Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ithuriel's Spear (Triteleia laxa)

All over the hills here in Northern California right now is a lovely flowering plant called "Ithuriel's Spear"...or Triteleia laxa.  The corms (underground root part) were used for food by natives.  Raw...they have a nice clean crisp waterchestnutty kind of texture and taste.  Yum!  I have yet to try them cooked as many of the tribes apparently preferred (according to Moerman).

For now...I would consider these more of a survival type food.  While I would love to go out and dig up baskets full of corms for dinner...there are gaps in the knowledge regarding how long it takes for them to reproduce.

I found a big and fancy scientific paper on Triteleia laxa that conceded...

"We do not know how long it takes in the
field for a seedling to produce a plant that
flowers, or for how many years a plant flowers or

Perhaps I will need to grow some myself at my home like this author suggests...and I will find as she did that they "Multiply easily".  Until I do...I will probably just enjoy the flowers in the wild...and maybe sample one if I am really hungry...and in an area with multitudes of the plant.

Here is a wonderful article on the US Forest services site that gives some great ID info...distribution maps...and fun information on the name.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Acorn Muffin Recipe...

I was asked to share a recipe for some muffins that I made for a scouting event a while back.  Getting accurate recipes from me is always a hard I am kind of like the cajun cook...who just throws in a bit of this and a bit of that.  Here is what I remember from the recipe when my 4 year old daughter and I put it together...

The basic template for the recipe came from my favorite bread book..."Bread Winners" by Mel London.  Available used on Amazon for change and some shipping.

On page 246 is a recipe for whole wheat muffins...

2 Eggs beaten
1/3 cup yogurt
2/3 cup honey
1/3 cup oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

If memory serves me daughter and I did the recipe like above...only we subsituted Interior Live Oak (Quercus wislizeni) acorn flour for a little less than half of the wheat flour it calls for.  There are all kinds of places on the internet that give various ways to prepare such flour.

We also added

A handful of raisins
A handful of pine nuts
One of those hickory farms mini marmalade jars (my daughters idea)

We also used white wheat that we ground it was nice and fresh which I think makes a difference.

We mixed everything in a large bowl...poured batter into greased some muffin tins...and cooked at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

The finished muffins were really...really good.  At least we thought so.  They were a really dark in the photo (of someone else's muffins!!)...and were moist and sweet.  Warm with a little butter they were heavenly!  Mmmmm....

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sacred Garden School of Foraging...

Occasionally...I take groups out to ID native plants and discuss their uses for food...medicine...and tools.  I show how my family currently supplements the store bought foods that we eat.  I have done these walks enough times now...where I regularly have people asking me "When are you going to do that again!"..or they say "Let me know when you are going harvesting so I can go with you!"

So in response...I have created a project that I call "Sacred Garden School of Foraging".  The name is meant to remind that the worlds bounty is "Sacred" as it comes from God and should be observed and used with reverence...and it is a "Garden" that should be tended with care so that it produces good fruits continually.  As a "School" I will be providing the quality of instruction that I would want if I went on a foraging walk with another teacher!

My intent is to regularly (perhaps monthly depending on my schedule) take people out to help them correctly ID and use the "wild" plants in my region.  To help people have a good experience by harvesting the correct part of the the correct season.  To hopefully help them understand the many reasons why they ought to continue to forage.  Teaching information that is steeped in the knowledge of the Native Americans...modern foraging well as my own observations.

The Kinds of Classes

1.  Family and general plant info classes - I will do these by request if you contact me and set up a date and provide the group.  I ask that the class have no less than 5 people...and no more than 15.  The class will be an overview of many plants.

2.  Intensives - Adult only classes where we will study a plant or two at a time...IN REAL DEPTH. How to identify to harvest to prepare it...native uses for it...medicinal's history in the US...etc...etc.  This is the way that foraging skills should be learned...a plant at a time.  After the class...the students should be able to stand before a group of botanists and swear on their lives that they can correctly identify a plant and know how to use it!

The First Class

I will be doing the first intensive on...

May 1st from 9am-11am

We will meet at 7000 Baldwin Dam road in Folsom CA...
at the gravel parking lot below the "Hinkle Creek Nature Center".

We will be focusing on Curly Dock (Rumex crispus) and Thistles (Cirsium spp.)  They are quite good right now...and we should be able to still find some in good shape on the 1st.

What it will be like

We will walk along the “Hinkle Creek Nature Trail” and stop frequently to examine plants.  It is a lovely trail that meanders alongside a stream among beautiful oaks.  The path does have several hills that are fairly steep which require moderate physical health.  It is not a speed hike and there will be time to rest as 
we discuss plants.

You May Consider...

1. Wearing good walking shoes
2. Bringing gloves if you want to touch pokey things.
3. Plastic grocery bags stuffed in a pocket for samples
4. A notepad
5. A water bottle
6. Scissors or a knife for sample collection

Class Donation

I am aware of people's current financial struggles. I don't want for anyone to stay home that is interested because finances are an issue. Instead of setting a price for the class...I ask that you make a discreet money donation based on your circumstances...and what you feel the class is worth.  There is no amount too small or too big!  The money will help to pay for my preparedness gear habit (and bills)...and make my wife much more agreeable with letting her husband leave for several hours when he ought to be at home cleaning out the garage!!


Please contact me at to book your spot.

PS. I am still doing free classes for groups from my church...when they are set up by a Relief Society...Elders Quorum...Young Mens...etc.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Two Foraging Related Book Reviews and a Tip...

I am often asked when I take people on walks to ID native plants..."What one book would you recommend to have for emergencies?"  The implied question is that if the day came that they needed to rely on foraged food...what book will tell them everything they need to know to feed themselves.

While it is possible that a reference book could help in a pinch to find a few edible plants to use to supplement one's expect that a person is to learn all they need to know from one book that is needed to sustain life...without a depth of experiences that are borne over many seasons of working with many plants is unrealistic.

It's kind of like asking..."If the day comes that I have an opportunity to dance on can I become a professional dancer in one weekend?"  It is also like people that store garden seed for doomsday gardening...but don't currently garden...or purchase all of their plants large and healthy from a nursery.  The comfort that comes with being truly self-reliant with foraging as well as in most preparedness endeavors comes with the knowledge that comes from practice.

I own a library of foraging books...and when I am learning about a plant...I learn bits and pieces of a puzzle from many of them.  Some of the books have great harvesting info...but lame plant identification ...or they list off 100+ plants...but only a handful will be available in your region...etc...etc.  Trying to find one book that shows you all stages of the plants development...explains the qualities of a plant good for harvesting...and that doesn't leave out other important details is hard to find.  None really have been a complete resource...all by themselves.  I end up going on the internet and look up photos on calflora...or see if there are videos on youtube...etc...etc...  Then I observe the plant through the seasons to know what it looks like at all stages of development.  Some plants you want to eat when it is a tiny shoot...not when it is in full bloom like it shows in so many of the photos!

But the question arises..."Isn't there a book that contains at least the info for a handful of plants that one could learn without looking to other sources?"  Well...there are two that I can think of...and they are both written by Samuel Thayer.

His first book "The Foragers Harvest" is worth purchasing even if only a select amount of the plants that he covers are to be found where you live.  He is not an armchair forager.  Not someone regurgitating what another author has written.  He is telling you hands on how HE works with each plant.  The photographs are crisp...the quality of the materials of the book are superb...the descriptions are complete.  He provides a glossary...information on botanical terminology...really a complete reference.

His new book is a dream come true!  It is called "Natures Garden" and it is like a continuation of his first book.  This is book is 512 pages long vs. "The Foragers Harvest" which is 360 pages.  It has more plant lessons than "The Foragers Harvest" that are applicable to Western foragers.  "Natures Garden" is worth buying if just for his section on Acorn processing!

So...if you only had two foraging books to rely on...I'd choose for you "Nature's Garden"...followed by "The Foragers Harvest".  After that...I would point you to Steve Brills book that has wonderfully correct botanical drawings and great humored info...or Christopher Nyerges book that has great info especially with regards to nutritional values...but lame photos.

"Natures Garden" is available for pre-order from Amazon at the link above...or directly from Samuel Thayer.  He will even sign the book if you buy it from him!

"Tending the Wild" by M. Kat Andersen

One of the initial things that drew me to foraging was the concept of "Reaping where I did not sow".  After spending so much time prepping soil for my home garden foraging was bound to be inviting!  I saw with my naive eyes that the world of the Native Americans must be one of simply going around and filling up their "shopping baskets" with the bounties of nature.  I mean...that is what we were taught in school right?!  That the Native Americans were "Hunters and gatherers"!?

While they did hunt...and they did gather...they also were "Tending the wild".  This book extensively documents the practices of burning...weeding...coppicing...pruning...sowing...etc...that made the State of CA the abundant place that it was when the white man came.    These actions ensured that successive harvests would produce higher yields and superior quality. Native California was managed just like a modern farmer would manage a crop in rows...only their crop was "wild" to the untrained eye.  Hillsides of edible clover...large stands of evenly spaced oaks...fields of cereal grains.  They truly shaped the landscape of California into what it was...and we still are benefactors of their work to the extent that it hasn't been sullied.

This book also serves as a stinging rebuke to those "conservationists" who believe that the best kind of nature is nature that is untouched.   Management practices of the Native Americans such as burning increased crop yields...abated insects and disease...prevented larger fires...cleared brush...etc.  Man's hand can actually accentuate the positive by helping along processes that lead to a desired result.  For example...the author writes extensively about Dichelostemma capitatum or "Blue Dicks" or "Brodiaea".  

Here is a video of a person who has some foraging videos on youtube (many of which I have enjoyed).  In this video he recommends eating the stem and flower of Brodiaea...but leaving the corm.  He leaves the corm saying that it is the part that is "sustainable"...saying "It helps the plant to survive".  While it is true that the plant will continue to live if you leave the corm in the ground...if he were to dig it up...he would find that there would be more plants to harvest in successive years!  The corms have tiny "cormlets" that  detach and plant themselves when you dig them up!  It is this practice of not disturbing various plants that has led to their dwindling numbers and even extinction!

The book kind of felt like a fleshed out mini-version of Moerman's "Native American Ethnobotany".  Where Moerman would tell you that a certain species of plant was used for food in a short blurb....this book tells you about how it was harvested...propagated...stored...etc.  Many of this information comes by way of quotes from Native people telling their stories.  The author also uses the botanical names to avoid confusion which is greatly appreciated.

I recommend it to all people who are interested in it reminds us that we must give thought for the future of the plants we collect.  It reminds us that we are in "Natures Garden"...a garden that will produce every year...if we don't kill the golden goose.  I think that although so many of the species of plants discussed in the book are endemic to California...that it also will have direct applicability to similar species found in other states and is therefore still worthy of reading if you do not live in CA.

This book is a treasure.  I am in awe of the knowledge of the Native American people.  While much of the ethnobotanical information of the US has been is wonderful that M. Kat Andersen gave a chunk of her life to record a piece of it.

Cover Your Paperback Books

I checked out the paperback copy of "Tending the Wild" from the library.  It was obviously the first time the book had been the binding practically creaked when I opened it. By the time I finished the book...the edges were bending up and looking worn.  If this had been my own book...this never would have happened.  Right after I purchase a or used...before I start to read...I will cover the book with laminate.  I purchase the laminate in a 12" roll from Highsmith which is a library supply place.  This makes a paperback book...more like a glossy hardback book.  They will last a lot longer and stay nice just by taking a short time to give the book some TLC.  It's easy to do and takes me probably 5 minutes to cover one book.

I'm unsure if this is the same brand I purchased one roll lasts FOREVER and I have not finished the one roll I have purchased...but the 12" one on this page should be a good choice for most paperbacks.  Here are instructions on how to cover a book with laminate.