Sunflower of the Desert

Arrow Leaf Balsam Root

Scientific Name: Balsamorhiza sagittata

Family: Asteraceae

Parts Used: Root, Leaf

Taste: Pungent

Energetics: Warm, Dry

Actions: Stimulant, Expectorant, Diaphoretic, Antimicrobial, Antifungal

Identification: I commonly find Balsam Root on the eastern side of the Cascades. It grows in forested mountains and the sage brush steppe.  During Spring, Arrowleaf Balsam Root begins to put on a show with its bright yellow, sunflower-like ray flowers. The flower head can grow to be about 3-4 inches in diameter.  The leaves are long and large and are generally arrow-shaped or triangular. They can average 20 inches in length.


Collection:  Come April-June in Washington, I am making my “East Side” trip. Eastern Washington, that is. On the hillsides of the Cascade rain shadow you will find slopes of sagebrush steppes or open areas of conifer woodlands covered with the brilliant yellow sunflower-like flower of Arrowleaf Balsamoot. Some joke, that tourists are dumbfounded to find such a unique sunflower in the high desert! While others know, this is the time for collection. Find a digging stick and start removing the stones and earthy material that Balsam Root maneuvers around. You may be following the root for a couple of feet into the earth (for this plant helps prevent erosion). If the resin is running from places of puncture in the root, then you know that there is good medicine ready for you. I like to follow Michael Moore’s directions on making Balsam Root Honey… Oh, and make sure you fill the hole and make your area of collection unnoticeable :)

**Yes, there is an abundance of this herb (or so it appears) yet Arrowleaf Balsamroot takes many years to mature. Harvest with respect and understand how much you are taking and how long it will be until the next plant grows in its place. Also, only take what you need or the plant allows.


Balsam Root Medicine

Cold & Flu

The root is known as an immunomodulator. It is a stimulant to many defense responses. Meaning at the onset of a cold or flu, Balsamroot can help fight off any symptoms before they truly set in.  Michael Moore claims that Balsamroot is superior to an Echinacea/Osha combination. It can help coughs both chronic and acute as well as heavy colds. Balsamroot is even kid friendly :)


Respiratory Issues

If you get a chance, suck on a freshly dug root and observe what happens in your mouth. Arrow Leaf Balsam Root tends to be warming and drying. If there happens to be a lot of mucus in your body, the root will help break up and expel the mucus, helping release the sinuses. It also helps soothe a sore throat (you’ll feel, smell and see this when harvesting the root, a lubricating sap will flow from broken sections). It makes a wonderful throat lozenge when you’re out walking about on the sage steppe.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot serves as an expectorant. It loosens mucus and helps both the lungs and sinus release any build-up congestion. This is a great herbal ally for those with re-occurring bronchitis or pneumonia.



I have personally used Balsamroot for a lung infection, bronchitis. Yet, Michael Moore states that though it is not as specific as other herbs, the disinfectant diuretic qualities of Balsamroot are effective in treating UTIs (especially combined with Yerba Santa and Grindelia).



Ethnobotanically speaking, the leaves were used as a poultice on burns and wounds. I have personally used the leaves as a spit poultice on a sunburn and it was both cooling and relieving, helping my skin heal.


Preparations: tincture, decoction, oil extract, hydrosol, hone