Hedysarum boreale mackenzii
Hedysarum mackenziei Richardson
Hedysarum americanum mackenzii (Richardson) Britton
Common Name: Liquorice Root
Hedysarum boreale mackenzii is a herbaceous perennial plant growing from a thick, fibrous taproot; it produces several erect to spreading stems, growing 15 - 40cm tall.
The plant is harvested from the wild for local use as a food.
This species is widely regarded as toxic and warnings about confusing it with its edible cousin Hedysarum alpinum Richardson (Eskimo potato) abound. After exhaustive research, no chemical basis for toxicity could be found. In addition, a critical examination of the literature could find no credible evidence that this species is toxic in spite of these widespread rumours[
N. America- Alaska to Northwest Territories, through Canada, south through western USA to Oregon; Asia - E. Siberia, Russian Far East
Calcareous gravels and slopes[
]. Dry tundra, dry limestone barrens, on flats and slopes, in gravel to clay soils with a preference for calcareous soils
Hedysarum boreale mackenzii is a native of cold northern latitudes, being found further south only at higher elevations. It can experience very cold winters and dry climates. It is usually found in areas where the mean annual rainfall is in the range 250 - 450mm[
]. It is usually found in areas where competition from other plants is minimal[
Grows best in a sunny position, tolerating some shade. Easily grown in most garden soils from clayey to sandy, preferring a deep well-drained sandy loam[
]. It is most often found on moderately saline or alkaline soils in the wild, but will grow on moderately acidic to neutral soils[
]. Established plants are very drought tolerant[
Plants strongly resent root disturbance and should be placed in their permanent positions as soon as possible[
Does well in the rock garden or border[
Plants are quite long-lived, up to 20 years.
This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[
Root - raw or cooked[
]. Long and sweet[
] with a liquorice-like flavour[
]. Used in spring, the root is crisp and juicy but it becomes tough and woody as the season advances[
Seed - sow in a cold frame as soon as it is ripe or in the spring[
]. Stored seed benefits from scarification before sowing in order to speed up and improve germination[
]. This can usually be done by pouring a small amount of nearly boiling water on the seeds (being careful not to cook them!) and then soaking them for 12 - 24 hours in warm water. By this time they should have imbibed moisture and swollen - if they have not, then carefully make a nick in the seedcoat (being careful not to damage the embryo) and soak for a further 12 hours before sowing[
]. Prick out the seedlings into individual pots as soon as they are large enough to handle and plant them out into their permanent positions in the summer.
Division in spring. Great care is needed since the plant dislikes root disturbance[