Driving along US Highway 160 going from Blanca, Colorado to Alamosa, Colorado we suddenly spied this splash of brilliant blue! In an area where the greens are even a dusty looking gray, this plant with its multitude of bright, blue flowers nodding at the ends of multiple stems is a shock to see! It is a refreshing sight for sore, tired eyes.
This particular species was first noted by explorers of the west on the Lewis and Clark expedition across the plains in 1860. The plant therefore was named for Meriwether Lewis.
Stems were steeped for stomach disorders and roots steeped for eye medicine. The whole plant was also used to make an eye medicine by mashing and soaking it in cold water. Poultices of the crushed fresh leaves were used to reduce swellings, especially for goiter and for gall trouble. Early settlers made a poultice of the powdered seed, corn meal, and boiling water, mixing this into a paste for infected wounds and mumps.
Lewis flax seeds were used in cooking, as they have a pleasant taste and are highly nutritious. Even animals sought out the early greens shoots, notable elk, mule deer, white tailed deer, and pronghorn antelope. Domestic grazers have been noted eating also, although there have been some reports of sheep poisoning from the ingestion. The immature seedpods contain Cyanogenic glycoside, linamarin, which can prove to be toxic to grazing animals.