A native of the far western coastal and inland areas of North America from California to British Columbia, Lomatium dissectum is commonly known as fern-leaved desert parsley and biscuitroot. It is a perennial herb of the carrot family, has a distinctly spicy fragrance, and grows to about three to four feet in height. The thick root is the part of the plant most commonly used for its medicinal qualities. Although not as active medicinally as the root, the leaves and stems may be used to make a tonic.
Active compounds in this plant include the nutrients carbohydrates, proteins, fatty acids, and vitamin C. Although a complete investigation of the active constituents of the plant has not been undertaken, it appears that the plant, especially the root, contains essential oils, gums, resins, and glycosides including coumarins and saponin. The coumarins have many medicinal actions including being sedatives, phytoestrogens, and potent antibiotics and antivirals. The saponin components have tranquilizing and antitussive actions. They may also have anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor actions. Other compounds identified in the plant included luteolin, and luvangetin. Not enough research has been done on the plant to have a full list of constituents.
Indians of the Northwest coastal areas referred to Lomaium dissectum as “big medicine.” It was widely used to treat respiratory problems including colds, flu, and other disorders. It has been used to treat problems as severe as tuberculosis and pneumonia. The dried roots were made into a tea as a treatment for colds. Beyond use for colds and other respiratory problems, the herb has been used for a wide variety of ailments and was considered as a powerful panacea, an herb that is useful for treating all disorders. There are also reports of it being used as a heart tonic among tribal peoples in Nevada. Burning the root on hot coals and breathing the fumes was used to clear congestion in the lungs. Native Americans even chewed pieces of fresh root to relieve a sore throat. Used externally, a wash was made for skin problems and sores. Other uses by Indians include as a spring-time tonic, treating venereal diseases, relieving digestive problems, and treating illnesses caused by bacterial and viral agents. It is reported that during the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1917-18, the root was thought to have saved many tribal people from flu fatalities. One American doctor used the herb for that purpose with success after noting its use among the Indians.
Although not widely used by modern herbalists, an extraction of the root is thought to be effective in treating bacterial and viral illnesses including AIDS. Some herbalists have reported that Lomatium may have anti-HIV actions. It has been used for periodontal disease, skin infections, and other disorders resulting from bacteria and viruses. It is believed to be useful against the viral form of hepatitis. It is believed to be an adaptogen.
Although little research has been conducted on the plant, the known constituents are medically active. The most apparent actions include the anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. A study conducted in 1995 using an extract from the root found that it completely inhibited a rotavirus in the lab.
A red rash may develop in people sensitive to the plant. After discontinuation of use, the rash usually subsides within days. Extracts from the root remove the element that causes the rash but using whole root should be done with caution.