as athletes foot, tinea versicolor or ringworm. The tincture may be used internally to treat systemic Candida infections and also for Aspergillus and other fungal lung infections. It is also applied topically to warts.

Antibacterial – especially for upper respiratory tract infections. The volatile oil or the steam from boiling leaf tips may be inhaled in any congestive conditions of the upper respiratory tract especially where there is a lot of mucous being produced but little expectoration occurring. The Thuja will stimulate the muco-ciliary escalator, ct directly against the pathogenic microbe and stimulate leucocytosis in the area.

Vulnerary – the alcoholic extract (tincture) was prized by the Eclectic physicians for treating chronic superficial injuries called by them fulminating ulcers or ulcerous epitheliomata. Today, while we no longer have to deal with such chronic conditions very often, we still find value in Thuja for treating diabetic or varicose ulcers and some of the more persistent tropical skin afflictions, bedsores and skin cancers.

Astringent – the tannic components contribute to an astringent and tightening action on the mucus membranes, particularly in the upper respiratory tract where there is a marked mucolytic effect. It has traditionally been used to treat hemoptysis and used to be valuable in the treatment of diphtheria and croup. Used in a sitz bath or in a cocoa butter suppository, it may also be useful to treat hemorrhoids or anal fissures. The Eclectics also used Thuja to treat strawberry naevi and port wine birth marks as well as in the form of a snuff or nose wash for nasal polyps and chronic sinusitis..

Female tonic – small doses of Thuja tincture act as a stimulating tonic to the female organs, being valuable as an emmenagogue for suppressed menstruation and as an anticatarrhal for any congestive conditions. It is especially indicated for a heavy, dull, aching sensations and for abnormal tissue growths such as fibroids, endometriosis and benign or malignant tumors. It may be used in the form of a douche to treat chronic leucorrhoea, vaginal Candida infections, or for vaginal polyps, cervical dysplasias or genital warts.

Male tonic – Thuja is frequently employed for congestive conditions of the prostate gland such as benign prostatic hypertrophy, as well as for mucous in the urine and for retention of urine. It may be applied topically to genital warts or for treatment of Candida infections. At the turn of the century Thuja tincture was employed as a treatment for hydrocoele. This was diluted in water and injected hypodermically into he tunica vaginalis of the testes and manually distributed into the whole scrotum. Considerable inflammation would occur but as it then resolved the varicocoele would usually resolve too.

Kidney / bladder tonic – Thuja is believed to give tone to the bladder walls and to reduce nocturnal enuresis and promote complete emptying of the bladder. Coupled with the pronounced immuno-stimulating, astringent and anti-catarrhal activity, this is a specific remedy for chronic urinary tract infections. Because of the irritating effect of the thujone, it is not recommended for those with acute renal infections.

Dosage and pharmacy

The tincture is usually made to a 1 : 4 or 1 : 5 strength with 65 – 90% alcohol. A standard dose would be 2.5 mL three times daily for cute conditions, or the tincture can be applied topically or diluted for skin washing, douching or inhaling.

The volatile oil may be purchased, taking care not to confuse it with essential oil of cedarwood which is quite different. This may be applied undiluted to warts or fungal infections or may be diluted for skin washing. It may also be employed in a vaporizer for inhalation.


Thuja should not be used for extended periods of time by those with kidney weakness and should be avoided in pregnancy where it may act as an abortifacient.8

Traditional uses

Thuja is the most widely used and versatile of all the trees indigenous to the Pacific North West. The wood is extremely rot resistant and was traditionally used to make the poles for longhouses, totem poles and dugout canoes. It was also used to make many tools and implements including fish spears, paddles and food drying racks. Certain tribes used hand hewn planks to make bentwood boxes, perfectly square and formed from a single plank bent and pinned. Mortuary boxes were always made from Thuja wood because the local traditions required that the body be preserved above ground in a raised box that was resistant to the elements. Before the arrival of the white man the natives made fabric for clothing from pounded sheets of Thuja bark and also used it to make beautiful baskets. It was considered by these people to be bad luck to fell a tree so they removed planks by driving antler wedges into the living tree along the grain to split off planks. When a whole tree was required to make a canoe or a longhouse pole, then either a naturally fallen tree was used or there would have to be offerings made to the Gods before a tree could be cut. The power of the Thuja was aid to be so strong that a person could receive spiritual healing by simply by standing with their back against a tree and one myth suggests that the Great Spirit created Thuja in honor of a an who was always helping others: “When he dies and where he is buried, a cedar tree shall grow and be useful to the people – for baskets, for clothing and for shelter”.The inner cambium layer of the bark was even eaten in times of famine as a survival food.

The Thuja was used for many medicinal purposes as well. The green immature cones were chewed and the juice swallowed as a contraceptive for women to prevent implantation of the egg. The smoke of the smouldering branches was used as a traditional ‘smudge’ to ward off evil spirits and to cleanse sick rooms. Similarly, the green branches were used to splash water on the stones during the traditional ‘sweat lodge’ ceremony. The branches were also used in the form of a strong tea to wash rheumatic limbs.

Lomatium spp. Biscuit Root Apiaceae

First Nation people call this Indian Consumption Plant, and this genus has repeatedly demonstrated efficacy against a variety of bacterial infections including the dreaded TB that decimated the Native population in the Americas when the white man first arrived. The name Lomatium comes from the Latin loma meaning ‘border’ and refers to the winged fruits.


The old botanical name for this plant was Leptotaenia multiflora. There are a great many species and varieties of this genus, possibly as many as 80, ranging from 20″ to 7′ in height and all appearing to exhibit medicinal activity. The fern-like, bright green leaves are multi-pinnate and may form a large basal bunch with the flowering stalks being almost leafless. The stalk rarely branches and it carries a typical umbel shaped inflorescence that ranges from purple through gold according to species. The fruit aids identification of the genus because they all have seed pods which have distinctive dorsal wings and no dorsal ribs. The root is fleshy, thick and irregularly shaped with many knobs and protruberences. The root is a grey color exteriorly and creamy-white inside, fleshy not fibrous. The species Lomatium dissectum, which is considered by many to be the most medicinally active species has a very distinctive root. It contains a milky aromatic sap in the spring which turns to bitter resinous sap by the fall.

Part used

The roots are the medicinally active part and have been used by First Nation people as a food source. It has sometimes been called Indian parsnip, Desert parsnip and Wild Carrot (not to be confused with Daucus carota). The leaves are rich in vitamin C and taste a little like celery. They may be used as a pot herb.


The roots can be dug from late spring through early fall. The roots are large and heavy so large amounts can be quickly harvested. A large , mature stand of Lomatium maybe many years old so care should be taken not to denude an area and to plant lots of seeds back into the ground. The whole roots are washed off then allowed to dry for a couple of days before slicing and final drying. This initial drying phase ensures that when the root is cut all the milky sap does not seep out and be absorbed onto the sheets or paper on which your roots are lying. Properly dried Lomatium may retain medicinal action for 2 – 3 years.

Constituents and actions 8,11,12

Lomatium spp. contain an oleo-resin rich in terpenes and sesquiterpenes. These act as stimulating expectorants in the lungs, enhancing the liquification and consequent elimination of mucoid material from the lungs. They also exert a strong antibacterial activity, interfering with bacterial replication and inducing increased phagocytosis by leucocytes. There are a number of furano-coumarins including nodakenetin, columbianin and pyranocoumarin. These appear to be responsible for the marked anti-viral effect of Lomatium which acts quickly and strongly to prevent viral replication and host cell response.They may also be partly responsible for the phagocytic induction apparent with Lomatium. Gums, sugars, fixed oils, valeric acid and methylamines have been identified but their activities are not yet all determined. There is also 22% ascorbic acid in the root which undoubtably accounts for much of the immuno-regulating and antimicrobial activity of this plant.

Clinical applications

Anti-microbial – especially in the lungs and upper respiratory tract. It can be employed for quick acting relief in all cases of viral or bacterial infection, particularly where there is a large amount of thick or sticky mucous and where infection is deep seated and persistent. Specific for pneumonia, infective bronchitis and tuberculosis. Some research has indicated a greater activity against gram positive bacteria.

Immunostimulating – traditionally used to treat all cases of colds and flus. It has many cases of recorded success form the influenza epidemic of the 1920s in America and has been used for this purpose by Native people since white man first brought influenza to the Americas.

Its action of limiting infection makes Lomatium valuable as a mouth wash and gargle for oral and throat infections, as a douche for bacterial and viral infections as well as for Candida, as a skin wash for infected cuts or wounds, and in many other ‘first aid’ situations.

Dosage and pharmacy
Both tea and tincture are employed medicinally but there is no research into which is the most effective. The furanocoumarins are water-soluble but the oleo-resin material is not, so perhaps the most effective extraction method would be to decoct the root in water first then macerate it with a high alcohol solution (65 – 90%). Addition of the decoction to the tincture after pressing would reduce the alcohol content of the end product, perhaps down to 35 – 45% but it would contain the water soluble and insoluble fractions.

For acute bacterial or viral infections the tincture may be used 2.5 mL three – four times daily in water. A little care is required with the herb because the furanocoumarins case a painful, itchy rash in some sensitive people. It seems to occur more commonly with the strong fresh root preparation and disappears on cessation of the treatment. Using the same product a few weeks later may not elicit the same response which has raised the suggestion that it is stimulating a severe cleansing response and causing a nitrogenous elimination to occur.

Traditional uses

As well as its use for all respiratory conditions, Lomatium was a useful food item to the First Nations people of the Rocky Mountains. The dried root can be ground into a flour and used to bake biscuits which are quite sweet and palatable. The leaves are a useful pot herb. The seeds are also very nutritious and may be eaten raw, roasted or ground into a flour and used in cooking.

Lomatium was sometimes used in a tobacco mix for ritual use or was smoked deliberately as a lung medicine. Medicine men chewed pieces of the root then blew it through a hollow eagle bone onto a patient. It was thought that wherever the spray landed the healing properties of the plant would enter. It was also made into good luck charms by stuffing the seeds into a dried porcupine foot and tying this in the hair of young girls to help them find a mate.


  1. Hobbs C. 1990 Usnea the Herbal Antibiotic. Botanica Press
  2. Hobbs C. ibid.
  3. Oates M. 1987. Proceedings of the Conference on Native Plants of Northwest Zone
  4. Jones K. Reishi – Ancient Herb for Modern Times. Sylvan Press.
  5. Willard T. 1991. The Scientific Herbal. Wild Rose Publications
  6. Willard T. ibid.
  7. Jones K. ibid.
  8. Moore M. 1993. Medicinal Plants of the Pacific Northwest. Red Crane Publictions
  9. Schnaubult K. Course Material from the Pacific Institute of Aromatherapy
  10. Lloyd J. & Felter H. 1987. Kings American Dispesatory. Eclectic Medical Publications
  11. Brinker F. Eclectic Dispensatory of Botanical Therapuetics. Eclectic Medical Publications
  12. Willard t. 1992. Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Rocky Mountains. Wild Rose Publications

Information for this article was also drawn from the following sources:

  • Plants of Coastal British Columbia Pojar & MacKinnon (Lone Pine Publishing
  • Plants of Northern British Columbia Pojar, Coupe & MacKinnon (Lone Pine Publishing)
  • Planetary Herbology Michael Tierra (Lotus Press)
  • Pharmacognosy (13th Edition) Trease & Evans (Balliere Tindall)
  • Medicinal Mushrooms Christopher Hobbs (Botanica Press)
  • The Dictionary of Natural Products (1994)

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