Medicinal Balsamroot Cough Syrup and Tincture

Reader Contribution by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt
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Field of arrowleaf balsamroot
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

The hillsides are blanketed with arrowleaf balsamroot, signifying the fullness of spring in the Central region of the Pacific Northwest. The indigenous Wenatchi Tribes calendar was based on a seasonal cycle with this native sunflower, Smokakhin, first appearing in March. Balsamroot was a significant source of food and medicine for the Wenatchi. All parts of the plant are edible and useful. The tender shoots and early leaves were collected as early spring greens and seeds were pounded into meal. The large arrow shaped leaves were used as poultices for burns. The long taproot, was used medicinally to support the respiratory system, as an ointment to treat wounds and blisters, and for relief of body aches and pain.

How to Harvest 

Balsamroot plants take years to mature and should be harvested selectively and mindfully. Smaller less developed roots from singular stand-alone flowers are preferred over clumps with thicker roots. The expansive root system of these plants help prevent soil erosion so be attentive to harvesting locations, staying away from steep embankments.

Arrowleaf balsamroot
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt
 

Some people harvest using a kupenz, or digging stick. I used a pointed shovel and carefully upended the root until I could pull it out. Even with harvesting thinner root systems, expect it to be more effort than anticipated.  

Cleaning and Preparing the Taproot

The taproot will be covered in hardened bark and lots of dirt. The bark can be cleaned and used along with the taproot or removed. I chose to peel off the bark, revealing a resinous long root. With careful attention, the root did not require further cleaning which is good because it is very sticky.

 Taproot before cleaning
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

Taproot after peeling bark
Photo by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

From this step, I cut the root into smaller pieces and peeled the taproot to expose as much surface area as possible to prepare the infused honey and tincture.

Infuse with Honey to Make Cough Syrup

Using a 3:1 ratio of honey to taproot, place both ingredients in a pot. Bring to a simmer (do not boil). Let cool. Repeat process over several days. Honey will change from pale to dark amber. When ready to store, heat the mixture and pour into small glass jelly jars to cool. The end result  will be thicker and harder than honey with a lovely clove-like essence—a soothing and delicious cough elixir. Keep the roots to use in flavoring teas. 

Infused honey
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hoto by Lindsay Dawson Mynatt

Making a Tincture

Using a one-to-one ratio of 80% alcohol to taproot, place ingredients in a glass jar and set in a cool dark location for 6 weeks or longer. Gin, Rum or Vodka (the most common) are all suitable alcohols for tinctures. Recipe from the Herbal Home Remedy Book by Joyce A. Wardwell. The tincture can be added to warm water or tea to soothe sore throats, loosen phlegm or taken as an overall immunity booster.

Medicinal Properties

Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West compares Balsamroot to a marriage of echinacea and osha root. It is an expectorant but has the resins and oils to stimulate respiration. Topically, Balsamroot disinfects, reduces inflammation and enhances healing.


Lyndsay Dawson Mynatt is a dedicated forager, outdoor enthusiast, and blogger for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Her published articles include: Build a DIY Cider Pressin the 2015 September/October issue of GRIT and5-Minute, 5-Ingredient Mayonnaise in the 2015 Best of MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Follow her adventures at A Faithful Journey, and read all of Lyndsay’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


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