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Botanical Description & Habitat

Lomatium dissectum, Lepotaenia spp


Medicinal Parts

Historical Properties & Uses

Lomatium (rhymes with slow nation) is making something of a comeback in herbal medicine, although it never had much of a large scale following. In the western part of the United States and Canada, it was a popular Indian medicine. In fact, there is evidence it was the most popular herb employed by tribes in Nevada and surrounding areas. It was often mixed with other herbs to increase their effectiveness to improve the flavor.

Lomatium was mainly used as antibiotic, being employed in several different combinations for treating influenza, colds, sore throats and similar ailments. Lomatium was often the medicine against which others were measured. To say a remedy was more or less effective than lomatium was to communicate an herb's effectiveness in a language everybody could understand.

Most of what we know about lomatium is drawn from one book, written by a team of early 20th century ethnobotanists, called Medicinal Uses of Plants by Indian Tribes of Nevada, from which the following lengthy quote is taken.

For the preparation of medicinal remedies this plant is by far the best known in the state of Nevada, being used both by the Indians and the whites.

Of all the ailments to which the Indian is heir, probably there is none which has not been treated in one way or another by remedies from the root of this plant. Although considered universally as a panacea, the medicine is most commonly used for coughs and colds, and disorders such as hayfever, bronchitis, influenza, pneumonia, and tuberculosis.

The more generally used remedy for such ailments is prepared by merely boiling the dried root and administering the decoction as a tea. A favorite method for relieving congestion of the lungs or of the nasal passages, and also for asthma, is to smoke the pulverized roots in cigarettes or in pipes. Another method is to inhale the fumes of the root which is burning in a bed of live coals.

The root segments of leptotaenia are mixed with those of osmorhiza occidentalis and boiled to make a decoction which is taken as a tea for colds, for sore throat, for pneumonia, and for influenza. In another combination they are boiled with young, terminal twigs of juniperus utahensis to make a tea for influenza.

A treatment for gonorrhea suggests a combination of the Leptotaenia roots with plants of Achillea lanulosa. There were other similar treatments for unspecified venereal diseases: the Leptotaenia root alone was boiled to make a tea, or boiled with roots of Osmorhize occidentalis, or the fresh roots were boiled with those of Rumex venosus. This last was claimed to be an unfailing cure.

The root is also the basis of a number of antiseptics. The decoction can be employed as an external wash for smallpox and sometimes the leaves also are added to the brew. As a healing agent for skin rashes, cuts or sores the decoction of the boiled root may be used as a wash or the raw root may be pulped and applied directly for cuts, or even the freshly cut slices may be placed on sores and then dusted with a fine red earth known as 'pee-sha-pee.'

The text continues on in this vein for some length describing applications for trachoma or gonorrheal infections of the eye, severed umbilical cords, swellings, sprains, rheumatism, and even distemper in horses.

Method of Action

Lomatium has Good Antibacterial and Antiviral Action
Not very many scientific investigations of lomatium have taken place. But we do know the root contains essential oil, gums, resins, glycosides (coumarins and saponins), carbohydrates, protein, fatty acids and ascorbic acid (which in one assay, measured in at a whopping 22.8 percent. The volatile oils of lomatium would account for its antiseptic action. The polysaccharides, vitamin C and coumarins (depending on which ones are present) could by involved in enhancing certain key mechanisms in the body immune system.

In one study, extracts of lomatium root showed varying degrees of effectiveness in suppressing the growth of all 62 types of bacteria and fungi tested, a very impressive performance for any plant. Another studies replicated and verified these effects.

One writer, whose efforts have almost single-handedly resulted in the present revival of interest in lomatium, suggests the coumarins in the root include furanocoumarins and pyranocoumarins, which have significant biological activity in the treatment of infectious disease, and could easily account for the observed anti-infectious activity of lomatium.

Lomatium is used much as the herb, Osha (also included in this database) is used. Osha is a popular folk remedy used in the Rocky Mountains, particularly Colorado for much the same purposes other Native American groups use Lomatium.

Interestingly, Osha also contains considerable quantities of coumarins, which have been positively identified as belonging to the furanocoumarins and pyranocoumarins. The similarity between these two herbs extends even to the Indian names given to them: the Indian name for lomatium was "toh-sah"or "dosa," which sounds much like osha.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

There is evidence combining bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the '-static' variety. How this finding applies to herbal antibiotics is not known.

Although the coumarin content of this herb is not high at normal usage levels, it is important to note that coumarins can affect the action of almost any drug.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

There appears to be no side effects from using whole root, prepared as tea.

An extract of lomatium has been examined in preliminary modern clinical trials for the treatment of infectious disease. Some individuals have suffered from a rash covering almost the entire body a few days after using the product. The effect has been attributed to a resin. Effort is currently underway at the Eclectic Institute to develop lomatium products without this side effect.

Preparation & Administration

Lomatium is currently available mainly only from the Eclectic Institute. Recommend following manufacturers' directions as to dosage and applications procedures.

The root may be boiled to make a tea. Use 2-4g.


Astat, E., interview appearing in Lomatium dissectum: An herbal virucide? Complementary Medicine, May/June 1987, pp. 32- 34.

Carlson, H.J. & H.G. Douglas. Antibiotic agents separated from the root of lace-leaved leptotaenia. Journal of Bacteriology, 55, 615-621, 1948.

Cox, R.L. Chemical investigations into the ichthyotoxic effect of lomatium dissectum. Thesis, Reed College, Portland, Oregon, 1983.

Hitchcock, C.L. & A. Cronquist. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest. University of Washington Press. Seattle, Wash. 1961.

Hunne, E.S. & D.H. French. Lomatium: a key resource for Columbia plateau native subsistence. Northwest Science, 55, 87-94, 1981.

Lloyd, W.R. & G.L. Jenkins. A phytochemical study of leptotaenia multifida Nutall. Pharm. Arch., 13, 33-38, 1942.

Matson, G.A., et.al. Antibiotic studies on an extract from leptotaenia multifeda. Journal of Clinical Investigation, 28, 903-908, 1949.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.

Train, P., J.R. Henrichs & W.A. Archer. Medicinal Uses of Plants by Indian Tribes of Nevada, Quarterman Publications, Inc. Lawrence, Mass. 957.

Wakeman, N. A chemical examination of the root of leptotaenia dissecta. Journal of the American Pharmaceutical Association, 14, 29-32, 1925.


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