Friday, February 8, 2013

Foraging in Coastal Sage Scrub and a Riparian Zone

If there's one thing I've learned in my travels, it's that much of the world sees nature as one big grocery store. In fact, it's more like a Walmart Supercenter, only the stuff isn't cheap and crappy and made in some country where they pay the workers nothing. Walking along a trail in many parts of the world means finding food, medicine, and materials needed to make tools, jewelry, toys, games, buildings, musical instruments, and more.

Then of course I would come home and walk along our trails and wonder: What do our plants do? Our plants that I've walked past a million times and never thought about. Surely, many are edible and many are medicinal, and I don't even know what their names are.

I'm only just beginning to learn about my local plants. See a few photos from a recent hike with plant names and uses below. If you can identify the names of the plants where you live, you can find out how they are used here.

A facet of foraging that might frustrate some people is the degree to which people utterly aren't in charge. That means that even though I pass numerous blackberry bushes on my hike, there aren't any blackberries to eat right now because it's the wrong time of year. The photos therefore show the plants as they are now. It's winter and there's not much in the way of food available.

Thankfully, wildflower season is just getting started.

Encelia californica, I think. All I know about it right now: it's pretty.

Lemonade berry, Rhus integrifolia. This has berries that you can use to make lemonade-like beverage. Either that or the person who named it was an idiot.

Here, you can see the flowers of the lemonade berry.

Mulefat or Seepwillow. In Latin, Baccharis glutinosa, also known as Baccharis salicifolia because the leaves look like willow (Salix) leaves. "Infusion of leaves used as a wash or poultice of leaves applied to bruises, wounds or insect stings."

Willow. No idea what kind. Shown here are the flowers, called catkins. The Kumeyaay distinguished between willows with leaves that were light and dark on both sides and leaves that were the same color on both sides. They use willow to make baskets to hold acorn because the willow repels pests. No doubt there were and are other uses, such as pain relief (willow bark has the chemical aspirin is based on), and likely use in making some tools or other items.

Nearby I found California blackberry, Rubus ursinus, which is of course edible. As I continued on, I found lots of California wild rose, Rosa californica. The Kumeyaay made a rose petal tea to give to babies with fevers. And, of course, the fruits are edible.

Spiny Rush, Juncus acutus, one species of Juncas that the Kumeyaay use in basketmaking. This species looks very similar to the other species, Basket Rush, Juncus textilis. The two ways to tell them apart are 1. This one grows in clumps like the one you see here and the other doesn't, and 2. The other one has an area of darker color on the bottom that basketmakers value as it adds color to their baskets. Although the two species are closely related, they are used for different purposes by basketmakers.

I didn't know this when I saw it - which is why I took a picture - but I think it's Dudleya. And if it is, the leaves can be eaten and used to get rid of calluses, and the roots can be made into a decoction for asthma.

Hmm, that's pretty. Still need to identify what it is.

Wild cucumber vine. NOT a cucumber, DON'T eat it. It is in the cucumber family, however. The fruits are the craziest looking plants I've ever seen. There are two local uses that I've heard of. One, tossing it into the rivers to stun the fish so you can catch them, and two, crushing the seeds to use the oil for paint.

Toyon, the plant for which Hollywood was named. Sometimes called Christmas berry because it ripens around Christmas. Edible.

Pure evil. Stay away. Toxicodendron diversilobum, or poison oak. I'm told that it often grows near mugwort (Artemisia douglasii) and you can rub mugwort on yourself if you touch poison oak. The Kumeyaay also drink white sage tea if they get poison oak. A non-Indian remedy I read online is tea tree and lavender essential oils. And if you can do so quickly, wash it off with soap - not just water.

These are most likely cattails, because that's what the old, dead material you see there was. Cattails are edible but don't eat them unless you know the water they are growing in isn't polluted.

Also, not pictured, are coast live oak, black sage (Salvia mellifera), white sage (S. apiana), and California sagebrush (Artemisia californica). These are all extremely common plants and I've posted their photos in previous blog posts. White sage is more potent than black sage medicinally, but both are used. The seeds of both plants are edible as well. Coast live oaks, together with black oaks in the mountains, provide the acorns that were the staple of the native diet in this region. California sagebrush is less important as food or medicine - but you can make a sun tea out of it and then use it as a hair wash. Your hair will smell great and it also makes it extra shiny.

I'm still a novice, but these are all of the useful plants I found by walking just a mile or two after only a few weeks of ethnobotany classes. Imagine how many useful plants I could find if I was better educated or hiked farther! I went back to the same place a few days later and spotted some Ribes indecorum, a variety of wild currant with edible berries. Finding out that you can eat the plants you've walked past without noticing for years is so exciting!

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