Camassia quamash (Pursh) Greene
Collected on the Weippe Prairie along Jim Ford Creek just south of Weippe, Clearwater Co., Idaho, on 23 Jun 1806. Source
Herbaceous perennial with large underground bulbs up to 1-1/2" thick and almost 2" long, covered by a membranous brown skin. The grass-like leaves are basal 3'4" wide and up to 15" long. The flower stems are up to 20" high bearing a loose terminal cluster of showy blue blossoms in late spring (sometimes odd white flowers occur). It grows in meadows and grassy bluffs in soil pockets on rock outcrops, and prairies.
The Bulbs used for food. They were most often steamed. When cooked the bulbs taste sweet. The bulbs contain a complex sugar called inulin. Slow cooking (up to three days) promotes the conversion of inulin to its individualized components of the sweet tasting and more digestible fructose. It can also be dried and made into a powder which can be used as a thickener in stews or mixed with cereal flours when making bread, cakes. The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes[2, 183]. The bulbs can be harvested at any time of the year, but are probably best in early summer when the seeds are ripe.
Camas bulbs were a staple food of the N. American Indians. The tribes would move to the camas fields in the early autumn and, whilst some people harvested the bulbs, others would dig a pit, line it with boulders then fill it with wood and set fire to it. The fire would heat the boulders and the harvested bulbs would then be placed in the pit and the whole thing covered with earth and the bulbs left to cook slowly for 2 days. The pit would then be opened and the Indians would feast on the bulbs until they could no longer fit any more in their stomachs. Whatever was left would be dried and stored for winter use. (Source)
Value for Wildlife:
Elk, moose, and caribou graze common camas.
Succeeds in almost any soil. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a rather heavy loam that has plenty of moisture in spring but does not remain wet over the winter. Dislikes dry soils. Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade.
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