The camas flower, also known as wild hyacinth or camassia, was long an essential source of food for indigenous North Americans. Today, these plants are also prized for their ornamental and symbolic value. A gift of camas sends a message of pride and strength. In this guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know about Camas flower meaning in the language of flowers.
The Meaning & Symbolism of Camas Flowers
The camas flower carries positive symbolic meaning related to strength, consciousness, and pride. A gift of camas blossoms might send a message that says, “I’m proud of you” or “be proud of yourself.” You can also send a gift of camas flowers to let someone know you see and appreciate them and their strength.
For indigenous North Americans, the flowers played many important cultural roles. For instance, the name C. quamash comes from the Nez Perce word qém’es, which refers to the camas flower’s bulb and means “sweet.”
Many used roasted or boiled bulbs as a food source. At the turn of the 19th century, explorer Merriweather Lewis devoted 1,500 words to the camas bulb, which a Nez Perce tribe had provided and saved his expedition from starvation.
In Canada, First Nations tribes also used the plants to barter for other goods. The Victoria, B.C. area was originally called Camosun, or “a place to gather Camas.”
For some tribes, such as the Nez Perce, the camas bulbs are viewed as sacred and a gift from the creator. Some tribes centered their calendars and migrations around the camas harvest. The plants’ importance is memorialized in artwork such as sculpture by First Nations artist Carolyn Memnook, featured in Victoria’s inner harbor area.
Uses and Benefits of Camas
Tribes across North America cultivated and relied on camas bulbs as an essential food source. For instance, in what’s now Oregon, the Paiute, Chinookans, Kalapuyans, and Plateau peoples all harvested the bulbs in the spring and early summer.
Women used special sticks and antlers to dig the bulbs. The camas would then be baked, ground into powder, boiled, or cooked over a bed of hot stones for two days at a time.
Raw camas contain inulin, a nondigestible substance. Cooking the bulbs renders them edible and lends a sweet taste. Bulbs could be cooked down into sweet syrup, used to flavor other foods or ground into flour to make cakes that fed people over the winter.
Once, great swathes of land were covered with camas. Native populations both harvested and cultivated the bulbs. After colonization, the camas fields have all but disappeared.
Today, some tribes still use camas as a good source. But the plants are mostly prized for their ornamental value. The bulbs are also used in environmental restoration projects in prairies, wetlands, and savannahs.
The camas flower has long been an important food source for indigenous North Americans. The blue, purple, and white flowers are also prized for their ornamental value in the landscape and make a beautiful addition to floral gifts. In the language of flowers, a gift of camas flowers sends a message associated with pride, strength, and acknowledgment. These perennials are not just lovely and useful; they’re also easy to grow.