Squaw Root

June brings us flowers galore with colors ranging from pale to exotic. Those plants are the true show stoppers. This article isn’t about the star of the show, and it’s not about the supporting cast of plants either. Consider this plant to be a very small part of the set design but no matter how small, every part serves its purpose.

This plant invites you into the forest where the wild things grow and is found camouflaged beneath a stand of tall oaks. American Squaw Root (conopholis Americana) has also been called bear corn, cancer root, papoose root, blue ginseng. and blue cohosh.  

If you’ve walked in the woods enough, you’ve probably seen it, but didn’t know what it was.  I happened upon it with a big question mark on my face, and was enlightened by one of the Mountain Garden Club’s plant sleuths, Molly Leonard.  Once again, I was amazed that everything growing has already been classified into its own plant kingdom, even though it’s a new discovery to me.  Pure genus. 

These plants should be left alone, and are considered vulnerable and in some states, an endangered species.  Squaw root is almost void of any color, and almost looks like narrow pinecones emerging from the forest floor.  They grow to  seven to 10 inches tall, starting out a cream color in late spring, later turning brown to almost black in winter.  It’s a parasitic plant that gets its nutrients from the roots of oak trees.  Deer and bear eat them and spread the seeds to other areas, but again will only grow around oaks. 

Native Americans and early settlers used this plant for medicinal purposes.  Squaw root was used to treat symptoms of menopause, menstruation, to bring on labor, and cure ailments such as rheumatism, headaches, and bronchitis.  It contains B vitamins, Vitamin C, beta carotene, potassium, magnesium, and more.  As a tonic, it was used as an antispasmodic to relieve muscle cramps, and some types of seizures, as it affects the whole nervous system. Obviously in today’s world, none of these treatments should be considered without the counsel of a physician. 

 If you come across Squaw Root, take a closer look – imagine the rich history of its lineage, but leave it in its place so the next generation can discover it on their own.  After all, the show must go on.