Pull Up Your Plants!
The Ethnobotany of Foraged Food & Peculiar Produce

Archive of strange and unusual food plants

The Pull Up Your Plants archive of articles.

Bulbous Spring Parsley: Because "Bulbous" is the #1 Best Word Ever



Cymopterus bulbosus

Underground food storage organs: we all love them, right? You can grind them and put them into cakes, chop them into stews, or slice them thinly and fry them until they are crispy. Any which way you choose to consume your culinary organs, you are playing the part of the dread pirate in the plant's lifecycle. 

Beet, onion, and potato plants often fall victim to the gustatory freebooting of humanity. We call these plants which bury their all important carbohydrate sources below ground, geophytes, and much like it's orange cousin, the carrot, Cymopterus bulbosus stows it's food in the form of a thick and true root in the dirt. Yep, we are talking about buried treasure here.

C. bulbosus, or biscuit root, is often the first plant to yawn to wake from the coarse soils of the desert Southwest in the Spring. The leaves and roots can be eaten raw or cooked. In the footsteps of H.D. Harrington, this summer, I will attempt to find one and taste it for the first time.

Craig Goode, a friend of the website and owner of Star Nursery in Pueblo, Colorado, was the first to bring this plant to my attention; he recalled the flavor as he remembered it years ago in this way: "I do remember it had a slightly sweet flavor and other than that not really flavorful. Similar to a carrot but not as firm or crisp." Alright, Craig; we'll see about that.

This Spring, we will stalk the wild biscuit root and, perhaps, come home with a few seeds. You are invited to virtually attend.

So, welcome to the organ stashing, secret treasure world of C. bulbosus. ARRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!

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I am going to lift a description from a timeless book written in 1967 by Professor H.D. Harrington, Edible Native Plants of the Rocky Mountains. This man's book has fostered my wonder for years. If you live in the Rocky Mountain Region, I suggest you pick up a copy. Here he gives us a description of the genus Cymopterus:

"Plants from elongated but thickened taproots; stems short, with the leaves from near the base; leaves variable but always more or less filmy and fernlike; flowers in characteristic clusters (umbels), these always double...; individual flowers small, petals white, yellow, or reddish purple; fruit of 2 halves, each half with two or more longitudinally running wings" [9].


Cymopterus bulbosus grows in open fields and hills in dry conditions in and around the Rocky Mountains in the semi-desert Southwest of America.



Culinary Uses

The ACOMA, LAGUNA, and COCHITI Native American tribes ate the plant as one would eat celery [3]. The NAVAJO would reconstitute the stored dried root by heating it in milk, eat it raw, or roast the roots in ashes. Reportedly the plant is eaten either raw or cooked [6]. The leaves can be used as a spice [7]. 


The KERES used the plant as a stomach medicine; the NAVAJO used the plant as a life medicine [3].


Archeological evidence for the use of C. bulbosus, because of the historical method of its harvest, is scarce. Digging sticks, the most direct evidence for the foraging of geophytes, are tenuously preserved and hard to saddle with a dedicated function. Nevertheless, many academics attribute these carbohydrate storing geophytes as a possible reason for nomadic humanity eventualy showing preference for more settled endeavors like farming. That's a pretty big deal. In fact, a feasibility study for this hypothesis was published that centered around biscuit root. The study titled Cymopterus bulbosus and Prehistoric Foragers: Patch Size, Plant Density, and Return Rates, specifically named C. bulbosus as a potential incentive plant that may have encouraged wandering bands to settle. So, you know, it could have happened. Of course, the darkness preceding written history, as always, invites creativity and speculation. 

As the light of written and oral tradition allowed, we first saw NAVAJO children excitedly scouring the semi-desert scrublands in March for this early season plant, and when the plants suddenly disappeared, the children held they must have flown away like so many migrating birds [4].

Works Cited

[1] Elpel, T. J. (2013). Botany in a day: the patterns method of plant identification: an herbal field guide to plant families of North America. Pony, Mont: Hops Press.

[2] Borror, D. J. (1971). Dictionary of word roots and combining forms. Place of publication not identified: Mayfield Publishing Co.

[3] Moerman, D. E. (2010). Native American ethnobotany. Portland, Or.: Timber Press.

[4] Bailey, F. L. (1950). Some sex beliefs and practices in a Navaho community: with comparative material from other Navaho areas.Cambridge: The Museum.

[5] Image retrieved underCreative Commons licensure from here. 

[6] Lange, C. H. (1960). Cochití: a New Mexico pueblo, past and present. Austin: University of Texas Press.

[7] Harrington, H. D. (1998). Edible native plants of the Rocky Mountains. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

[8] Smith, C. S., & Mcnees, L. M. (2005). Cymopterus bulbosus and Prehistoric Foragers: Patch Size, Plant Density, and Return Rates. Journal of Ethnobiology, 25(1), 1-23. doi:10.2993/0278-0771(2005)25[1:cbapfp]2.0.co;2

[9] Harrington, H. D. (1998). Edible native plants of the Rocky Mountains. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.

[10] This image was borrowed from the USDA. You can access their profile: here


Kevin Healey2 Comments