LOLO PASS — All the young Nk̓ʷusm students were a buzz and buzzing with energy at the mile high Lolo Pass U.S. Forest Service Ranger Station complex. They were there for the school’s annual husks (x̣asx̣s) dig. They settled down a bit for lunch a mile or so west of the complex. Following a meal prayer by Qlispe Elder Stephan Small Salmon, the young students roasted hot dogs for the Elders and themselves prior to the search for x̣asx̣s.
Scientifically known as Ligusticum Porteri, x̣asx̣s is known by many other non-scientific names, including bear root, Indian parsley, osha root and bear medicine, among other names. There are 25 varieties of the x̣asx̣s plant. And there are numerous uses of the plant.
Following lunch the young students, adults and Elders were issued x̣asx̣s-digging tools, given instructions on how to use them. Then the students in groups accompanied by adults went on the x̣asx̣s hunt.
For about a half hour the groups were searching, finding and digging x̣asx̣s. However, the joyous noise the young students made suddenly seemed to turn as the verbiage turned to screams. One group of students accidentally disturbed a bee’s nest and they were swarmed by stinging-bees. The bees got under the clothing of some students and some of the boys ripped off their coats and shirts on the run.
Following First Aid remedies the x̣asx̣s dig was cut short and the group traveled back to Arlee to further care for the stung students. It is a trip they will not soon forget.
Bear root/x̣asx̣s is native to the Rocky Mountains. It is a huge hairy perennial with large dark green divided leaves, dark brown hairy roots and hollow stems. Its long thin stalk can grow to be around three feet. It also has an aroma akin to celery.
According to some tribal lore, bears tend to chew the roots of the bear root/x̣asx̣s into a watery paste and rub it into their fur by rolling on it and covering their bodies with its fragrance. It is believed that they tend to do this to save themselves from harmful parasites and infections.
Bears also tend to eat it when they come out of hibernation in order to cleanse their digestive system. This is why it is also commonly known as bear medicine. In fact, it has also been witnessed that male bears tend to dig up bear roots to offer them to female bears.
Small Salmon said he uses x̣asx̣s to deal with congestion and colds. It has many more uses than that though.
It possesses volatile oils and essential oils along with warm and bitter alkaloid. This aids in enhancing the flow of blood in the coronary arteries and brain, improves digestions, increases perspiration and stimulates circulation, kidneys and uterus.
X̣asx̣s also simultaneously acts as the following: antiviral – this eliminates or abates viruses to cure illnesses such as flue or respiratory disorders; carminative – this helps in gas discharge from stomach or intestines; decongestant – this removes congestion; diaphoretic – this helps in increasing perspiration; diuretic – this enhances the flow of urine; expectorant – this aids in excavating mucus, and stimulant – this promotes activity.
It can be used as internal medicines to cure infections in bronchitis, menstrual cramps, digestive disorders, nausea, fevers, sore throats, colds, dry and wet coughs, tonsillitis, toothaches and viral infections; and also as external medicines as a remedy for minor injuries and skin wounds and cuts to prevent infection.
Lolo Pass, at 5,233 in elevation, is the highest point of the historic Lolo Trail, between the Bitterroot Valley in Montana and the Weippe Prairie in Idaho. The trail, known as naptni?aqs by the Bitterroot Salish, was used by the Nez Perce in the 18th century, and the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery in 2005 and 2006 on its westerly and easterly journey respectively.
The Lolo Trail is a National Historic Landmark designated for its importance to the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery, and its role in the 1877 Nez Perce War.