Foods Indigenous to the Western Hemisphere

Blue Camas

Camassia quamash

By Jeremy Trombley

These tubers from the lily family were a staple of many indigenous communities in the northern United States. It is important to note, however, that the bulbs resemble those of their close relatives the Death Camas, which, as its name suggests, is extremely toxic. In order to assure proper identification, the bulbs are best harvested when the plant is in bloom.


The blue camas, also known as the great camas, sweet camas, and edible camas, is a perennial that grows from large bulbs. The flowers are clustered, bloom in late spring, and are bright blue. The plant can be found in meadows around the Northern Western US and southern Canada.

Food Uses

Camas is a staple of many indigenous groups in its native area, and was often traded with groups outside that region. The bulbs were usually harvested with a stick and consumed quickly, as they wouldn't keep for very long. To prepare the bulbs, they were usually steamed in pits.

Some indigenous groups cultivated camas plots, which were owned by individuals and passed from generation to generation. Plots were cleared of stones, brush and invading plants, and harvested each year collecting several large sacks full of bulbs every time. The bulbs were steamed all together in massive pits lined with seaweed and branches, sometimes for days at a time. The sweet flavor of the bulbs makes them an excellent addition to many different confections including indian ice cream made from soap berries. Cooking the bulbs converts the simple sugar inulin into fructose, which is what makes the bulbs taste sweet.


Nutritive Values of Native Foods of Warm Springs Indians – Blue Camas Kuhnlein, Harrie. Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples: Nutrition, Botany and Use. 1st ed. Taylor & Francis, 1991. Turner, Nancy J. Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples. University of British Columbia Press, 2007.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food 2nd Ed. 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, USA, 2006.

Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Wild Asparagus. Field guide ed. New York: D. McKay, 1962.