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Arrowleaf Balsamroot

Scientific Name:
Balsamorhiza sagittata
Native Name(s):
  1. Northern Paiute: to'˙saa (Kelly 1932)?; ah-ku-pah (Train et al. 1957:33); coo-see quah-soop (Train et al. 1957:33); pah-kuk (Train et al. 1957:33)
  2. Pit River: iwitsĭnyami (Garth 1953)
  3. Klamath: Lbä (Coville 1897)


Balsamorhiza sagittata is a perennial forb. It has distinctive sagittate (arrowhead shaped) leaves that are mostly basal. The leaves are hairy that gives them a silvery appearance and has several flower stems. At the end of each flower stem is a large inflorescence head composed of yellow ray and disk flowers. The seeds of B. sagittata are glaborous (without hairs) achenes. It blooms from April to July.

Identification Tips

Balsamorhiza sagittata can be distinguished from its close relative Balsamorhiza hookeri by its distinctive arrowhead shaped leaves found at the base of the plant. These leaves are 5 to 45 cm in length and can be up to 15 cm wide.

Starch Granules

Achenes and rootstocks of B. sagittata are starch deficient, much like other members of the Asteraceae family.


Balsamorhiza sagittata occurs from 4300 to 5900 feet in elevation on open hillsides and prairies. It can be found in sagebrush scrub, juniper woodland, and yellow pine forest communities. It is adapted to the 30 to 60 cm annual precipitation zones with fine to medium textured soils.


This species grows throughout the western United States.


Balsamorhiza sagittata was utilized as both a food and medicinal resource. The seeds could be ground into flour and consumed. It could be mixed with tobacco and smoked to cure colds and earaches. A tea could be made that aided in stomach aches and venereal disease.

As food

Pit River: "Sunflowers of at least five varieties were used: iwitsĭnyami (Balsamorhiza sagittata); tamtiye (B. hookeri); uitsĭnyami (B. deltoidea); and axéĭki, gicwi, and kasnatchwup (these three unidentified).  Seeds were gathered in July by beating them into a burden basket with a seed beater.  They were parched in a flat tray (tĭpwĭróhi) and then put into a shallow basket and the skins removed by abrasion against the side of the basket with a rock.  After the seeds were winnowed and ground with the mano-metate, they were ready to be eaten.  The flour might be molded into cakes the size of a biscuit, which were eaten without cooking.  Sunflowers were formerly plentiful on mountain slopes, especially in burned over areas.  A burden basketful of seeds was said to be good day's harvest for one woman.  The gathering might last two weeks." (Garth 1953:139)

Klamath: "Lbä - A stout low plant, about 30 to 50 cm. (approximately 1 to 1 1/2 feet) high, with yellow flower heads similar to a small sunflower, and large, grayish, arrow-shaped leaves often 30 cm. long, the whole plant resembling the introduced elecampane, Inula helenium L., of our Eastern pasture lands.  Horses have a marked fondness for these leaves and are continually cropping them while under saddle.  The seeds of this plant and those of the similar B. deltoidea Nutt., which the Indians do not distinguish from it, are gathered, roasted, and ground as a farinaceous food.  Both plants are abundant on the reservation in the yellow-pine forests." (Coville 1897:106)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to mid-July] Fruit collected at this time included squaw currant, golden currant, hawthorn ("blackberries"), and rose hips.  Mule's ears and balsamroot were among the first seeds to ripen, with tumbling mustard (an introduced plant) ripening later." (Couture et al. 1986:153-154)

Northern Paiute: "A number of wild plant species are tolerated, encouraged, or even transplanted to yards and fields on the reservation...Those encouraged or tolerated include willow, red-osier dogwood, balsamroot, blazing star, giant wild rye, juniper, bulrush, cattail, biscuitroot, and wild onion." (Couture et al. 1986:157)

As medicine

Northern Paiute: "There is a large series of cold remedies.  A mixture of balsam (to'˙saa) and tobacco (puhi'-pa'mo') was smoked for bad colds, even by children." (Kelly 1932:197)

Northern Paiute: "Smoking was a part of shamanistic treatment.  For earache and deafness the doctor blew the smoke of puhi'-pa'mo' in the ear to clear the passages.  A tea of the same tobacco was drunk for stomachache.  For bad colds a mixture of puhi'-pa'mo' and balsam was smoked." (Kelly 1932:181)

Northern Paiute: "[In regards to bows] The bladder of the kuyui was used for glue.  Bladders were rolled in sunflower leaves [probably either Wyethia mollis or Balsamorhiza sagitatta] when they are green and pit in ashes to cook.  Then it is mashed up and shaped into a leaf and dried.  It was rubbed on when moistened like belt dressing." (Fowler 1989:64)

Northern Paiute: "One-half a cup of tea from boiled roots is taken daily over a long period for venereal disease…or the dry, powdered root is applied for the same purpose [a dressing for syphilitic sores]…Burning the root in a room after an illness is thought to be a good fumigate...The root decoction is a brew to be taken for stomach-aches...The gummy sap which exudes from freshly dug and cut roots is collected in a spoon and swallowed as a cure for consumption." (Train et al. 1957:33)

Distribution Map: