madiaelegans1Common name: showy tarweed

Scientific name Madia elegans

Plant family Asteraceae Sunflower family

Description: This hairy annual has stalked glands on many parts of the plant and a tar-scent. The herb has alternate, narrow/oblong, and slightly toothed leaves. The yellow flower is a composite inflorescence with ray flowers up 10-17mm long. It has the showiest flower of its close relatives hence its name. [1]

Habitat: Madia elegans grows in well drained, dry soil with lots of sun often on grassy slopes below 1000m.

Range: Madia elegans ranges from California to Oregon. Varieties of tarweed were used by Native Americans all along the pacific coast.[1]

Historical and Contemporary Uses: The showiness of this species of tarweed lends for its use as an ornamental flower by westerners.[1] However, native tribes in Oregon and California relied on this plant as a source of food. Tribes of California used seeds to make pinole, a coarse flour often combined with water to make a dough. Pinole made from tarweeds was so oily that it did not need water to form dough.[1] Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest and California collect seeds from a variety of tarweeds and keep them for winter use. The process of making pinole is described by the USDA, “Common madia seeds were harvested by women in late summer during a period of a fortnight.  A seed beater and a basket were used to gather the seeds.  Then, the seeds were winnowed and ground very fine in a bedrock mortar with a stone pestle.”[2] The Kalapuya tribe of the Pacific Northwest burned areas where tarweed grew. After burns, seeds would not need to be roasted before ground. Other land management techniques where employed by tribes such as planting seeds and ownership of certain areas with a high population of Madia elegans. Esther Stutzman in “Two Ways of Seeing”[2] describes ceremonies of the Kalapuya tribe in which they rubbed sunflower oil on their bodies.  Thus they were given their name which means “rubbed on”. She may have been referring to any of the numerous plants in the sunflower family of which the oily tarweeds are a part. However M. elegans was an important plant to the Kalapuya and so they likely used the oil obtained from these seeds.


[2] Ester Stutzman, Kalapuya elder.  Storytelling about TEK and fire in the Willamette Valley: “Two Ways of Seeing.” TEK Conference 2010.  Oregon State University.