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Camassia quamash - (Pursh.)Greene.                
Common Name Quamash, Small camas, Utah small camas, Walpole's small camas
Family Hyacinthaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Coastal mountain forests and wet meadows inland[60, 62]. Marshy meadows in coniferous forest, to 2300 metres[90].
Range Western N. America - Washington to California, east to Montana and Utah.
Edibility Rating  
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun


Physical Characteristics       
 icon of manicon of bulb
Camassia quamash is a BULB growing to 0.3 m (1ft) by 0.2 m (0ft 8in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 3 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from May to June, and the seeds ripen from Jul to August. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and can grow in heavy clay soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

Synonyms C. esculenta. Lindl.
Camassia quamash Quamash, Small camas, Utah small camas, Walpole

Camassia quamash Quamash, Small camas, Utah small camas, Walpole
 Lawn; Meadow; Cultivated Beds;
Edible Uses                                         
Edible Parts: Root.
Edible Uses:

Bulb - raw or cooked[62, 95]. The bulb, which can be up to 5cm in diameter[270], has a mild, starchy flavour when eaten raw, but a gummy texture that reduces the enjoyment of it somewhat[K]. When cooked, however, it develops a delicious sweet flavour somewhat like sweet chestnuts[92], and is a highly nutritious food[2]. Excellent when slow baked, it can also be dried and made into a powder which can be used as a thickener in stews or mixed with cereal flours when making bread, cakes etc[K]. The bulbs can be boiled down to make a molasses, this was used on festival occasions by various Indian tribes[2, 183]. The bulbs can be harvested at any time of the year[85], but are probably best in early summer when the seeds are ripe[94]. One report says that the bulbs contain inulin (a starch that cannot be digested by humans) but that this breaks down when the bulb is cooked slowly to form the sugar fructose which is sweet and easily digested[256]. Quamash bulbs were a staple food of the N. American Indians[42, 92]. The tribes would move to the Quamash fields in the early autumn and, whilst some people harvested the bulbs, others would dig a pit, line it with boulders then fill it with wood and set fire to it. The fire would heat the boulders and the harvested bulbs would then be placed in the pit and the whole thing covered with earth and the bulbs left to cook slowly for 2 days. The pit would then be opened and the Indians would feast on the bulbs until they could no longer fit any more in their stomachs. Whatever was left would be dried and stored for winter use.
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Birthing aid;  Oxytoxic.

A decoction of the roots has been used to induce labour[257]. An infusion of the leaves has been used to treat vaginal bleeding after birth and to help expel the placenta[257].
Other Uses
None known
Cultivation details                                         
Succeeds in almost any soil[42]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a rather heavy loam[1] that has plenty of moisture in spring but does not remain wet over the winter[138, 200]. Dislikes dry soils[200]. Prefers full sun but tolerates partial shade[138, 200]. The dormant bulbs are very hardy and will withstand soil temperatures down to at least -10°c[214]. Quamash is a very pretty flowering bulb that has quite a large potential as an edible ornamental plant[K]. It grows very well in the flower border but can also be naturalised in damp grass[134]. We are intending to grow it in a grassed-down orchard in our Cornish trial ground. The bulbs flower in late spring and early summer and have completely died down by early July so they do not interfere with harvesting the apple crop. The grass in the orchard will be cut in early spring before the quamash comes into growth, but will not be cut again until July. The bulbs will be harvested at any time from July to December and, since it is impossible to find all the bulbs, it is hoped that those remaining will be able to increase and supply bulbs for future years[K]. A polymorphic and very ornamental plant[1], there are some named varieties[200]. The subspecies C. quamash maxima has larger bulbs than the type, up to 65mm in diameter[270]. A good bee plant[108]. This species can be confused with certain poisonous bulbs in the genus Zigadenus[85]. Plant the bulbs 7 - 10cm deep in early autumn and then leave undisturbed[1].
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[134]. The seed can also be sown in a cold frame in spring[134]. It usually germinates in 1 - 6 months at 15°c, but it can be erratic[138]. Sow the seed thinly so that it does not need to be thinned and allow the seedlings to grow on undisturbed for their first year. Give an occasional liquid feed to ensure that the plants do not become nutrient deficient. When the plants are dormant in late summer, pot up the small bulbs putting 2 - 3 bulbs in each pot. Grow them on for another one or two years in a cold frame before planting them out when dormant in late summer. Offsets in late summer. The bulb has to be scored in order to produce offsets.
Related Plants                                         
Latin NameCommon NameEdibility RatingMedicinal Rating
Camassia leichtliniiWild Hyacinth, Large camas, Suksdorf's large camas40
Camassia scilloidesAtlantic Camas30
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Expert comment                                         
Botanical References                                         
Links / References                                         

  [K] Ken Fern Notes from observations, tasting etc at Plants For A Future and on field trips.

[1]F. Chittendon. RHS Dictionary of Plants plus Supplement. 1956
Comprehensive listing of species and how to grow them. Somewhat outdated, it has been replaces in 1992 by a new dictionary (see [200]).
[2]Hedrick. U. P. Sturtevant's Edible Plants of the World.
Lots of entries, quite a lot of information in most entries and references.
[42]Grey. C. H. Hardy Bulbs.
Rather dated now, but an immense work on bulbs for temperate zones and how to grow them. Three large volumes.
[60]Hitchcock. C. L. Vascular Plants of the Pacific Northwest.
A standard flora for Western N. America with lots of information on habitat etc. Five large volumes, it is not for the casual reader.
[62]Elias. T. and Dykeman. P. A Field Guide to N. American Edible Wild Plants.
Very readable.
[85]Harrington. H. D. Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains.
A superb book. Very readable, it gives the results of the authors experiments with native edible plants.
[90]Phillips. R. and Rix. M. Bulbs
Superbly illustrated, it gives brief details on cultivation and native habitat.
[92]Balls. E. K. Early Uses of Californian Plants.
A nice readable book.
[94]Sweet. M. Common Edible and Useful Plants of the West.
Useful wild plants in Western N. America. A pocket guide.
[95]Saunders. C. F. Edible and Useful Wild Plants of the United States and Canada.
Useful wild plants of America. A pocket guide.
[108]International Bee Research Association. Garden Plants Valuable to Bees.
The title says it all.
[134]Rice. G. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 2.
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation. An interesting article on Ensete ventricosum.
[138]Bird. R. (Editor) Growing from Seed. Volume 3.
Very readable magazine with lots of information on propagation.
[183]Facciola. S. Cornucopia - A Source Book of Edible Plants.
Excellent. Contains a very wide range of conventional and unconventional food plants (including tropical) and where they can be obtained (mainly N. American nurseries but also research institutes and a lot of other nurseries from around the world.
[200]Huxley. A. The New RHS Dictionary of Gardening. 1992.
Excellent and very comprehensive, though it contains a number of silly mistakes. Readable yet also very detailed.
[214]Matthews. V. The New Plantsman. Volume 1, 1994.
A quarterly magazine, it has articles on Himalayacalamus hookerianus, hardy Euphorbias and an excellent article on Hippophae spp.
[256]Turner. N. J. Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples
Excellent little handbook about the native food plants of Western Canada. Good descriptions of the plants and their uses with colour photos of most plants.
[257]Moerman. D. Native American Ethnobotany
Very comprehensive but terse guide to the native uses of plants. Excellent bibliography, fully referenced to each plant, giving a pathway to further information. Not for the casual reader.
[270] Flora of N. America
An on-line version of the flora with an excellent description of the plant including a brief mention of plant uses.

Readers comment                                         
Elizabeth H.
Les Babb Fri May 4 2007
We have a field of common purple Camas that we would like to put livestock on as there is a lot of clover under the Camas. However there is a white variety there also (about one plant per acer)This has caused a member of the family some concern but I think it is just a sport of the same plant as It seems identical in every respect except color as the purple plants. Some of the plants in the vicenity of the white ones may be lighter purple which leads me to believe they are crossing which shouldn't be possible with the poisonus Zigadenus family. Also there flower structure seems different( longer and narrower petaled than any of the pictures o Death Camas I've found.)
Elizabeth H.
Kyle Sun Apr 27 2008

Plant Guide, Common Camas great reference for cultivation/restoration infor

Elizabeth H.
kcmarcey Tue Sep 29 2009
Thanks for this clearly stated article. I am new to this site and wander in to it because I was looking for information on my newly purchased quamash bulbs.
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