Bitterbrush is an extensively-branched, deciduous shrub that grows up to six feet tall. It produces many small three-lobed leaves, similar to those of sagebrush but lacking the gray, woolly hair, and brighter and more of an olive-green in color. The leaves are so tiny that the outline of the shrub’s limbs is distinctive. The flowers are small but bright yellow and abundant, making the shrub attractive during the flowering period in spring. Bitterbrush has no scent. It prefers sandy or gravelly locations.
Though bitter to us, bitterbrush leaves provide an extremely important food source for elk and deer, especially in winter on windswept, relatively snow-free slopes. The plants often become stunted from excessive browsing. Pocket gophers collect and cache the seeds in underground tunnels from which new plants often sprout.
Native Americans used the bitterbrush leaves as a laxative and to relieve itching. They also used the branches for fuel.