Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bear Onions, or more appropriatly, Indian Soap Root.


As often happens I was inspired by one of Kym’s photo’s on “The Redheaded Blackbelt” blog. I stole the photo off her blog, so she will have every right to sue me. But as any good lawyer will tell you, the main reason to sue would be to reasonably collect on your lawsuit. Which would imply that there would be something to gain. So Kym will always have to face the fact that some looser is going to steal her great photography. So, I hope that she takes my theft as a compliment and not be too offended.

(click on photo to enlarge)

If you look closely, under the limb, on the ground, there is a sword leafed plant that looks like what I have always called a "Bear Onion". The older newcomers call it an "Indian Soap Root". The newest newcomers call it an chlorogalum pomeridianum.

It was used by the Indians to bathe with. If you dig up the plant, it has about a baseball sized root, that if you peal the outside layers off will provide a white somewhat slimy surface. The roots soap is said to cure poison oak. I don't get poison oak so I don't know, also I've never known an Indian to get poison oak, so I don't know where the legend came from. I've always thought that if you live outdoors on the north coast, you are either immune to poison oak or you died, so it must be genetic to not get it.

The root is distinctive in that it looks kind of like an Iris, only the leaves have a wavy look to them. I stole this photo off the net also but didn't know who to give credit to.

The other, and possibly main use that the Indians had for this root was fishing. They would pound the onion into pulp that they would wash into a stream, the juice would stupefy the fish and the Indians would wait at the riffle to catch the stupid fish. Then they would cook and eat them.

What we would do as kids, is pick the leaves and tear them into small segments and make chains as long as we could. The juice in the leaves forms a spider-web like material that will hold the segments together. Kids can be entertained for hours playing with them. Okay, maybe the root made us stupid too!

15 comments:

lodgepole said...

Yep Ernie, I grew up knowing it as soap root, the poison oak cure. You pulp up the bulb part of the plant and rub it on your skin where the poison oak rash is. When it dries it forms this layer, which proceeds to dry the shit out of the skin, thus reducing and killing the rash. It worked for me.... You're right though Ernie, I can't say as I know any Indians that get The Oak. Maybe they should call it Whitey Soap Root.

Ernie Branscomb said...

It's strange also that soap root grows in the same places that poisin oak grows. What a cowinkadink.

Kym said...

.Poison Oak grows everywhere so it isn’t surprising that soap root grows in the same places 8)

You can steal my art anytime, Ernie, especially since you not only credit me but link also. I wish it had been one of my sunrises instead. This pic didn’t quite cut it but I needed something to go with my post.

Soap root is kind of a pain in some ways but it has the most exquisite fairy blossoms that glimmer in twilight. Who wouldn’t love them?

ben said...

One othe Indianr use was to make a brush out of the fibrous husk around the root. The brush was used to gather the ground acorn flour from the sides of the grinding basket which had an open bottom so that it could sit on the grindstone. Glad you're back, Ernie!

Ernie Branscomb said...

I went researching soap root and found a few uses that I didn’t even know about. The Indians made glue out of a reduction of the sap of the soap root to glue feathers (Fletching) to their arrow shafts. And, it is also eatable when cooked extremely well done.

more on soap root

Even More

ben said...

Ernie... Did you ever find out what the alkaloid is that stuns fish? I've never heard anything. I guess I should do a search.

ben said...

It seems that the saponins, the agent that makes the soapy lather, is also the agent that stuns fish.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Ben, I think that you are right. I'm not good at chemistry, so I'm not sure, but it seems reasonable.

"plants contain substances called saponins - these are toxic glycosides"

Kym said...

Kinda makes you wonder if you would want to eat a fish that had been poisoned????

Ernie Branscomb said...

Kym, according to what I’ve read, cooking removes the toxin. Kinda’ like cooking with wine, the alcohol cooks out. The soap root itself is eatable if it is cooked well.

“Fortunately saponins are destroyed by prolonged heat and are also very poorly absorbed by the body, so most of what we ingest passes straight through us.”

Just think how smart the first Indian to figure that out must have been. I pity the poor Indian that figured out that amanta muscaria mushrooms are poison though.

I was just reading the other day that even baby bears know not to eat amanta muscaria mushrooms, but they eat others mushrooms. It is somehow instinctual. How in the heck would a bear know not to eat a mushroom????

Anonymous said...

I am wondering the proper way to prepare as saop. I have these brilliant moments...and one day, I used it as shampoo...and when the burning started...and I couldn't seem to wash it out...well, you get the picture.

And, where I live, if you find soaproot, poison oak is within ten feet. So, I look for the soaproot when I am under oak trees and such.

Anonymous said...

Another great poison oak rash remedy also grows nearby!:

Pepperwood (California Bay Laurel, Myrtlewood) -- tea of leaves is cooling and soothing, they also are good in marinara, substituted for bay leaf. roasted the seeds are not bad; if you like the taste, raw is better.

Anonymous said...

Amanita phalloides, Galerina sp are deadly poisonous. Amanita muscaria was (is) employed by shamans of Kamtchatka peninsula as entheogen. It is unlikely to kill you, but you are probably not going to have a pleasant experience if you eat it. As with many other entheogens, a net of belief, culture and training supported the indigenous user; partaking of any plant/fungi without such a framework, ie for "fun" or "to get high, man" is misguided in the extreme...........

Anonymous said...

Actually it's not surprising that soaproot grows near poison oak. You will always find the cure for something growing near it. Like jewel weed growing next to poison ivy etc. It's natures way.

Cindy Nei said...

Actually, the fish die because the soapwort makes it had to breath. the same way it make bubbles to clean. NON TOXIC.