Location: Rocky Mountains
I saw my first Indian paintbrush (Castilleja miniata) over 20 years ago on Mount Sopris near Carbondale, Colorado while on my first day hike in the Rocky Mountains. Since then, whenever I hike in the west during the summer, I usually trek past this brightly colored member of the figwort family. Last week, in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness in Montana, I amble by a number of red Indian Paintbrush, its most common color, growing beside bright orange, soft peach, pale pink and bright salmon-pink colored ones. They can also be shades of yellow or white. Indian paintbrush sure know how to brighten a backcountry hillside!
The state flower of Wyoming, Indian paintbrush must be pollinated by hovering birds and insects as their irregularly shaped blossoms offer nowhere to perch. They are aptly named, as various Native American tribes literally painted with them. They also used this common flower to treat rheumatism, to bolster the immune system, and as a hair conditioner.
The flowers of Indian paintbrush are edible but in moderation as the plant can contain toxic levels of selenium if they grow in highly alkaline soil. For this reason, limit the consumption of Indian paintbrush to the flower only and as a garnish with other fresh greens. Never eat the greens or roots.