Common Name Quamash, Camas
Origin North America
Moisture wet to mesic
Quamash is native to western North America in large areas of southern Canada and the northwestern United States, from British Columbia and Alberta to California and east from Washington state to Montana and Wyoming.
The bulb can be raw or cooked. Growing up to 5cm in diameter, it has a mild, starchy flavor when eaten raw, but a gummy texture that some find unpleasant. When cooked, however, it develops a delicious sweet flavor somewhat like sweet chestnuts, and is a highly nutritious food.
Excellent when slow baked, 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 etc. The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes. The bulbs can be harvested at any time of the year, but are probably best in early summer when the seeds are ripe. One report says that the bulbs contain inulin (a starch that cannot be digested by humans) but that this breaks down when the bulb is cooked slowly to form the sugar fructose which is sweet and easily digested.
Quamash bulbs were a staple food of the N. American Indians. The tribes would move to the Quamash 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.
A decoction of the roots has been used to induce labour. An infusion of the leaves has been used to treat vaginal bleeding after birth and to help expel the placenta. The bulbs were harvested and pit-roasted or boiled by women of the Nez Perce, Cree, and Blackfoot tribes. It also provided a valuable food source for the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition (1804–1806).