Quite serendipitously, my godfather had gifted me with a book just days before that would provide the answer. The Field Guide to Alaskan Wildflowers (V. Pratt) happens to have a section in the back describing some "Miscellaneous Plants and Trees." Among the the miscellany is the peculiar organism in question: Broomrape or Ground Cone, Boschniakia rossica. The tree I dove under was a Mountain Alder -- this is important because this plant is a parasite which grows exclusively on the roots of the Mountain Alder. It has no chlorophyll so it depends entirely upon its host tree for its relatively long life-span. Fascinating.
Uses & Lore
Of course, I needed to know more, so I did some poking around & discovered it has a bit of folklore & several interesting medicinal uses. Because it occurs around the northern regions of both North America & Asia, various peoples have found applications for this peculiar plant.
- The Chinese use the whole plant medicinally (often as a tea) for invigorating & nourishing the kidneys, relaxing the bowels & invigorating Yang (that is, curing impotence).
- The Gwich'in (the most Northern Native peoples in the Americas) chew the white core for "medicine" or, they dry & grind it into a powder for ingestion &/or topical use. The young plants have a white portion of their root which the Gwich'in call the "potato." The potato is eaten to relieve stomach upset & improve the appetite. In addition to medicine, the Gwich'in traditionally used the plants to make pipes & even added dried, pounded roots to their tobacco.
- The Dena'ina (an Alaskan Native people) tie a piece around the neck of a baby to help it grow correctly.
- Various Native Canadian peoples have been documented using it as a food source (Grizzly bears love it too!).
- One source noted the it can be used in stress relieving teas & can also be added to facial steams for oily skin.
- Medical studies show it may delay the degenerative changes in the brain associated with aging & the NIH reports that it may be hepatoprotective (liver protective) & possibly have application in treatment of acute liver injury.
I had expected to find a great deal of folklore & medicinal uses for B. rossica associated with Russia. I was befuddled when at first, I found very little. I then discovered that this plant is an endangered species in Northern Russia & perhaps this accounts for the lack of information describing how to use it. If you know something more about this amazing plant, please leave me a comment -- I would love to know more.