A Powerful Antiviral Herb: Desert Parsley

Desert Parsley Antiviral Herb

Medicinal  Uses

Lomatium dissectum is a powerful antiviral herb and has been used historically by the Indigenous peoples of the United States for this purpose. During the 1918 influenza epidemic, the Washoe people of southwestern United States gathered the root and used it in the treatment of their sick. They prepared the medicine (either fresh or dried) by boiling it in water, skimming off the oils and resins on the surface, and giving large doses of the broth. The affected person would drink this tea for three days, which was considered the longest time needed to break up a fever caused by a viral or pulmonary infection. Whether a coincidence or not, no deaths were reported among the tribe from influenza or its complications. Other tribes in nearby regions, where the plant did not grow, reported numerous deaths. A doctor named Ernest Krebbs, who was working in the desert in Nevada, also noticed Indigenous people using the root to cure those stricken with influenza. Using strong decoctions of the root, the ill were able to get well within a week. Krebbs and other doctors started to use the root and found it to have great healing benefits. Since the plant grew on the western frontier, it did not get the medical profession's attention in general, and its use fell out of favor for a time.

In a modern clinical setting, Lomatium root has been used to cure the initial stages of acute pharyngitis, subacute pharyngitis (which is persistent and slower to heal), and tonsils. It has also been used for influenza and pneumonia. It’s a proven remedy for viral, bacterial, and fungal infections, especially those of the respiratory and urinary tract.

Bear Medicines

An interesting subject I have come across in my study of traditional medicine is the ascription of certain archetypal pat- terns to medicinal plants. The most basic patterns are based on a circle of elements. For example, warming herbs are associated with the element of fire, moistening herbs with the element of water, and so on. Although there are different systems of elemental patterns from different schools of traditional medicine, they all seem to benefit from working in this way. Certain Indigenous traditions are based on a circle of animals from the local area, which may include snake, elk/deer, bear, wolf, and rabbit archetypes. They historically recognized certain plant medicines as being associated with a certain animal; some resemble an animal in some way or are the food of that animal, or perhaps the plant and its animal appeared together in dreams or visions. It was believed that animal medicine could im- part the beneficial qualities of its associated animal to an individual in need of them.

Lomatium is part of a herb group that’s considered to be bear medicines. These herbs typically have brown (some- times furry/hairy), oily, spicy, and aromatic roots. Bears like to eat these plants in the spring after they wake up from their hibernation. The aromatic qualities help to warm up and reinvigorate their sluggish digestive system, which has been slowed through long periods of hibernation. The roots of these plants are full of oils that stimulate lipid metabolism in the liver. As with many medicinal herbs, the effect on the body is regulated. Bear medicines can be of benefits to those who lack oils in their systems, such as those with dry skin or dry hair and scalp; but they can also be beneficial in cases where there is an excess of oils, such as for teenagers with acne-prone or oily skin. Oily plants help us build our stores of subcutaneous fat, which is essential for insulating us from cold and damp conditions. Similarly, bears rely on high quantities of oils in their diet to develop a thick layer of fat which helps to insulate them through the winter.

Adequate oil intake is essential in the production and maintenance of the adrenal hormones. The fatty outer layer of the adrenal glands is the adrenal cortex. It’s responsible for the synthesis and secretion of a variety of hormones, such as cortisol. The bear medicines are rich in oils that help to replenish the adrenal cortex and can benefit those with adrenal fatigue. Cortisol is essential for making stored fats and sugars available in stressful situations requiring resilience and strength. Of all the animals, the bear is known for possessing exceptional strength and courage. They are usually docile and calm, spending much of their time fishing or foraging for nuts, roots, berries, and honey; but mother bears are capable of being quite ferocious when they must defend their cubs. They stand their ground (sometimes on two legs) or even charge at a perceived threat when other animals would run in fear. The bear medicines help pro- vide nourishing oils for energy storage and for maintaining the health of the adrenals so that we might possess the strength and courage of the bear when we need it. Other examples of these medicines include members of the Apiaceae family, like Osha (Ligusticum porteri, Apiaceae) and Angelica (Angelica atropurpurea, Apiaceae), but also herbs from families like Spikenard (Aralia racemosa, Araliaceae) and Burdock (Arctium lappa, Asteraceae). 

Traditional Tincture  Preparation

This root contains resins that can be irritating to the mucus membranes and can cause a skin rash; proper preparation re- quires the removal of some of the more irritating oils. I recently made a tincture of the Lomatium root to use as medicine— it’s a process that requires careful observation and patience.


I begin the process by calculating the appropriate ratio of plant material and menstruum. Menstruum refers to the solvents, in this case, water and alcohol, that is used to extract a spectrum of medicinal qualities of the plant into a solution called a tincture. Different herb-to-menstruum ratios are used to prepare plant extracts, but usually, I prepare tinctures at a ratio of 1 kilogram of herb to 5 liters of menstruum (or a 1:5 extract). If I have 10 pounds (or 4.5 kilograms of dried Lomatium root, I will use 22.5 liters of menstruum to make a tincture. However, there is another key factor in considering how much menstruum to use; all plant material must be completely submerged. Depend- ing on the density of the plant material, this can sometimes mean that I will add more menstruum per kilogram of herb to the mix. For the Lomatium tincture, I use six liters of menstruum for each kilogram of dried root (1:6 extract) to ensure that all plant material is properly submerged.


4.5 kg dried root X 6 L/kg (Conversion Factor) = 27.25 L (Total Menstruum)


I calculate the amount of water and alcohol that e up the menstruum. The ratio of water and alcohol

used to extract the active medicinal constituents varies from herb to herb. The amount of  alcohol in a tincture can typically range from around 20 percent to around 95 percent. Generally speaking, plants with higher oil and resin content are prepared with a higher percentage of alcohol, as those substances are liberated from the cells of the herb into a solution with its use. Due to its oily nature, a standard alcohol percentage for a Lomatium tincture is 50 percent (although I have seen up to 70 percent used).


27.25 L (Total Menstruum) X 0.5 (Conversion Factor) =

13.6 L (Alcohol)

27.25 L (Total Menstruum) X 0.5 (Conversion Factor) =

13.6 L (Water)


Now that I have worked out the proportions of alcohol required, I move on to the next step,

which begins with cooking the root in water for several hours (decoction). This will help to bring into the solution a variety of medicinal constituents, which are soluble in boiling water. I will start with about 22 liters of filtered water—more than enough to submerge all of the dried roots and enough to allow it to simmer overnight without drying out. The goal will be to slowly cook the herb and at the same time evaporate the water until the desired amount is reached—about 13.6 liters.


At about 3 pm on the first day, I add the water and the herb to a large cooker and bring it to a boil, then I turn down the heat slightly to cook for about one hour. Before I leave work for the day, I turn down the temperature again to medium heat and allow it to simmer overnight.


The next morning, I turn the heat back up to just below boiling temperature. As the water heats up, it rises a few centimeters, and on the surface is a film or residue containing the irritating oils and resins. For the next few hours, I use a ladle or a large spoon to carefully skim the residue from the surface, trying to remove as little water as possible with it. It’s a similar process to skimming a chicken stock. Once the amount of the residue appearing on the surface subsides, I continue to evaporate the remaining water until the total mass of the herb and the water reaches 18 kg (one liter of water has a mass of 1 kg).


4.5 kg (Herb Mass) + 13.6 L (Water Volume Needed) = 18.1 kg


After the water is reduced to the appropriate I put the herb and the water into a ceramic container called a crock and allow the contents to cool for a couple of hours. After the mixture cools, I add the rest of the menstruum (the 13.6 liters of alcohol), stir the contents well, and seal the crock with a lid and some wrapping tape. The herb and the menstruum will macerate for 30 days.

After 30 days, I use a manual hydraulic press and a nylon filter cloth to separate the menstruum from the herb, bottle the tincture, and store it for future use.