General: robust perennial, mostly 50-150 cm tall at maturity, the several hairless stems usually ascending rather than strictly erect from a branching stem base, from a very large, woody taproot.
Leaves: basal and a few alternate, large, the lower ones the largest, all generally slightly rough-textured, seldom hairless, pinnately dissected 3-5 times into small and often narrow ultimate segments up to about 1 cm long.
Flowers: yellow or purple in umbels, some of them always sterile. Involucre and involucels of well-developed, narrow bractlets. Rays of the umbel mostly 10-30, equal or unequal, at least the longer ones mostly 4-10 cm long at maturity.
Fruits: elliptic, 8-17 mm long and 4.5-10 mm wide, the lateral wings narrow and more or less corky-thickened, up to about 1 mm wide, the dorsal ribs inconspicuous.
Open, often rocky slopes and dry meadows, often on talus, from the foothills and valleys to moderate elevations in the mountains, in w., c. and n.e. parts of MT. Also from B.C. and s. Alberta to CO, AZ and s. CA.
The root of fern-leaf bisquitroot is edible cooked, as are all bisquitroots. The are resinous and balsamic. The root can be dried and ground into a powder and then be mixed with cereal flours or added as a flavoring to soups etc. The roots have been boiled to make a refreshing and nutritious drink. Young seed sprouts are edible raw. The seeds have most likely been used as an aromatic flavoring in cooked foods.
Fernleaf biscuitroot was widely employed medicinally by many native North American Indian tribes who considered it to be a universal panacea and used it especially in treating chest problems and skin complaints. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism, but probably warrants investigation. The whole plant, but especially the root, is a disinfectant, and has agents that relieve disorders of the chest and lungs, as an expectorant, that give strength and tone to the stomach, and act as a salve and as a tonic. The dried root was used in the treatment of rheumatism, stomach complaints, coughs, colds, hay fever, bronchitis, influensa, pneumonia and tuberculosis. The root was burnt and the smoke inhaled in the treatment of asthma and other chest complaints, it was also used as a herbal steam bath for treating chest complaints. The root was used to make a drink that was taken as a tonic to help people in a weakened condition gain weight. A poultice of the peeled and crushed roots has been applied to open cuts, sores, boils, bruises and rheumatic joints. The root has been soaked in water and then used as an anti-dandruff wash for the hair. A tea of the leaves and stems has been used as a tonic. The root oil has been applied as a salve to sores and also used as an eye wash in the treatment of trachoma.
The pulverized root has been burnt as an incense.
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