British Columbia to southern California; east to Colorado, and Montana. The Bitterroot plant is a low-growing perennial with a fleshy taproot and a simple or branched base. It grows in open woodlands and sagebrush shrublands with pine, oak or juniper in many soil types such as shale, sand, clay, granite, serpentine, or talus.
Bitterroot is the state flower of Montana. The root was a staple food of some native North American Indian tribes. It is said to be extremely nutritious, 50 - 80 grams being sufficient to sustain an active person for a day. The root is, however, rather small and tedious to collect in quantity. It is easiest to use when the plant is in flower in the spring, because the outer layer of the root (which is very bitter) slips off easily at this time of the year. The Indians usually dug the roots early in the spring as the leaves are developing and long before flowering time, when the root becomes most bitter. They believed that only certain areas produce palatable roots. Whilst being boiled the roots become soft and swollen and exude a pink mucilaginous substance. The root swells to about 6 times its size and resembles a jelly-like substance. The root has a good taste though a decided bitter flavor develops afterwards. If the root is stored for a year or two the bitterness is somewhat reduced, however they are again cooked before use. The root can also be dried, ground into a powder and used as a mush or a thickener in soups etc.
The root affects the heart and promotes secretion of milk. An infusion of the root has been used to increase the milk flow in nursing mothers, to relieve heart pain and the pain of pleurisy and also as a blood purifier. The root has been eaten raw to counteract the effects of poison ivy rash and as a treatment for diabetes. The pounded dry root has been chewed in the treatment of sore throats. A poultice of the raw roots has been applied to sores.