Copyright 1995 Brother Eric Vogel, St. Mary's College

Basin Big Sagebrush
Artemisia Tridentata  Nutt.

Common, much branched grey-green shrub, 2 to 10 feet tall, found throughout the Intermountain West. Leaves are aromatic, evergreen, and somewhat wedge shaped.  Buds develop in September and open in early to mid-October. They produce rayless flowers from which the stamens protrude bearing yellow pollen.  There are many flowers on each top branch of each shrub, the top appears to have turned yellow--and often bends under the weight of the flowers.  Widespread throughout the Intermountain area.

Food Use: 
Leaves are cooked. The subspecies A. tridentata vaseyana has a pleasant mint-like aroma whilst some other subspecies are very bitter and pungent. The leaves are used as a condiment and to make a tea. The seeds my be used raw or cooked. Oily. It can be roasted then ground into a powder and mixed with water or eaten raw. The seed is very small and fiddly to use.

Sage brush was widely employed by many native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide range of disorders. It is little used in modern herbalism, though it certainly merits further investigation. The plant is ant rheumatic, antiseptic, digestive, disinfectant, febrifuge, ophthalmic, poultice and sedative. A decoction of the leaves is used in the treatment of digestive disorders and sore throats. An infusion of the fresh or dried leaves is used to treat pneumonia, bad colds with coughing and bronchitis. It is used both internally and externally in the treatment of rheumatism. The crushed plant is used as a liniment on cuts, sores etc whilst a decoction of the leaves is used as an antiseptic wash for cuts, wounds and sores. A poultice of the steeped leaves is applied to sore eyes. The plant is burnt in the house in order to disinfect it.

Other Uses:
The fibrous bark is used for weaving mats, baskets, cloth etc., or as a stuffing material in pillows etc and as an insulation in shoes to keep the feet warm. A fiber obtained from the inner bark is used for making paper. The fibers are about 1.3mm long. The stems are harvested in late summer, the leaves removed and the stems steamed until the fiber can be stripped off. The fiber is then cooked for two hours with lye before being ball milled for 4 hours. The resulting paper is a light tan/gold color. (PFAF)

The plant is very aromatic, especially after rain. The pollen of this species is one of the main causes of hay fever in N. America.

Value for Wildlife:
Considerable quantities of big sagebrush are eaten by sage grouse, mule deer, and pronghorn. For mule deer in Utah, basin big sagebrush is the least preferred of all subspecies of big sagebrush. In some instances, mule deer preference of basin big sagebrush varies greatly by local population. Pygmy rabbits forage extensively on big sagebrush  Pygmy rabbits feed on basin big sagebrush but show preference for certain accessions.

Basin big sagebrush generally is not preferred by sage grouse; however, the birds do exhibit preferences for certain individual plants. Sage grouse readily feed on basin big sagebrush where mountain and Wyoming big sagebrush are absent. Basin big sagebrush may serve as emergency food during severe winter weather, but it is not usually sought out by  wildlife. 

Cuttings of half-ripe wood should occur in July/August. Very slow to root.  The young growth in spring, even on mature plants, is frost-tender and so it is best to grow the plants in a position sheltered from the early morning.
Requires a sunny position and a well-drained soil that is not too rich[ and is lime free. There are a number of sub-species growing in different habitats from deep fertile soils to poor shallow ones. Plants are longer lived, more hardy and more aromatic when they are grown in a poor dry soil. Established plants are very drought tolerant.


Jean H. Zach