Bitterroot – plant of the Fraser River gold rush

Before the Fraser River gold rush, bitterroot was an important food staple for the indigenous people of the Sheowk’tm (Thompson River). The people of the Thompson River, known as Nlaka’pamux, valued this versatile plant for its roots.

Bitterroot - illustration by Mary E. Eaton

Bitterroot – illustration by Mary E. Eaton

The roots could be eaten raw or cooked, alone or in a mixed dish; they were even steeped as a tea. If the roots were cured for storage, either before or after cooking, it was only a matter of soaking them for a few minutes in warm water to reconstitute and tenderise them before consumption.

Fresh roots were consumed raw or lightly steamed while the dried roots were usually boiled to be eaten alone or added to a variety of souplike stews of which salmon eggs were a common ingredient. As in traditional times, along with other root food vegetables, a favourite but occasional method of cooking bitterroot is to steam it in underground pit ovens.

Bitterroot was also prepared in bannock and dumplings. Their basic recipe called for water, flour, salt and or sugar with any combination of bitterroot, saskatoon berries or other available berry ingredients.