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Saturday, May 27, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Spring is bursting all over as the Wood River Valley heads into Memorial Day Weekend.

The meadowlark are singing and pronghorn are curiously watching the two-footed creatures who have suddenly appeared on the hillsides they had to themselves all winter.

While Greenhorn Gulch is cloaked in the blue of mountain bluebells and ballhead waterleaf, other slopes are resplendent with big clumps of arrowleaf balsamroot and large swaths of purple lupine, their lovely scent hanging in the air.

Death camas, goosefoot violet, Nevada pea and phlox also are making an appearance.

And while the spring sun has been playing a game of cat and mouse with rainstorms, soils are quickly drying from the periodic showers.

The arrowleaf balsamroot, which is making such a showy display now, is a member of the sunflower family and named for large green leaves that look like arrows. Its roots, which grow up to 8 feet long, contain a fragrant resin or balsam.

Native Americans who used to fish along the Big Wood River near Sun Valley used every part of the plant for food and medicine. They peeled and ate the flower stems, nibbled on the oil-laden seeds and dried and pounded the root into flour.

Medicinally, they used the plant for a pain reliever and to treat colds since it has properties similar to those of Echinacea. Powdered balsamroot leaves can be applied to the skin and covered with hot towels to heal burns, insect bites and wounds and to ease pain from bruising, according to the Herbal Country Doctor. The powder can also be used as an antifungal for athlete’s feet, jock itch and other such irritants.

Elk and antelope browse the flowers and leaves as they’re trying to put on weight after winter; they’ll eat it again when fall rains soften the leaves. Sage grouse and small mammals also browse it.

The lupine family contains more than 200 wild species—most of them North American natives.  The blue or purple lupine usually show up first, followed by yellow, white and even pinkish lupine.

They’re distinguished by their seven-finger leaves. And their name is derived from the Latin word for wolf. They can poison cows and other animals; however, it would take very large quantities consumed in a short time to cause any real damage.

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