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Wild food experiments and personal foraging accounts from the Pacific Northwest centering on Northwest Washington and Southern Vancouver IslandT. Abe Lloydhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366noreply@blogger.comBlogger134125
Updated: 2 days 50 min ago

Wetland Plant ID Class

Mon, 05/17/2021 - 12:13


This IN PERSON FIELD CLASS meets MWF June 21-July 9 for 8 all day field trips.

Learn to Identify wetland plants found in the freshwater marshes, salt marshes, bogs, fens, wet meadows, and swamps of Western Washington through a combination of lectures, labs, and intensive field study.

Who should take this course:
  • Students preparing for a career in wetland ecology
  • Professionals eager to master challenging groups of plants such as sedges, rushes, and grasses
  • Botanist looking to expand their knowledge of specialized groups of plants
  • Lovers of Natural History wanting to explore the most pristine wetlands in Washington's fourth (best) corner
Instructor:T. Abe Lloyd is the former president of the Koma Kulshan Chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society and an Instructor at WWU. He has been studying the plants of this region for nearly 30 years.
Register online https://summer.wwu.edu/field-study-and-study-usa-courses 

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

How to Eat a Bulrush

Mon, 09/16/2019 - 13:31

Softstem Bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemontani)I don’t usually start an educational article by trying to prove how confusing something is, but bulrushes are a bane for many botanists and a nightmare for ethnographers. There are a few understandable reasons for this disdain. First, many of the species have close relatives that are challenging to differentiate from one another. For example, of eight common bulrushes in Western Washington, four have close look-a-likes that share similar habitat: Cottongrass Bulrush (Scirpus cyperinus) and Small Fruited Bulrush (S. microcarpus) both have leafy stems with 50-100 small spikelets; Maritime Bulrush (Bolboschoenus maritimus) and River Bulrush (B. fluviatilis) both have broadly triangular, leafy stems with 5-20 large spikelets; Hardstem Bulrush (Schoenoplectus acutus) and Softestem Bulrush (S. tabernaemontani) both have round leafless stems; and American Threesquare (S. americanus) and Common Threesquare (S. pungens) both have triangular stems with only a couple leaves and flower heads. In fact, I had thought the last two names were synonyms for the same plant until I began writing this article. Secondly, bulrushes grow in marshes with thick mud that can pulls your boots off and choke you with rotten-egg stench, vegetation that can tear up your legs, and mosquitos and leaches that can suck your blood. Who knows what other dangers lurk in those deep muddy waters. Finally, to make matters worse, both the common names and scientific names for bulrushes have not only changed frequently over time, but they have also been applied to the wrong species, or multiple species. Frankly, understanding bulrushes is messy business both literally and figuratively.

As my love for plants has grown, I have been increasingly drawn to challenging groups. While in college in Wisconsin, I became interested in the Cyperaceae—the family containing sedges and bulrushes—and spent three years experimentally restoring an old field to a sedge meadow for my senior capstone project. Naturally, native seeds were needed for this project, so I spent one day a week throughout the summer collecting sedge and bulrush seeds, efforts that earned me the title “Abe sedge seed.”
Despite this interest, I had never heard of any edible parts of bulrushes until a few years ago, when Sam Thayer, excitedly told me about his first taste of River Bulrush (Bolboschoenus fluviatilis). He proclaimed the tuberous roots to be sweet and delicious raw. With piqued curiosity, I set out to better understand what is going on beneath our various bulrushes.

The species6 sepals on JuncusWith bulrushes, the old botanical mnemonic, “sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses have joints [swollen nodes] all the way to the ground,” doesn’t hold the water they grow in. As members of the Sedge Family (Cyperaceae), many bulrushes have the normal triangular cross section, but a few species have round stems, like the Rush Family (Juncacea). However, there are easily discernable differences. Bulrushes (and sedges in general) have simplified flowers and seeds with a single scale below each flower. Each bulrush flower produces a single seed. By comparison, rushes have more developed flower parts with six sepals surrounding a capsule that contains multiple seeds.
As far as I know, the edible bulrushes are limited to three genera, Schoenoplectus, Bolboschoenus, and Cyperus. The former two have been split from the otherwise inedible genus Scirpus by most modern botanists, a treatment which suits me because their botanical differences have real world meaning. In this article, I describe the more common members of Schoenoplectus, Bolboschoenus, and Cyperus

Softstem Bulrush and Hardstem Bulrush (Schoenoplectus tabernaemSoftstem (L) and Hardstem (R) sectionsontani and S. acutus).
These two herbaceous perennial species die back to a thick fleshy rhizome every year. Reaching 3-9’ in height, they are the tallest bulrushes in Washington and Oregon. They both have round stems that lack leaves altogether, and inflorescences that arise laterally on the stem. Strikingly similar, I find the best way to tell them apart is to feel the stems and cut them to examine their cross sections. Softstem Bulrushes compress easily, almost as if there is no pith inside; these spongey cells are loosely packed usually numbering about 5-12 across the diameter. In contrast, you can feel the pith push back when compressing Hardstem Bulrushes, and when sliced, they reveal much more tightly packed cells with 18-30 across the diameter. Those with a hand lens may also examine the scales below each seed. Hardstem Bulrush scales have a contorted awn at the tip and a midrib that is nearly the same color as the rest of the scale whereas those of Softstem Bulrush have a straight or only slightly bent awn and a highly contrasting midrib (Hitchcock). Both inhabit lakes, sloughs, marshes, and ditches, throughout the Pacific Northwest. I usually see Softstem Bulrush more in estuarine salt marshes, and Hardstem Bulrush more in freshwater marshes and lakeshores, but they do not break cleanly along these habitat differences.

Sofstem Bulrush in saltmarsh
Hardstem Bulrush in fresh marsh
A third species, California Bulrush (S. californicus)grows in Oregon and California and looks similar to the others but has a slightly three-sided stems which can reach 12’ tall! Very few other plants in North America can grow as tall in a single growing season.
California BulrushHardstem & Softstem Bulrushes

Maritime Bulrush, River Bulrush, and Sturdy Bulrush (Bolboschoenus maritimus, B. fluviatilis, and )B. robustus
Maritime Bulrush (left) and River Bulrush (right)These three herbaceous perennials die back to thin rhizomes that produce hard nutlike over-wintering corms. They have leafy stems that are strongly triangular in cross section on the upper half but may have slightly rounded corners near the base. All three have terminal spikes of flowers and seeds, though leaf like bracts often extend around and above their inflorescences. Distinguishing the three species is best done by examining their height, and characteristics of the spikes and seeds (achenes). Maritime Bulrush is usually 1-4’ tall with a compact clump of sessile spikes that are less than 1” long (although a few may be on short stalk) and 2-sided seeds. River Bulrush is a larger species at 3-5’ tall and has more loosely packed spikes that are greater than 1” long and three-sided seeds that sink in water and have an elliptical profile. Sturdy Bulrush is 1.4-5’ tall with a loose clump of fat, cylindrical spikes that average about 1” long, and three-sided seeds with rounded tops that float on water.
Maritime Bulrush in a saltmarshRiver Bulrush in estuary
Maritime Bulrush is very common in salt marshes at the low end of the high marsh, as well as sloughs, and ditches near the ocean and along large river systems from Vancouver Island southward with a disjunct population near Anchorage. River Bulrush is only found sporadically in the fresher and higher parts of estuarine marshes. I know it only from the mouths of the Stillaguamish and Samish Rivers, but herbarium records show it in a few other locations throughout our region. Sturdy Bulrush is only found in brackish marshes along the California coast, and in the Central Valley.
Maritime BulrushSturdy Bulrush
River Bulrush
ChufaChufa and Purple Nutsedge (Cyperus esculentus and C. rutundus) die back to thin rhizomes that produce nutlike over-wintering tubers. They both have leafy stems that are strongly triangular in cross section and sweet-scented foliage. Flowers are arranged neatly in two ranks forming flattened spikelets. These spikelets form open spikes on long stalks that each look a little like chimney sweeps or bottle brushes. They are best differentiated from each other by the color of their flower bracts: yellowish in Chufa and purplish in Purple Nutsedge. Chufa is intolerant of salt water and evidently avoids the maritime climate near the ocean. In the Pacific Northwest, it appears to be limited to the large river drainages such as the Fraser, Nisqually, Columbia, Snake, Willamette, and Sacramento rivers with some records from small rivers and drainage ditches, especially outside of our area in Southern California. Purple Nutsedge is found in disturbed soils along agricultural fields and is evidently naturalized in California (Jepson eFlora).

Chufa at the Sacremento NWR
Harvest and PreparationEdible rhizome of Softstem BulrushI have harvested Softstem Bulrush rhizomes in the middle of June and the end of August. In June the rhizome was ¾” thick by 3” long with white skin and very delicate flesh. Raw it was bland with no disagreeable flavors. In August, the rhizome was 1” thick by 5” long and had started to sprout next year’s shoot, indicating it was at full length. The skin was still white but the texture was much more firm. In cross section, the flesh looked very much like a cattail rhizome, except that the outer spongey layer was almost imperceptibly thin. Raw, the flavor was bland with a hint of sweetness; cooked it was even more bland and stained red for mysterious reasons (possibly a reaction with minerals in my well water?). Since few starches are all that good boiled alone, I conclude that these sizeable roots have promise as a source of calories that take even less time to process than cattails (but aren’t as tasty).
Peeled rhizome of Sofstem Bulrush
Edible rhizome core of Hardstem BulrushI harvested Hardstem Bulrush in early September. The rhizome was roughly an inch in diameter and more than a foot long with white skins and black triangular bracts at regular intervals. A cross sections revealed a thin hard starch core surrounded by a thick layer of spongey tissue, exactly like a cattail rhizome. The core was easier to peal than a cattail rhizome and raw it had a mild sweet flavor with bitter aftertaste. The core was very fibrous. I suspect that the rhizome size, stringiness, and flavor all vary seasonally.

Edible corm and young stem of Maritime BulrushI harvested Maritime Bulrush corms in early and mid-June, early July, and early September. The edible portion is really the enlarged underground base of each plant that develops a egglike shell over the course of the growing season. In early June, the corms were about 5/8” across with white skin and tender flesh that was deliciously sweet raw. By July the corms were 1” across and more pear shaped. The outer skins had blackened, but the shell of the corm was still white and soft enough to eat fresh. It was very sweet. In September the plants were senescing, and the corms had purplish black skin with a shell that was reddish brown. The shells and flesh were so hard it was difficult to cut them with a sharp knife. The flesh was white but too hard to eat raw or cooked. Perhaps at this late season it could be ground into flour. The Snow Geese root for these corms in the winter and use rocks in their gizzard to grind them into meal.

Hard corms of River BulrushMy experience with River Bulrush is more limited to the late season (when they were hard as a rock), but their roots appear the same as Maritime Bulrush.
I have never eaten Chufa, so all I can do is pass on the anecdote that I hear they have tasty tubers.

EthnobotanyHistorical accounts concerning bulrush edibility are frustratingly difficult to attribute to a distinct species. I suspect this ambiguity is either the result of poor botanical knowledge on the part of ethnographers, leading them to unknowingly lump multiple species into a single account, or Indigenous groups using the same name for multiple species with very similar qualities. Many of the early accounts I review below use the common name tule. Tule usually refers to the tall species of bulrush (Softstem, Hadstem, and California Bulrushes), although confusingly, it is sometimes attributed to cattail (Typha spp.), which is not in the same plant family as the bulrushes. The word tule evidently comes from the Aztec word tullin or tollin for aquatic bulrushes- a word that was first adopted by the Spanish in Mexico and later by English speaking Americans (Small 2013). If using a twice borrowed common name for multiple species in two different plant families wasn’t befuddling enough, horsetails or “scouring rushes” (Equisetum spp.) are also confused in the ethnographic record under the common name “rush” (see Swan 1857 pg 88 and Eells 1885, 1985) and/or called by the same Indigenous name in some cultures (see Turner et al. 1990 pg 116). The similarities are numerous: bulrushes, cattails, and horsetail all grow in wetlands, have spongey, linear leaves that can be used in weaving, and several have edible roots.
Edward Curtis's photograph of Tule drying for basketweaving by the Cowichan People c. 1910.
On the topic of terminology, also note that I use the word “root” throughout this account to be consistent with the authors I quote. Botanists call an underground horizontal stem a “rhizome,” an underground storage organ a “tuber,” and an enlarged stem base a “corm.” Given these caveats, I present the following review of literature concerning edible bulrushes in the Pacific Northwest.
While traveling in the Columbia River watershed in Oregon and Washington in the early 1820s, the pioneering botanist David Douglas (1914) observed that the tender white shoots of a 4-10’ tall species of bulrush [making it either Softstem or Hardstem Bulrush] were eaten and “considered a luxury.” The sprouts of an undetermined species are also traditionally eaten by the Puyallop and Nisqually in Washington (Smith 1930).
Other early records come from Edward Curtis, the famous ethnographic photographer and author of the 20 volume series The North American Indian. Curtis had some knowledge of the various bulrushes and frequently documented the use of both tule and cattail, making it possible to be sure that he was differentiating the species. As if he were aware of the potential for confusion, he occasionally includes scientific names for cattail, Hardstem Bulrush, and Sturdy Bulrush. In California, he observed the tender, white, central shoot of Hardstem Bulrush being eaten fresh by the Klamath(1924, 13: 170, 273; although on pg 238, he apparently confuses this with Sturdy Bulrush), the Tolowa, Tutuni (1924 13: 99, 228, 247), and Lake Pomo(1924 14: 62). He describes tule as “a fairly important food” to the valley Maidu (1924 14: 107). He also recorded indigenous terms for edible “tule shoots” among the eastern and central Pomo (1924, 14: 188, 217), and “tule pith” among the Wappo (Curtis 1924, 14: 210) and Wiyot(1924 13: 267). The Northern Pomo eat the raw young shoots of Sturdy Bulrush (Welch 2013). In Utah, the young shoots of Hardstem Bulrush are also traditionally eaten by the Gosiute of Utah (Chamberlain 1911).
Hardstem Bulrush "root"The roots of bulrushes are also traditionally eaten by many Indigenous Peoples. Accounts from northern groups are unfortunately ambiguous. The inland Dena’ina eat the thick, underground root of a large sedge that is described as looking like the bulb of an onion (Russell 2012) and is probably a bulrush. Steedman (1930), working from the notes of the botanist and ethnographer James Teit, noted that the thick fleshy rootstalks of one bulrush species were roasted and eaten by the Nlaka’pamux. The roots of a kind of “rush” were eaten by the Twana, Chemakum,Klallam, and other Native Americans in the Puget Sound (Swan 1857; Eells 1885, 1985), which could be a bulrush, cattail, or horsetail. The Quinault considered a bulrush species to be among their principle root foods, and steam cooked it (Curtis 1913 9:58).

Edible core of Hardstem BulrushThe thick root of Hardstem Bulrush was widely eaten along the Pacific states (Harvard 1895). Botanist Robert Brown (1868) observed its use in California. Curtis also documented tule root use among many groups in Western North America including the Shasta, Achomawi (1924 13: 140, 230, 234, 257), Tolowa (1924 13: 247), Northern Wintun and Valley Patwin (1924 14:224), Valley Maidu (1924 14: 232), Diegueno (1925 15: 43, 180) and Hupa (1924 13:238). He elaborates that the fresh roots were “esteemed” by the Mono and Paviotso (15: 72, 169, 184), and that the “core of the underground stalks…were eaten raw (15: 63) by the Mono. The Yokuts “dependended mainly on tule-roots…. The dried roots of tule were roasted, pulverized, and formed into balls, which were baked in hot ashes or the flour might be cooked into mush (1924 14:157; 197).” The Chumash also at the roots this way, or raw (Timbrook 2007).

Some useful details come from a 10 year-old who made news for her presentation of Shasta Indigenous Foods at the California State Fair. She was quoted saying “The [Native Americans] pull tule roots early in the spring while they are young and tender. They also dry them for winter use (Hollenbeak1921).”
Another participant observer account comes from Thomas Jefferson Mayfield who was adopted by the Choinumni band of the Yokuts and lived with them for a decade in the 1850s. He provides exceptional detail about their use of tule. “They ate great quantities of young tule roots, which were soft and sweet. The lake Indians made an almost pure starch from tule…. [They roots were placed] into a large cooking basket and were covered with hot water. The mixture was stirred with the looped stirring stick for an hour or so. Then the rush roots were raked out and were thrown away. In an hour or two, the starch had settled to the bottom of the basket. The water was then poured off. They obtained in this way a cake of starch two inches in thickness (Mayfield 1993 pg 66-67).
The seeds of Hardstem Bulrush are sometimes used as food by the Klamath (Coville 1897) and the pollen may have been used by the Nlaka’pmux(Steedman 1930; see also Turner et al. 1990) and elsewhere in North America (Harvard 1895).
Throughout many accounts, the roots and young shoots of tule are described as being sweet raw. In fact, the leaves are capable of exuding sugar! In their book The Natural World of California Indians Heizer and Elsasser (1980) describe a sugar that is produced by bulrushes in arid climates. They elaborate that “this ‘sugar’ is the sweet excreta of aphids, which crystallizes and collects on the leaves of certain plants, especially Common Reed (Phragmites communis) and [Softstem Bulrush]. The plants were cut off at the base of the stem, placed on a flat tule mat, and beaten with sticks to dislodge the crystalline sugar. Winnowing by tossing the sugar and leaf bits on a flat basketry tray yielded the pure sugar, which was then dampened slightly and molded into balls. Such sugar, eaten as a treat or dessert, was a welcome change from the rather pallid staple, acorn mush.” General  J. Bidwell similarly describes a “honey” that is gathered from tule by the Native Americans in Nevada (Harvard 1895). The Mono and Paviotso obtained a “candy-like substance” from the dry leaves of Common Reed (Curtis 1926 15: 72).
The roots of Sturdy Bulrush were used by the Klamath(Curtis 1924 13: 170) and the roots of an unidentified bulrush were eaten raw or ground into a flour and cooked by the Costanoan (Bocek 1984). Interestingly, I could find no accounts that were definitively describing River or Maritime Bulrushes, despite the edibility of both species.
Accounts of Chufa are more precisely labelled by species. Victor Harvard (1895) in his Food Plants of North American Indians describes the small edible tubers of two species of Cyperus, the Chufa (C. esculentus L.) and the Nut-grass (C. rotundus L.) to be “sweet and palatable” and favored by Native Americans, but does not specific which groups. In California, both species are eaten raw or ground into a meal and cooked by the Paiute (Murphey 1990, Fowler 1989). The tubers of Chufa are also eaten by the Costanoan (Bocek 1984) Kashaya, and Pomo. The latter two traditionally eat them raw, baked, or boiled and describe their flavor as “crisp” and “nutty” (Goodrich et al. 1980). The tubers of other Cyperusspecies are traditionally eaten in the Desert Southwest and Southern California by the Acoma, Apache, Kamia, Keres, Laguna, and Pima (Moerman).
BibliographyBrown, Robert 1868. On the Vegetable Products Used by the Northwestern American Indians as Food and Medicine.
Bocek, Barbara 1984. Ethnobotany of the Costanoan Indians. Based on the Collections by John P. Harrington.
Chamberlain, Ralph 1911. Ethnobotany of the Gosiute Indians of Utah.
Coville, Frederick 1897. Notes on the Plants Used by the Klamath Indians of Oregon.
Curtis, Edward 1913. The North American Indian Volume 9: The Salishan tribes of the coast. The 
Chimakum and Quilliute .The Willapa.
Curtis, Edward 1922. The North American Indian. Volume 12: The Hopi
Curtis, Edward 1924. The North American Indian. Volume 13: The Hupa. The Yurok. The Karok. The Wiyot. Tolowa and Tutuni. The Shasta. The Achomawi. The Klamath.
Curtis, Edward 1924. The North American Indian. Volume 14: The Kato. The Wailaki. The Yuki. The Pomo. The Wintun. The Maidu. The Miwok. The Yokuts.
Curtis Edward 1926. The North American Indian. Volume 15: Southern California Shoshoneans. The Diegeuenos. Plateau Shoshoneans. The Washo.
Douglas, David 1914. Journal Kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America.
Eells, Myron 1885. The Twana, Chemakum, and Klallam Indians of Washington Territory.
Eells, Myron 1985. Indians of the Puget Sound, The Notebooks of Myron Eells.
Goodrich, Jenni, Claudia Lawson, Vana Parrish Lawson 1980. Kashaya Pomo Plants.
Fowler 1990. Fowler, Catherine S., 1989, Willards Z. Park's Ethnographic Notes on the Northern 
Paiute of Western Nevada 1933-1940
Harvard, V. 1895. Food Plants of the North American Indians.
Heizer, Robert F. and Albart B. Elsasser 1980. The Natural World of California Indians.
Hitchcock, C. Leo and Arthur Cronquist 2018. Flora of the Pacific Northwest, an Illustrated Manual. 2nd Edition. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.
Hollenbeak, Evelyn 1921. Shasta Count Points the Way. Pacific Rural Press V 102 pg 349.
Mayfield, Thomas Jefferson 1993. Indian Summer: Traditional Life among the Choinumne Indians of California’s San Joaquin Valley.
Murphey, Edith Van Allen 1990. Indian Uses of Native Plants.
Moerman, Daniel. Native American Ethnobotany Database.
Russell, Priscilla N. 2012. Tanaina Plantlore Dena’ina K’et’una. An Ethnobotany of the Dena’ina Indians of Southcentral Alaska. Alaska Geographic Association, Achorage AK.
Small, Ernest 2013. North American Cornocopia: Top 100 Indigenous Food Plants.
Smith, Marian 1930. The Puyallop-Nisqually
Steedman 1930. Ethnobotany of the Thompson Indians of British Columbia.
Swan, James 1857. The Northwest Coast or, Three Years’ Residence in Washington Territory.
Timbrook, Jan 2007. Chumash Ethnobotany.
Turner, Nancy J. Laurence C. Thompson, M. Terry Thompson, and Annie Z. York 1990.  Thompson Ethnobotany, Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia. Memoir No. 3, Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria BC
Welch, James 2013. Sprouting Valley: Historical Ethnobotany of the Northern Pomo from Potter Valley.
CalfloraConsortium of Pacific Northwest Florae-flora BCJepson e-floraWTU Burke Herbarium Image Collection

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

The Blueberry Bounty of Burns Bog

Mon, 09/02/2019 - 01:29

I dropped my wife off at the Vancouver Airport so she could fly to the United Arab Emirates to study their coastal wetlands. When saying our goodbyes, she pronounced with a grin, that I would have to fend for myself for the week. Challenge accepted, I wasted no time and headed to Burns Bog to see if the berries were ripe. Burns Bog is said to be the largest raised peat bog in western North America and host to the southernmost distribution (at least on the west coast) of some interesting Boreal Forest Biome edibles like Cloudberry (also known as Bakeapple, Rubus chamaemorus), Lingonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), and Velvetleaf Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides).
Most of the pines were killed by the fireI decided to visit a portion of the bog that had burned in 2016 and I was delighted to find an abundance of tasty berries. The Salal (Gaultheria shallon) was thick along the margins under the needleless canopy of blackened shore pines. While they were fruiting abundantly and were sweet as can be, I only picked opportunistically as I pushed through the brush, hoping to find more unusual fare further in. The pines gradually became stunted and spaced further afield and two species of blueberries became dominant. Initially, few that I saw had fruit—one was even in flower—but as I pushed on, I came across expanses of Velvetleaf Blueberry and Bog Blueberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) like I have never seen before. Thickets stretched on as far as I could see. In places the fruit were more abundant than the leaves, and they weighed the short bushes down. Perhaps the burn released them from competition and freed up nutrients in an otherwise nutrient stressed environment. In the last 50 years there have been at least nine wild fires in the bog (and I don’t think they were ignited by punning pranksters). Likely, the Sto:lo and other Coast Salish peoples intentionally burned the bog to improve berry picking.
The speciesVelvetleaf Blueberry (Vaccinium myrtilloides) is a conspicuously hairy deciduous shrub that grows 4 to 36 inches tall. The round twigs are covered in fine soft hairs and are green when young but may mature with brown, red, or purple tones. Leaves are also hairy especially on the undersides, margins, and veins; they are elliptical in shape with margins that lack serrations and a more gradually tapering tip than base; leaves are usually 1-1.5 inches long 2.5-3 times as long as their width.
Flowers are unique in that they are our only native species to grow in clusters (like the cultivated varieties of V. coryumbosum and V. angustifolium from stock native to the Midwest and Northeast). Corollas (fused petals) are urn shaped, white or pink, and slightly longer than wide. The calyxes (fused sepals) under the flowers are green with conspicuously triangular lobes that often spread outward from the flower. The only other native blueberry with a triangularly lobed calyx is Bog Blueberry.
Fruit also arise in clusters and generally longer than they are wide. They ripen from green to blue transitioning quickly through reddish tones. Ripe berries will have thick with epicuticular wax or “bloom” as it is called by horticulturalists, giving them a whitish appearance. Note the triangular lobes of the calyx are still present on the tip of the berry giving it a regal crown.

 Velvet Leaf Blueberry with abundant fruit 

Bog Bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) form low mat forming shrubs that rarely exceed 24 inches in height. Young twigs are yellowish, tan, or reddish brown, covered with very fine hairs (that you need a hand lens to see) and are rounded in cross-section. The stems age to greyish brown by the third year and the bark become shredded with age. Leaves are alternate, deciduous, less than 1” long and egg shaped; compared with our other bilberries, they have a relatively squat look. Leaf margins are smooth, the tips rounded. The lower surfaces is strongly net veined and the upper leaf surface is blue-green or greyish green. The leaves are either minutely hairy, or hairless, but they always have a rough textured appearance. 1-4 individually stalked flowers emerge from the lower leaf axils of the new growth and bloom from late May to July, depending on the elevation and latitude. Corollas (fused petals) are usually bright pink but can be blotched or streaked with white, pinkish white or rarely pure white. Flowers are usually globe shaped but occasionally slightly taller than wide, the opening is surrounded by 4 outward curled lobes.  Calyces (fused sepals) have 4 or 5 prominent lobes that clasp the base of the flower. Fruit are bright blue and thickly covered bloom. Berries range in size from 1/4-7/16” wide and usually slightly taller than wide. Like Velvetleaf Blueberry, the calyx lobes on the top of the fruit have triangular lobes, only Bog Blueberry’s lobes are usually folded inward. Occasionally, the style is persistent in fruit.
A heavy crop of Bog Blueberries
Habitat and Distribution and RangeVelvetleaf BlueberryVelvetleaf Blueberry rarely inhabits bogs, muskeg, mountain meadows, and open barrens in our area and unlikely to be seen outside of a few locations in British Columbia (such as Burns Bog), Washington (where it is a sensitive species), and northwest Montana. It is primarily a species of canopy openings in pine-barrens, spruce forests, and sphagnum bogs in the Canadian Taiga, sub boreal forests and pine barrens in the northeastern part of North America. 
Bog Blueberry
As both the common scientific names suggest, Bog Bilberriesdelight to grow in wet habitats, particularly peat bogs, spruce swamps and muskegs. The species epithet uliginosummeans “wet” or “swampy.” They also grow on firmer ground in the alpine and arctic tundra where they are commonly confused with Cascade Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum), at least in Washington. Bog Blueberries are a circumboreal species that extends down the coast with increasingly sporadic distribution, becoming uncommon in Washington, but increase again in bogs and wet mountain meadows in Oregon and California.

Harvest and PreparationVelvetleaf BlueberryGrowing in clusters, Velvetleaf Blueberries pick quickly by hand or rake. Although Bog Blueberries arise individually on each stalk, they can still be very abundant. Be prepared to kneel to the small stature of both species. I prefer to pick them into flat bottomed containers that can be set on the ground since I find it hard to stoop when I have a container tied to my waist.

Bog BlueberryLike all blueberries, both species are delicious raw but they both are among the mildest flavored blueberries I have eaten with little in the way of tartness but still enough sweetness to keep you reaching for more. Both have fairly firm fruit more similar in texture to a Salal berry than to a huckleberry. Those closest to me ripen in late August and early September. Like many late season fruits, these species are prone to crop failures on account of our typical dry summers. This year we had about three good rains in July and three more in August, which may be another reason that the berries at Burns Bog are in such good order.

EthnobotanyBoth species are enjoyed fresh and cooked by most Indigenous groups that inhabit the plants range.
Because Veletleaf Blueberry has such a limited range along the coast, they were only regularly eaten by the Stó: (Galloway 1982) and other peoples whose traditional territory includes the productive bogs along the Lower Fraser River. Members of other groups with special permission or marriage ties to the Stó: from groups such as the Nooksack (Galloway 2012), Nlaka'pamux (Turner et. al 1990), Squamish (Turner 1976), and Ditidaht(Turner et. al 1982) all travelled to the lower Fraser River valley to harvest the fruit. In recent times, the Hesquiaht on the West Coast of Vancouver Island purchased Velvetleaf Blueberries from the Stó: to make pies (Turner and Efrat 1982).

BibliographyGalloway, Brent 1982. Upper Stó:lō Ethnobotany. Coqualeetza Education Training Centre, Sardis BC.
Galloway, Brent 2012. Nooksack Classified Word List.
Turner, Nancy J. and Barbara S. Efrat 1982. Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island. Cultural Recovery Papers No. 2, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria BC.
Turner, Nancy J. and Randy Bouchard 1976. Squamish Ethnobotany.
Turner, Nancy J. Laurence C. Thompson, M. Terry Thompson, and Annie Z. York 1990.  Thompson Ethnobotany, Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia. Memoir No. 3, Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria BC.© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Wild Food Adventures in Glacier Bay

Mon, 08/26/2019 - 21:21

For years my brother Christian has been working as a guide in SE Alaska. While I always closely follow his explorations on his “Life on Water” blog, this summer he persuaded me it was time to participate in another Alaskan adventure of our own. Last time we explored the Juneau area by foot, this time, we were afloat in Glacier Bay.
In early August Christian, his best friend Danny, and I flew from Seattle to Juneau and then from Juneau to the small town of Gustavos, where a friend of Christian’s met us at the airport and shuttled us to the National Park office just in time for the orientation video that the Park require all visitors to see before issuing a permit. The video gave a nice overview of the history of the Park along with guidelines for avoiding conflicts with moose and bears, as well as navigating the icy waters and 20 foot tide swings. Hypothermia, they said, was the constant danger. Grizzly Bears where chance encounters, easily managed with proper food storage and cooking away from camp.
Beach Strawberries by the handfulPermit in hand, the last of the stressful logistics that Christian had carefully planned was taken care of. The wilderness part of our journey had begun. We positioned the kayak and canoe that Christian had borrowed on the government pier for an early departure, and used a Park wheelbarrow to transport our gear to the campground ¼ mile down the beach. We didn’t get half that far, however, before spotting several shoreline snacks. Beach strawberries (Fragaria chiloensis) abounded. While the plants are also common along the more familiar shorelines of the Salish sea, I had never seen them fruit so prolifically. The more southerly specimens are demur, hiding a solitary fruit under their glossy green leaves, but these northerners were unabashed, with fruit gregariously perched on branched inflorescences, like magnificent frigate birds ballooning to attract mates.  Christian and I crawled along the mossy shoreline, shouting out our successive find: “five…six. I got another!” Sweetened by the Alaskan sun, the didn’t even need to be fully red to be delicious. 
Beach Strawberry Habitat
Ripe Nagoon!As if that wasn’t enough, Christian cried out “Nagoon!” The Nagoon (Rubus arcticus ssp. stellatus) is our north American variety of the Arctic Bramble (Rubus arcticus), which is a circumboreal species that is said by many in Europe to be the tastiest berry of them all. Catching Nagoons in fruit was one of my goals for the trip since I only saw a single withered berry on my late summer trip to Juneau. Like ruby’s glowing in the setting sun, they were a site to behold and those that were fully ripe, were as sweet as jam. When we finally gave up the chase, our hands told the tale vividly. I fell asleep counting my blessings (and smelling my fingers).

The next morning we were up before the sun. It was too early for words, and we silently packed our gear into the boats and sat on the dock watching the first light hit Mt. Fairweather. At 15,325’ it rises dramatically from the nearby Pacific Ocean and watches sentinel over Glacier Bay. The Huna Tlingit know the mountain as Tsalxhaan and the nearbye Mt. St. Elias as Yaas'éit'aa Shaa. Their mythology tells of a time when the two mountains were closer together, but a marital feud tore them apart. Their children are the smaller peaks in between. The story is strikingly similar to the Lummi legend from near my home town about Kulshan and his two wives, and makes me smile thinking about mountains like temperamental humans or relatives that we love dearly but also managed to also get under our skin quickly.

Christian’s plan was to hitch a ride on a boat operated by the company he works for to “J-hop” or John Hopkins Glacier at the head of Glacier Bay, hop into our boats, and paddle our way part way back towards the mouth of the Bay and catch the park “Day Boat” back. The S.S. Legacy cruised silently into the bay at 5:30AM and sent a punt to the dock to pick us up along with a friendly Interpretive Ranger.
Once aboard the Legacy we went to the bridge to thank the Captain. Danny was a captain for the same company for 10 years, so it was a bit of a surprise reunion for both Danny and Christian as none of the other crew were expecting them. While motoring down the bay Christian’s sharp eyes were glinting as he called out interglacial wood remnants on the shoreline, a black bear, two grizzlies and a cub, and mountain goats all before the other crew saw them. Each time, the Captain slowed the ship and quietly approached the shoreline for the 60 guests aboard to have a closer look. I suppose it was Christians way of giving back for the free ride, or perhaps just his naturalist compulsion. The Captain in turn, ordered us to eat breakfast with the crew, and we readily obliged!
Shortly after lunch we entered John Hopkins Inlet where we disembarked the S.S. Legacy and dropped our loaded boats into the water. Christian and I were in a 15’ open top Coleman canoe, which raised many eyebrows as most people paddle sea kayaks. We always quipped “this is how John Muir traveled Glacial Bay.”
The experiences that John Muir chronicled in his book “Travels in Alaska” constantly emerging in our minds as we spent the next several days paddling dangerously close to glaciers, hiking off trail up steep ravines, and leaping over glacial torrents that roared and gnashed their teeth as they ground boulders to silt. Calving tidewater glaciers were the biggest risk. When we first set up camp a mile away from the John Hopkins Glacier the best spot was on a sandy beach next to Chocolate Falls a few feet above the high tide line. The calving events echoed through the valley like thunder, a few even generated displacement waves that lapped our shore. I worried about a tsunami washing our camp away in the night. Tsunami’s aren’t the only danger. If you get too close there is a risk of falling ice and rocks as well. 
Our first camp with the John Hopkin's Glacier in the distanceWhile trying to find water for dinner we paddled towards a stream between the John Hopkins and Gilman glaciers. Sandwiched between the two tidewater glaciers, the river current started to push against us and the water became choked with icebergs. Suddenly, a house of ice fell off the John Hopkins Glacier. We ogled for a second, and then realized a big wave was headed our way. “Make for deep water!” ordered Captain Christian. We turned hard and paddled with are hearts thundering in our ears towards the steepening wave that lunged towards us. We made it over the top before it broke, and quickly decided that silty water was good enough for dinner.
However, the lesson was short lived. The next day we paddled to the Lamplough Glacier to admire its icy blue. A piece of the terminal moraine poked out above the high tide line, merely a stones throw from the active face. “Let’s camp there” Danny half-jokingly suggested. Before I knew it, Christian joined his side and I knew it was futile reminding them of our last scare. There were hardly tracks on the beach, and certainly no tent spots, but we “dug in” behind the steep face of the moraine wall and prepared for the cannon fire. I got used to the booms, but it was the tsunami waves sloshing against our barracks that kept me up at night. Would a wave full of icebergs crush me in the night?Camp 2. Ice everywhere!Still in on piece the next morning, we paddled to the Reid Glacier. We found camp on a terminal moraine at the mouth of the harbor. This camp wouldn’t pose any calving hazards as Reid is no longer a tidewater glacier. However, a problem bear was reported there earlier in the summer, and when searching for an old miner’s cabin, we found bear sign. Fortunately by then, I was tired enough to sleep the whole night through.
Dryas seeds carpeting the valley sidesThe Crowberries were in seasonI teach about ecological succession in a couple of my university classes and draw from the pioneering work done by William Cooper in Glacier Bay. Cooper too, was inspired by John Muir to see Glacier Bay before the glaciers were gone. Muir wrote that the first European explorers couldn’t even get into Glacier Bay because the ice extended all the way to Icy Strait. By 1916 it had receded 65 miles, at a rate of approximately ½ mile per year. Astonished by the rapid change, Cooper established long-term monitoring plots and with the help of his students, monitored the ecological succession ranging from newly exposed glacial outwash to Sitka spruce forest for the next 40 years. At the time it was the longest study on succession in the world. In 2016, a team of scientists relocated his plots and analyzed 100 years of ecological data! Similar work was started in 1980 after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, and those studies will get their 40th field season next year.
Having a desire to contribute something to the understanding of the park, I spent my spare moments documenting the flora at each camp, paying special attention to the increase in diversity as we traveled down the bay and forward in successional time. If you want to help vet my observations, follow this link to i-naturalist.
The next morning, we paddled to the Reid Glacier and hiked up the lateral moraine high enough that we could traverse a stable part of the glacier. The sides were impregnated with rocks plucked from the valley walls, making the surface look like a gravel road, but towards the center, the glacier was much cleaner. We found a rivulet cascading down blue ice and drank deeply from the chilled beverage. Returning to the canoe, we descended a dry canyon that had been carved by meltwater rushing beneath the glacier. In many places, the canyon walls had fallen in since they were no longer supported by the ice above, but in a particularly deep portion of the canyon we startled a Great Horned Owl from his rocky perch.
Our camp near the Reid GlacierNear camp I found Alaskan Wild Potato (Hedysarum alpinum). This plant is the most important root vegetable for the Dena'ina, who eat it raw, boiled, baked, or fried, often served with grease (Russell 2012). While the best time to harvest the roots is in the spring, I wanted to get a taste, so I dug one and sample it raw. I also tried my hand at processing the tiny beans, and decided I would starve before getting enough to eat. Not surprisingly, there is no ethnobotanical literature associated with their use.the small beans
Alaskan Wild Potato (Hedysarum alpinum)
We met some friends of Christian’s for dinner aboard their boat “Laysan.” I was pleased to learn that their daughter is studying to be an ethnobotanist. I look forward to meeting her at a conference. Bellies full of pasta, we hit the water at 7:30 with a nice tailwind and following current. We paddled five miles to Skidmore Gap before dark. The last mile, we had to fight a large eddy, which generated enough chop to get us wet. Darkness fell as we made camp in the salt marsh. The wind thrashed our rainfly and I hardly slept.

The morning brought a brilliant blue sky with less wind. The tide was still too low for crossing through the narrows without an extended portage, so we broke camp slowly, explored the beach, and scouted the route through the gap. At high tide we dragged our boats through as much of the narrows as possible, and then carried our gear in several trips across to Skidmore Bay. Humpbacks were feeding near bye, and we lounged in no hurry to leave this secloistered place.
Beach LovageAlong the beach I found a Beach Lovage (Ligusticum scotticum) and Beach Carrot (Conioselinum gmelinii). These too members of the Carrot Family (Apiaceae) are edible, but previously untasted by me. Extra careful identification is necessary before ingesting hairless members of the Carrot Family that look similar to Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) and Douglas Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii).
Beach Lovage root, leaves, and seedsThe young greens and shoots of Beach Lovage are traditionally eaten in the spring by the Inupiat (Jones 1983), Chugach Eskimo, Dena'ina (Russell 2012), and the Sitka Tribe of the Tlingkit (Store Outside Your Door 2011). Later in the summer, the tender leaves can still be eaten or used for seasoning oil, fish, or soups (Jones 1983). The Kwakwaka’wakw had a name for the plant (Boas 1921) but no uses are published. I crushed, smelled, and tasted the foliage of Beach Lovage and found it to be strong and spicy like mature carrot tops or parsley. They had a strong flavor that I agree would be good in soups or mixed with milder greens. I also sampled the roots raw and found them to have a strong but not disagreeable flavor. However, when I later searched the ethnobotanical literature, I could find no references of the roots being used.  The same beach also provided Sea Beach Sandwort (Honkeyena peploides), a leafy green eaten by the Inupiate (Jones 1983). Like the name suggests, these plants are only found on sand and pebble beaches from Alaska southward to the central Oregon coast. Look for them on storm battered beaches above the normal high tide line but below the forest in the spray or “littoral” zone. They have succulent thick leaves with a milder flavor than many other mustard greens. Anore Jones (1983) writes that the shoots and young leaves are best in the spring before they flower; traditionally they are eaten fresh in the spring or cooked and fermented for use all year. She adds that today many people also eat the greens fresh or blanched in salads, or boiled as a pot-herb. Like so many of our native greens, this tasty plant was overlooked by the Coast Salish and most other Northwest Coast Indigenous harvesters, as well as more contemporary foragers. However, this trip has taught me that the Inupiate like their greens. 
Seabeach Sandwort habitatSoapberries were everywhereMy palate freshened with new flavors, I decided it was time to clean the rest of myself. I took a plunge in a clear saltwater lagoon, warmed in the sun, and met back up with Christian and Danny to set out for our next camp. The tailwind kicked up again in the afternoon and we let paddled lackadaisically, letting the wind blow us as we admired the Humpbacks. We made camp on an island near the Hugh Miller Lagoon, and paddled into the lagoon to explore. Inside the water smelled fishy; mergansers, geese, and Bald Eagles were abundant. We headed to the delta of the Hugh Miller river and watched Pink Salmon run up the braided channels that were so shallow that their humped backs were exposed as they wriggled upstream. Wolf, Grizzly Bear, and Moose tracks were everywhere! We caught a salmon, barbequed it on the beach so as not to bring the scent back to camp, and then walked up the sandy delta. The sun was nearly behind the ridge when we turned around and a large Grizzly was near our canoe fishing for salmon. With little wasted effort, he walked the shoreline until he saw a fish, paused for the proper moment, then plunged his head into the water with jaws agape catching the salmon in his teach. Dragging the fish ashore, his claws pinned it to the ground while he tore pieces away with his teeth. What took us 30 minutes to cook and fed three of us, was gobbled by the bear in seconds.
The first Bog Blueberries were starting to ripenBack at camp there was finely enough drift-wood on the beach to support a fire, and we roasted the last of our sausage before bed. The next morning, Christian rigged a sail and we slowly made our way to the pick up point at Blue Mouse Cove. Back on a powerboat headed for civilization, the eyes of the other passengers were full of questions. I watched the shoreline pass by quickly and pondered the blisters on my hands, my sunburned nose and taught shoulders. Glacier Bay had given me more than I had hoped for. We ate sumptuously what nature had to offer, we had a high adventure in an elemental land, and we enjoyed each others company. I only wish I had another week! 

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Sand Verbena- Mana of the Sand

Tue, 07/02/2019 - 19:24

I never knew Sand Verbena (Abronia latifolia) until I took an ethnobotany class at Fairhaven College with John Tuxill in 2007. One of our assignments was to create a Coast Salish ethnobotany garden and each student selected a plant to include in the garden. I picked Cascade Blueberry (Vaccinium deliciosum) on account of its tasty berries. A lady named Amanda choose to include Sand Verbena, but I never knew why. It wasn’t until I read an article by Patricia Phelps in 2013 that I realized Sand Verbena has an edible root. Last weekend, I satisfied a longtime curiosity and dug up a Sand Verbena root from a dense patch on Lopez Island. They are huge!! Below is a description and a report on my first taste.
DescriptionSand Verbena is a vining herbaceous perennial that grows from a thick taproot. Fleshy stems radiate from the taproot and lay prostrate or partially buried in the sand. The leaves are succulent, nearly round or triangular with a rounded corners, smooth with a few prominent veins on the underside. Flowers are borne in clusters on long axially stems. Each cluster contains 12-20 yellow, trumpet-like flowers with 5 cleft lobes that bloom from May to August. The entire plant except the upper leaf surfaces are covered with fine resinous hairs that cause sand to stick to it, a trait which evidently discourages animal browse.

Habitat and RangeSand Verbena is found from Point Conception near Santa Barbara California to Cape Scott on the north tip of Vancouver Island. It grows almost exclusively on sand dunes and pure sand beaches where it is usually found out of reach of the highest tides, up above the driftwood. In Washington, it appears to benefit from the periodic human disturbances and I see it along beach paths and around picnic tables. While Sand Verbena can be locally abundant, the sandy habitat that it requires is uncommon. Probably for this reason, it is classified as rare in British Columbia and Oregon.
EthnobotanyThe large tap roots are traditionally eaten by the Chinook (Brown 1868), Klallam and Makah (Gunther 1973), and probably the Saanich (Turner and Bell 1973). Patricia Phillips (2016) uses historical plant descriptions and Indigenous nomenclature to suggest their use by the Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw (see her blogtoo). Gunther provides the most detail with flavor and harvest season information: “The Klallam informant compared them to sugar beets. The Makah eat them in the fall.”
Harvest and preparationFinding the Sand Verbena tap root proved to be a little bit of a challenge. In extensive stands, I followed the stems through the sand for 10 minutes until I lost track of where I had been and gave up. I had better luck finding a small colony and followed stems to the center where I scraped away the sand and revealed the top of the tap root. It was huge! With a root crown that was roughly 3" in diameter, I initially mistook it for a piece of driftwood. Using my hands I pulled back the loose dry sand near the surface. Following it downward, I began scooping handfuls of consolidated sand around the edges of the root. About six inches down the sand became damp and compacted. Using a small digging stick, I deepened the hole to eight inches, and noticing the root had tapered to an inch in diameter, I realized I had more than enough to taste and broke it off. I dusted the sand off and packed it home.
Over the next two days I had several tastes of the root. Raw, the root has a very firm texture and a subtle smell of cucumber. It is softer than a parsnip and drier than a potato, with flavor somewhere in between the two. Boiling for five minutes did little to change the roots character; it softened to that of a cooked parsnip and tasted more like a potato with a hint of sweetness and a mild peppery after taste. I fried a couple thin slices of the root for 10 minutes and these had a more peppery, though not dissagreable, taste. Perhaps boiling leaches out some of the peppery constituent. In any case, I think Sand Verbena root would serve well as a base carbohydrate for a meal and easily take on added flavoring. Cooked Sand Verbena root that has been boiled (left) and fried (right)

ConclusionsNote the faint growth rings present in this cross sectionMy very limited first tastes yielded promising result. Sand Verbena has an enormous root that is easy to harvest, quick to cook, and has mild flavor, soft texture, and likely, substantial caloric value. These are all very exciting traits in a wild food. However, I find it necessary to temper my excitement with some consideration for the limited growth of this plant. It is only found along sandy coastlines and may grow too slowly on the nutrient poor dunes to harvest sustainably. A horizontal cross section of the root suggests the presence of annual growth rings. If that is true, my 3” diameter root is eight years old.

Brown, Robert 1868. On the Vegetable Produces, Used by the Northwest American Indians as Food and Medicine in the Arts and in Superstitious Rites.
Gunther, Erna 1973. Ethnobotany of Western Washington.
Nancy Turner and Marcus Bell 1971. The Ethnobotany of the Coast Salish.© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Coastal Wild Food Mission

Fri, 06/21/2019 - 14:57

In early January, I spent a week foraging for wild foods along the coast of the Olympic Peninsula
with some kindred spirits. Typical of winters on the Peninsula, we had some intense rain, but we not only endured, we enjoyed ourselves and feasted on some excellent seafood. Here is my account of the adventure.

My friend Eli directs the Boulder Outdoor Survival School(BOSS), one of the oldest and best survival schools in the country. Last fall he asked me if I would help with a staff retreat that incorporated some lessons in wild foods and coastal ethnobotany. I readily agreed as I enjoy nothing more than teaching people that already have a keen interest nature. Furthermore, I looked forward to trading skills with his instructors. Eli polled the staff for availability, and early January was the only suitable block of time.
I knew straightaway that if we were going to find anything to eat in January, we had to find a stretch of the coast with a diversity of beaches. Not much grows on land during our dark wet winters, but sea critters like it wet, and don’t mind the dark that much either. We also needed a relatively wild stretch of shoreline on public land so we could build shelters, have fires, and harvest foods without breaking any park rules. With some scouting and a bit of luck, Eli and I found some shoreline managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources along the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Access was limited to boat, a ½ mile bushwhack down a steep hill through heavy brush, or a mile-long walk along the beach at low tide. These limitations along with the season virtually guaranteed some privacy. It was perfect! or so we thought….
I met the BOSS team in Bellingham and we loaded gear, my 18’ Grumman canoe and supplementary food into vehicles. We carpooled to Whidbey Island, onto the Port Townsend’s Ferry, and westward on HWY 20 making a final stop in Port Angeles for fishing licenses and some tackle. When we arrived at our launch point, the tide was low enough for the beach walk, but I loaded my canoe with the heavier gear like canvas tarps. After introductions and some inspirational words, we all carried the loaded canoe into the water and set out afoot and afloat down the beach.
It was a ceremonial launch for the adventure. And boy, did it start to feel adventurous right away. With a new friend in the bow we ventured into the ocean in the open top canoe. Waves were breaking where they met a long shallow sandstone shelf, and I wove through shallows to avoid them, but the falling tide had us between a rock and a wet place. We were only ½ way to our destination before a rocky point began forcing us towards the break. In a last-ditch effort to stay out of the break we squeezed through two rocks that proved to be too shallow and grounded us. Jumping out into the cold water lightened the load a little, but we were still stuck. We waited for waves to float the boat temporarily and heaved it through the channel for one last bit of easy paddling on the other side. With no more “inside” options, and a better sense of the water temperature, and too little freeboard to get through the break dry, I decided to head for shore and ditch some weight.
We dropped about half the gear on the beach and headed out again. We made it through a 2 foot break without taking too much water, rounded the point, and made quick time in deeper water towards camp. The waves were about a foot larger on the other side of the point and sent a menacing spray into the air as they crashed hard against a much steeper beach near camp. Nervously we approached the backside of the break, paused for a lull between sets, and boogied for the beach where friends helped us pull the canoe up the steep cobble beach before it was dashed by the waves.
Darkness was fast approaching, so we set up tarps, built a fire, and settled in. The tied was low just after sunset, so we went on our first harvesting mission. Limpets and mossy chitons were in abundance so we plucked a few to roast over the fire. That evening was New Years Eve, so we stayed up for hours after sunset and howled at the moon with each bottle of Champagne that we opened. We might have even made it until mid-night.
Collecting spruce roots for our Halibut hooksOver the next two days of unseasonably warm and dry weather we explored the uplands during the day harvesting Miner’s Lettuce, Chickweed, Witches Butter mushrooms, and some oddly fresh stinging nettles. I even saw a Thimbleberry in flower on January 1st! We also dug spruce roots and collected bitter cherry bark for weaving projects. When the tide was low in the evenings, we scoured the shorelines for seaweed, and shellfish, which were oddly absent. I was expecting easy clam digging on the gravel beaches and mussel harvesting on the rocky beaches, but the siltstone substrate mainly supported Rough Pidocks, which burrow so far into the soft rock that you can’t extract them. We did find the occasional Heart Cockle. The wild food highlights were a Giant Pacific Octopus that we found on the beach. The thing was big enough to feed us for two days. One evening all we ate was battered and fried tentacles until our bellies were full. The most memorable meals was a limpet, chiton, octopus pialla.
On the third day in camp, a light rain rolled in, that picked up in the evening. The next day heavy rain was forecasted, and not wanting to sit under a smoky tarp all day, we decided to go for an adventure into Olympic National Park to show the Midwesterners what real trees looked like. While the park was closed on account of the Government shutdown, we skirted the road and bushwhacked into a patch of massive spruce trees that were dripping with rain and moss. Many were over 7’ in diameter! As soon as we lost sight of the road, it felt like the grove went on forever. Some of the mossy hollows under logs were almost dry, and the thick carpets of duff with a soft blanket of moss would have been divine to camp on, if they weren’t soaking wet. It was an authentic way to experience a rainforest.
On the way home, we decided to forage along a new different beach during the after dark low, which turned out to be a bust, because it was too sandy for clams. By about 11PM and everyone was soaked head to toe and ready to head back to camp for dinner. The rain was falling so hard on our walk along the beach near camp that I often couldn’t see trees on the shoreline. I was further disoriented by the extremely flat shoreline, and rushing of brown water down the beach. It was like I was crossing a huge shallow river. With an unsettled knot in my stomach, I pushed to the front of the group so that I could focus on wayfinding while my BOSS compatriots scoured the shoreline for shellfish.
Gear floating under our sleeping shelterEli beat us to camp by taking the high route, and fortunately had a nice fire going by the time we all arrived. What was less fortunate, was the news he shared. Our camp was inundated with a foot of water! The sheet flow that was flooding the beach also flooded our camp. What were we going to do? We were cold, hungry, and without anywhere to sleep.
Food seemed like the easiest thing to take care of. We hadn’t eaten for 14 hours and maybe everything would seem better once our bellies were full and our bones, a little warmer. As the intensity of chewing slackened, we started to weigh our options. Should we sleep in the well drained and relatively dry gravel intertidal zone, and get up before high tide, or hike to the top of the bluff. I was concerned that the 200’ high slopes above camp was steep, saturated, and prone to landslides. In fact, I was pretty sure that two of the silty torrents we walked through on our return to camp were draining recent slides. We decided to move to the top of the bluff.
At 12:30PM, we broke camp under dimming headlamps. Bringing only a few tarps and our sleeping gear, we made for the headland. Clawing our way up the slippery slope we couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of it all. Nature had turned this staff retreat a real adventure! At the top we found an old World War II bunker, but despite the thick concrete ceiling, it was flooded with water. We set up two tarps for a group shelter on a flat spot nearby and snuggled for warmth in our sodden sleeping bags.  Amazingly, I got some sleep.
In the morning we slid our way back down the hill, finished tearing down the rest of camp, and loaded the canoe for our paddle out.

My new BOSS friends around a campfire
I learned a valuable lesson about my own capacity to generate heat on this trip. No matter how wet my clothes were, if I kept moving, I could not only stay warm, but I could dry them out over time. Naturally, a fire was a faster way to go about this, and that is the great thing about camping with BOSS instructors. They can ALWAYS get a fire started, even during the wettest season at one of the wettest places in Washington. This vital comfort of a fire was never lost to us.
Our final meal: Clam Chowder, Acorn Bread, Wild Rice, and Chickweed Salad

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Giant Vetch, A “sketchy vetch-pea” or a tasty edible?

Fri, 06/14/2019 - 22:47

Last week I paddled down the North Fork of the Skagit River to Craft Island with my brother Christian and Lindsey for a barbeque on the beach. I found a healthy population of Giant Vetch (Vicia nigricans sspgigantea) growing along the shoreline with peas ripe for the picking. Aware of the Kwakwaka’wakw use of this plant for food, I decided to give it a taste. For years I have approached all wild peas with trepidation because of lore among the wild food community that they are toxic. However, the time was also ripe for evaluating the facts and conducting a cautious experiment. But first, the plant:

Description Giant vetch is our most robust species of vetch with herbaceous stems that can clamber up grass and other vegetation to a height of 3-6 feet. The stems, leaves, and flowers are all minutely haired to hairless. Leaves are pinnately compound with 18-30 leaflets that are more or less opposite. Each leaf has a large stipule at the base and a well-developed tendril at the tip which divides into 3-7 branches that enable the plant to trellis up surrounding vegetation. Flowers are irregular but lack obvious petals being fused into a tubular corolla with a conspicuous boomerang-like bend. The corolla is 5/8-3/4” long, creamy white at the base and pink at the tips when fresh but fading quickly to orange or light brown. The calyx is half the length of the corolla, purple and green in color, and crowned with prominent triangular lobes. Flowers are borne on a compact raceme of 7-20 flowers arising from the leaf axils on leafless stalks (peduncles) that are several times longer than the raceme. The peas develop inside pods, which contain 5-8 peas. Pods are initially green and flattened but swell to nearly cylindrical as the peas mature. Each pea is roughly the size of a garden pea. Habitat and Range Giant Vetch is predominantly a coastal species found in salt marshes, sand and gravel beaches, as well as rocky shorelines in the transition zone where driftwood often accumulates, from the Channel Islands in California northward to Sitka Alaska. In Washington and Oregon, it also grows on river levees, lakeshores, and upland environments with ample sunlight and enough disturbance to keep woody plants at bay. For example, I occasionally see it on rural roads and powerline corridors that are mowed less than once a year.
EthnobotanyDespite the sizeable peas, the ethnobotanical literature for Giant Vetch is minimal. Robert Brown (1868) reports that “the seeds… are eaten,” but fails to mention by whom and how they are prepared. Leslie Haskins (1934), the author of an early wildflower book provides an equally ambiguous account stating that the seeds are edible and used by the Indians. Another historical account with little meaning comes from Edward Sturtevant, the pioneering agronomist and author of Sturtevant’s Edible Plants of the World. He passes on what appears to be a personal anecdote from Asa Gray, who many consider to be the father of American Botany. Gray “remarks that the seeds are eatable, when young, like green peas (Hedrick 1919).
The most reliable accounts come from two Kwakwaka’wakw elders interviewed in Fort Rupert, BC by Nancy Turner in 1969, who reported that the seeds are roasted in their pods over a fire before being eaten. Helen Norton (1981) also documented the use of Giant Vetch among the Kaigani Haida, but her account is a little problematic. Several consultants told Norton that the peas were boiled and eaten after the pods dried, but one woman was sure that they were unsafe to eat.
In a part of the world where very few seeds are traditionally eaten, this dearth of ethnobotanical literature should be expected. However, I am surprised that Giant vetch is not traditionally used in California, where seed foods are commonly gathered.

My experimentOn June 12, 2019 I collected a dozen Giant Vetch racemes with pods at different stages of ripeness from the northwest side of Craft Island in Skagit County, WA. The next morning, I shelled seed pods at each stage of ripeness to assess the differences. I found the pods that that were still bright green contained seeds that were three quarters the size of the mature seeds or smaller; pods that were just starting to yellow contained peas that were green, plump, and tender looking; and pods that had started to blacken contained hard, brown seeds. I then targeted those pods with peas that were full sized or nearly so, and still bright green. The size of the seeds could easily be judged by the thickness of the pod. I placed about 30 peas in two cups of water and boiled them for 3 minutes. Then I drained the water, and ate the Giant Vetch peas with a fork and knife. They tasted very similar to Garden Peas (Pisum sativum) but were not as sweet. There texture was also very similar, but slightly more fibrous. I monitored my health for the rest of the day and did not notice any ill effects.

ToxicityPopulations of Common Vetch (Vicia sativa) and other members of the Vicia genus have been implicated in both human and livestock poisoning (Turner and Szczawinski 1991). Lupines (Lupinus spp.), are also members of the pea family (Fabaceae) with distinctive pea pod looking fruits. Lupines contain many toxic alkaloids, especially in the seeds and pods. A few species also contain enzyme inhibitors (Turner and Szczawinski 1991). I could find no accounts of Giant Vetch poisoning in humans or livestock.

ConclusionsHaving had very positive first taste, I was left wondering why Giant Vetch peas lack a richer history of use. My conclusion is that the plant has three strikes against it: (1) Giant Vetch has poisonous relatives; (2) it has a very limited range along the coast, and (3) much of its range occurs in areas were small seeds were only marginally used by Indigenous peoples.
Please comment with your experiences if you have eaten this plant.

Brown, Robert 1868. “On the Vegetable Products, used by the North-West American Indians as Food and Medicine, in the Arts and in Superstitious Rites.
Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria, Vicia nigricans account.
Haskin, Leslie L. 1934. Wild Flowers of the Pacific Coast.
Hederick, U.P. 1919. Sturtevant’s Notes on Edible Plants.
Norton, Helen 1981. “Plant Use in Kaigani Haida Culture: Correction of an Ethnohistorical Oversight.” Economic Botany, Vol 35, No 4.
Turner, Nancy J. and Marcus Bell 1973. “Ethnobotany of the Southern Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia.” Economic Botany, Vol 27, No 3.
Turner, Nancy J. and Adam Szczawinski 1991. Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America. Timber Press, Portland OR.
WTU Image Gallery at the Burke Museum Herbarium, Vicia nigricans account


© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.


Tue, 01/23/2018 - 20:54
This fall I took 13 Western Washington University students to Nepal to study the biodiversity, culture, and ethnobotany found in the central Himalayas for seven weeks. We trekked through Langtang National Park and met with villagers living inside the park, park staff, and conservation organizations to learn how the park is accomplishing its mission of conserving both the natural and cultural heritage. Towards the end of the program we more deliberately studied village live by spending 10 days in Gatlang to help with chores and rebuilding efforts from the 2015 earthquake that rocked all the villages in this area.

Nepali's still rely on wild plants to a great extent for medicine, fodder, fiber, and to a more limited extent, food. Mushrooms, berries, and wild greens form the most important groups of wild foods. The very same species of Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocia) found here in the Pacific Northwest is also abundant and widely eaten in Nepal.

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The elusive and excellent Dwarf Bilberry

Fri, 09/02/2016 - 01:00

Dwarf BilberryWashington has a whopping 14 species of Vaccinium, the genus containing huckleberries, blueberries and bilberries. With such dazzling diversity, it has taken considerable study and many a happy mission for me to track them all down, but this year I’ve finally seen them all and tasted all but one.
I spent the last week in August with my brother in Juneau and took full advantage of the foray to forage on the Last Frontier. Our journeys took us climbing to the top of Mt. Juneau, braving the bowels of the Mendenhall Glacier, trudging across the muskegs of Douglas Island, and scampering along Gold Creek. Basically as far as bus fair and our feet could take us.
We found six of Alaska's seven Vaccinium species in one bog!
LingonberryNagoonberryThis northerly corner of our bioregion graced me with discoveries of a precious and palatable sort. I had my first taste of Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), caught the last of the ripe Nagoonberries (Rubus arcticus), a fruit that is thought by many Europeans to be the superlative fruit, and most exciting to me, I had my first good taste of Dwarf Bilberry (V. caespitosum).  
Dwarf Bilberry (Vaccinium caespitosum) is a low mat forming shrub that is usually less than 1.5’ (50cm) tall with upright to prostrate stems. Young twigs are generally round in cross section and covered with a dense layer of microscopic fuzz. The bark ranges from green, brownish green or yellowish green to peach, pink, or red on young twigs, but browns and become flaky with age. Leaves are dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the underside with prominent reticulate venation. At about 1” (1-3cm) long, the leaves have an elliptical to obovate shape and margins that are finely and sharply serrated, usually with hairs at the tip of each serration. The small flowers are borne singly near the branches and are longer than wide, range in color from white to pink, and each one often has an exerted pistil. Berries grow on short curved stalks and mature from green to yellow to orangish red to purple before finally ripening to dark blue with a whitish blue bloom. The tip of each berry has a skirt-like circular scar where the corolla attached to the calyx. The berries range in size from 5/16-7/16” (8-11mm).A line-up of ripening Dwarf Bilberries
Dwarf Bilberries have an extensive yet patchy range throughout western North America from Anchorage to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast and inland to the Rockies in British Columbia, Montana and Idaho, and the Sierra Nevada in California. They inhabit bogs, muskeg, and arctic/alpine meadows with other ericaceous shrubs such as Lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea), Bog Bilberry (V. uliginosum), Cascade Bilberry (V. deliciosum), and various heather species. Near my house in Northwest Washington, they can be found in the rugged Twin Sister’s Ranger and the remote Pasayten wilderness. I can honestly say that I’ve never found a Dwarf Bilberry in a boring place. It is almost as if a couple miles of bush-whacking is required to earn the right to find them.
Dwarf Bilberry plants are capable of fruiting prodigiously and can be collected quickly by hand or rake by anyone willing to stoop for these hobbit sized bushes. They have juicy dark flesh, thin skin, with a sweet and sour flavor that is almost as good as its close cousin the Cascade Bilberry (V. deliciosum). When picking bilberries, I prefer to kneel on the ground and pick into wide mouth containers placed below the bush. I empty this container frequently into a bigger container with a lid to minimize losses should slip or accidently bump it over. Bilberry picking is messy business and I usually return with purple hands, knees, and tongue.
Christian and I were ill-prepared for our Bilberry bonanza; with nowhere to store the bountiful harvest we were forced to eat them all.
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.


Wed, 07/13/2016 - 00:34

Blackcap Raspberries (Rubus leucodermis) are as beautiful as they are delicious. Yesterday while picking, these ripening fruit inspired a photo shoot. Look for Blackcaps in clear-cuts and sunny forest edges. They normally ripen throughout July, but it has been an early year, so get them before the dry up!

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Another tasty thistle

Mon, 07/04/2016 - 20:13

While the native Edible Thistle (Cirsium edulis) may be my favorite (see previous post), the introduced Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is pretty darn good too.

Bull Thistle is a well armored tap rooted biennial with a crowded rosette of basal leaves. Leaves are deeply lobed with long sharp spines at the tip of each lobe, and several smaller spines along the margins. The lobes are trident like and twisted sideways so that one point angles downward, one outward, and one upward. Even when the leaves are lying flat on the ground, those upward reaching spines are the bane of barefoot walkers. Upper leaf surfaces are dark green with a whitish green central vein, and the undersides are light green. Plants are covered throughout with long stiff hairs. Flowering shoots begin to emerge mid-spring of the plant’s second year and reach full height 6 weeks later. Shoots usually arise singly from the tap root but if the plants are mowed multiple stems will develop. Stems are hairy and covered with spiny, leaf-like vertical ridges that make them difficult to grab bare-handed. Branches are usually limited to the upper half and arise from the leaf axils. Flower heads are found singly at the branch tips. The heads are large, hairy, and exceedingly spiny with a squat pear shape. Hundreds of purple flowers bloom from the tip of each head.

Perfect stage for collectingBull Thistle in flower

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)Don’t confuse this plant with Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), which has leaves that are not as deeply lobed, stems that are smooth (lacking vertical and spiny stem-wings), and smaller, more clustered flower heads.Bull Thistles are common in old fields and disturbed roadsides from sea level to the sub alpine.

Hiding behind all that armor is a tasty vegetable. The shoots of Bull Thistle are best harvested mid-spring before they have reached full height or show any sign of the flower heads. Wear gloves or be prepared for a painful experience! I slice the stalk near the base with a pocket knife and then peel them from the base to the tip, revealing the tender and tasty stem. They are firm, filling, and delicious with only a mild bitterness.
Bombus vosnesenskii pollinating Bull Thistle
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Edible Thistle unprickled

Sun, 07/03/2016 - 14:24

I first ate Edible Thistle (Cirsium edule) a few days after my 15th birthday while hiking with my Boy Scout Troop. Each year we spent a week on a “high adventure,” and this particular year we were hiking through the Glacier Peak Wilderness up the Suiattle River, over Cloudy Pass, to Holden Village near Lake Chelan. Already a plant nut, I was packing a few plant field guides with me and was having a blast seeing many montane species for the first time. The other Scouts were probably annoyed when I held up the group to drop my pack and pull out some library books so that I could identify the magical looking Candystick. Or again, when I stopped in a sunny meadow to dig up the roots of Edible Thistle for my first taste. Ill prepared, I clawed at the dry rocky soil with a fallen limb until I exposed enough of the taproot to get my hands around it and pull it out. I peeled both the shoot and the root and conciliatorily offered samples to my waiting friends. On account of the fibrous stem and woody root, we all quickly spit them out.
Two decades and several other thistle species later, I have finally returned to this plant and have a very different story to tell. This plant is actually delicious and could even be called Incredible Thistle! In my book, it is the best in its class.

Edible Thistle (Cirsium edule) is a tap rooted biennial that sometimes persists for more than two years before flowering and dying. First year leaves form a basal rosette. All leaves have soft hairs on both surfaces and planar to undulating margins with 5-10 pairs of well-spaced, spine-tipped lobes.The whitish central vein tapers towards the leaf tip. The flowering stem is hairy, but lacks spines, and ranges from 0.5-1.25” (1-3cm) wide and 2-4’ (60-120cm) tall; it may or may not be branched. Stem leaves are similar to the basal leaves and they join the stem at a 45-60° angle, arising alternately up the stock getting smaller towards the top. A clump of flower 1-several flower heads is evident at the top of the shoot early in the summer. As the shoot grows, the lateral flower heads space out and grow pedicels (stalks) from the leaf axils while the terminal flower heads remained clustered. Heads are ½-1.5” (1.5-3.5cm) wide and slightly longer than wide. They are covered with white wooly hairs and long spines. Generally, the flowers open in the mid-late summer and are bright purple or occasionally pink or white.

In the northern half of its range, Edible Thistle is found in subalpine and alpine meadows. I usually see them on steep south facing slopes on scree, with grass, or with herbaceous plants, but not normally with heather. In the southern half of its range, the plant is also found at lower elevations near the coast.
The Nlaka'pamux (Thompson) ate the large white taproots of first year plants in the fall. Like Camas, Balsamroot, (and Jerusalem Artichokes) the roots contain high concentrations of in an indigestible carbohydrate called inulin. When properly cooked, this inulin caramelizes and turns black as it breaks down into sweet tasting fructose. Some inulin must remain in even the cooked roots, because Nlaka'pamux consultants report that the plants often give you gas, and their name for the plant is derived from the word “flatulate” (Turner et al. 1990). 

Lewis and Clark learned how the Native Americans near Fort Clatsop harvested and prepared thistle roots when they overwintered on the Pacific Coast in 1805-1806. They wrote. "When first taken from the earth it is white, and nearly as crisp as a carrot; in this state it is sometimes eaten without any preparation. But after it is prepared by the same process used for the pashshequo quamash [Camas Camassia quamash], which is the most usual and the best method, it becomes black and much improved in flavor. Its taste is exactly that of sugar, and it is indeed the sweetest vegetable employed by the Indians. After being baked in the kiln it is eaten either simply or with train-oil; sometime it is pounded fine and mixed with cold water, until it is reduced to the consistence of sagamity [hominy], or Indian mush, which last method is the most agreeable to our palates (Coues 1893)."

The shoots are also traditionally pealed and eaten by the Quileute and Hoh (Reagan 1934).  
Jenna enjoying a peeled Edible Thistle stalkTo eat, the stems of Edible Thistle should be harvested in the late spring and early summer before the flower heads break open and reveal the flowers. Once the flowers start to open, the thistle stalks become too fibrous to eat. If you have tender hands, you may want to wear gloves, but I find the spines to be weaker and easier to avoid than those of Bull Thistle (C. vulgare) and pick bare handed without too much pain. Use a sharp knife to cut the stem near the base and peel off the skin from the base towards the tip. The spiny leaves should come off with the skins, but it is easy to miss small strips of the hairy skin. These can be scraped off with the edge of a knife. I enjoy leaving the wooly flower heads on the top of the shoot; like prawn tails, they are a fun reminder of what you are eating. Thistles stalks are so good fresh that I can’t imagine eating them any other way. Similar to celery, they are juicy and stringy, but I find the fibers finer, the flesh firmer, and the flavor sweeter. Unlike celery, I find thistle shoots filling. 
My experience with the roots are still too limited to meaningfully report, so stay tuned.

Coues, Elliott 1893. History of the Expedition under the Command of Lewis and Clark..., a New Edition,.... Francis Harper, New York NY. 

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria 

Reagan, Albert B., 1936, Plants Used by the Hoh and Quileute Indians, Kansas Academy of Science 
Turner, Nancy J., Laurence C. Thompson and M. Terry Thompson et al., 1990, Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia, Victoria. Royal British Columbia Museum.© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Eating Angelica

Tue, 06/21/2016 - 01:58

In the Pacific Northwest, we have several ethnobotanically significant angelica species. Many are so aromatic that I have never thought of them as food, but this weekend while hiking in the Wenatchee Mountains in Central Washington, I encountered Sharptooth Angelica (Angelica arguta) that was in the perfect stage for eating and I was without my lunch, so I gave it a try. This post is an introduction to the plant and my recommendations for harvesting the shoots.
Beginning foragers should note that I recommend extra caution when eating hairless members of the carrot family. Be sure of your ID!   

Sharptooth Angelica is a hairless, multi-stemmed herbaceous perennial arising from a long taproot. One to several pinnate to twice pinnately compound basal leaves emerge early in the spring. When still young, the leaf petioles are purplish red with white streaks but the color fades to light green with dark green streaks as the plants age. Dark green leaflets have sharply serrated margins and veins that extent to the tip of each serration. Most leaflets are lance-shaped, but they are sometimes have 2 or 3 lobes. By mid to late spring, a hollow flowering shoot emerges from the center of the plant. As the stem elongates between concealed nodes, it explodes out of the cloak like petiole of the first cauline leaf, and telescopes upwards through successive leaf sheathes to a height of 3-6 feet. By early summer, several compound umbels of brilliant white flowers finally emerge at the end of the shoot. Winged seeds form by mid-summer and are dispersed by wind before the plant begins to prepare for winter by retreating back to its root. 
Sharptooth Angelica is found in forest clearings near streams, lakes, fens, and marshes throughout the forested parts of our region from the Cascades of Southern British Columbia to Klamath Mountains of Northern California.
In California and Alaska, other species of Angelica are traditionally eaten by several Indigenous groups, but I could only locate ethnobotanical records for the food use of Sharptooth Angelica among one group. The Shuswap traditionally eat the young stems in May and mix the shoots with Glacier Lily and Spring Beauty as a seasoning (Palmer 1975).  
Like Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum), Sharptooth Angelica shoots are best eaten before the plants begin to flower. Work your way from the ground up the flowering shoot flexing the stem until you find the point where it no-longer kinks but snaps cleanly like asparagus. If several nodes are exposed, only the upper portions will be tender enough to eat. Using your fingernail or a knife to lift a corner of the skin, peel all of the skin from the shoot. The raw shoots have a very pleasant celery like flavor that is milder than cow parsnip, and have a texture that is more delicate. If you find the flavor too strong, check to make sure you have removed all of the skin, even little bits are noticeable.

I have not yet tried cooking with the shoots the way the Shuswap do. I sampled the raw leaf petioles and found them to be too strong to enjoy and impossible to peel, but I think they warrant experimentation as a potherb.

The name "Angelica" has possible origins in a myth about a monk who was taught the medicinal value of the plant by an angel, or possibly the coincidence of a European species that commonly flowers on May 8th, the same day as the feast of Michael the Archangel.  The species epithet arguta means "sharp toothed" in Latin.
CAUTION: Douglas Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii), which should also be known as “Death Angelica” looks very similar to Sharptooth Angelica. Ingesting even small amounts of Water Hemlock can be fatal.
References:Palmer, Gary 1975. Shuswap Indian Ethnobotany. Syesis Volume 8.WTU HerbariumCenter for Pacific Northwest HerbariaCalflora

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

How to harvest Wild Rice

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 01:19
Katrina and I just returned from a long weekend ricing in Idaho. Here are some videos of our techniques.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

How to eat a Horsetail

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 17:15

Spring has arrived. The cheerful song of the American Robin wakes me up each morning, their is enough daylight for late afternoon frivolities, and the Western Chorus frogs are calling so jubilantly into the night now that they would put me to sleep if I wasn’t so excited to hear them. I open the window and cock my ear to the side to take in the sound that is occasionally audible over the constant grumble of the highway! In the woods the Bigleaf Maple flowers are popping out of their over-sized buds and the birches have given their last drops of sweet water. Like the leggy frogs that leap enthusiastically in the warm air after a winter burrowed in frigid mud, the plants too seem to be springing from the ground. Nettles grow visibly between my every-other day harvests and an often overlooking edible—Giant Horsetail—claims its place in the front of the seasonal line-up of tasty shoot vegetables.
In the Pacific Northwest we have several species of horsetail. Two are edible, three are useful as sandpaper, and the remaining are neither useful to humans, nor common (limited to sloughs and marshes). Following are descriptions of the edible species.
Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) descriptionGiant Horsetail is an herbaceous clonal species. New shoots emerge from an underground network of rhizomes beginning in early to mid-March. There are two types of shoots, the fertile (spore bearing) shoots appearing a week ahead of the vegetative shoots. Fertile shoots are ½-3/4” (1.5-2 cm) wide and 1-2’ (30-60 cm) tall. The stems elongate between nodes which are covered with papery brown bracts. At the top of each fertile shoot is a cone-like structure (strobilus) that changes from green to white and eventually matures to brown when it begins releasing spores. The vegetative shoots are slightly narrower and taller at 3/16-3/4” (5-20 mm) wide and 1.5-4’ (50-120 cm) tall. The nodes of the vegetative shoots are also surrounded by brown papery bracts, but they smaller giving room for the rings of needle like leave that give the plant its namesake appearance. The features that distinguish Giant Horsetail are most easily noticed in cross-section. A cross section of the vegetative shoots shows a large hollow center that is much wider than twice the thickness of the walls, and a cross section of the needle like leaves shows that they are rounded.
This oddball has both photosynthetic branches and a reproductive strobilus

Giant Horsetails grow at low elevations in loose, damp soil. They are found from Bella Coola and Haida Gwaii in British Columbia southward along the coast to Southern California. Their eastward range is limited by the Coast Range in BC, and the Cascades in Washington and Oregon, except for a few isolated inland populations in the Columbia River watershed. This pattern continues into California where they flourish along the Coast Range but have only limited distribution in the Sierra foothills.
EdibilityStill OK (center); too old (right)Perfect stage (left)The fertile shoots of Giant Horsetails are best picked between March 15th and April 15th. At this time they are 4-8” (5-10 cm) tall and the cones are still whitish. Before this time they are hard to see and too small to be worth the effort, and after this time they become stringy. Palatability plummets after the cones brown. Pluck shoots at ground level and carefully peel off the coarse bract that surrounds each node. These bracts are filled with silicates that will sand away at your teeth, an anti-herbivory adaptation that usually keeps the deer from eating them unless they are really hungry. Once you have peeled the shoots, discard the strobilus, rinse off any dirt, and enjoy them fresh. Their mild flavor and juiciness is similar to celery, but they lack the annoying fibers. I didn’t learn to eat Giant Horsetails until nine years ago when my friend Trent picked one at the Outback Farm ate it. They have been among my favorite wild shoot vegetables ever since.

Unprocessed vegetative shoots (left) and fertile shoots (right)Perfectly ripe and peeledThe vegetative shoots of Giant Horsetail are also edible, but much more work for a product that is not as tasty. You must pick them before the needle like leaves have started to extend horizontally. Remove both the bracts (as above) and the leaves since the leaves contain the same silicate grazing defense as the bracts.
EthnobotanyClosely related species often are used in very similar ways. Most Rubus fruits are choice edibles and most willows provide good withes for basket weaving. So too is the ethnobotany of horsetails. When I skimmed through Daniel Moerman’s “Native American Ethnobotany” I quickly realized that Indigenous societies across the continent traditionally use E. arvensis, E. telmateia, and E. hymenale for similar things such as skin poultices, tonics for internal organs and sandpaper. However, a few accounts such suggest that the very coarse stems of Scouring Rush (E. hymenale) where traditionally eaten as medicine, and I suspect that this is a case of mistaken identity on the part of the ethnobotanist. The plants all share similar habitat and appearance, making identification without a reference specimen challenging. 
The fertile shoots of Giant Horsetail are traditionally pealed and eaten by Indigenous groups from the Yurok in California to the Nuu-chah-nulth on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and several in between (Moerman). Further north along the coast, the plant is less common; while it is still recognized, it is apparently not eaten (see Turner 2010; Turner and Bell 1973). The Makah (Gill 1983), Nitinaht, Nuu-chah-nulth (Turner et al. 1983; but see Turner and Efrat 1872), and Clallam (Gunther 1973) eat both the fertile and vegetative shoots. The Makah also eat the young strobilus after boiling it for 10 minutes, and have a special name for the reproductive shoots that reflects the “head” on the top (Gill 1983). In earlier times, the tubers were evidently collected later in the season and eaten raw by the Makah (Swan 1870), Cowlitz, and Swinomish (Gunther 1973), or boiled and served with grease by the Makah, Clallam, Quinault, Cowlitz, and Lower Chinook (Gunther 1973; Fleisher 1980). The Cowlitz also pulverized the dried cones to mix with salmon eggs (Gunther 1973). The shoots are universally regarded as juicy and thirst quenching but I can find no descriptions of the taste of the tubers (and have not yet seen or tried them myself).  The name horsetail aptly reflects the similarity in appearance of the vegetative shoots to a horse’s tail. This resemblance is also captured in the genus name which means “horse bristle” in Latin. The species epithet comes from the Greek word telmat which means “wetland,” where the plants are often found. A geographically distinct subspecies of Giant Horsetail is found in Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa and retains the subspecies name telmateia whereas our western North American taxon goes by the subspecies name braunii(in honor of the German botanist Alexander Carl Heinrich Braun, 1805-1877, who specialized in spermophytes).
A week too lateRelated species: Common Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)Common Horsetails are widespread throughout North America. From a distance, they can be distinguished from Giant Horsetail by their smaller size, more kinked needles, and longer primary (inner most) leaf segments on each branch. In cross section, the needle like leaves are angled so strongly that they appear winged, and the void in the middle of the main stem is equal to or less than twice the wall thickness. The fastidious will also find that Giant Horsetails have 20-40 ridges around the stem while the Common variety have 10-15. At harvest time, the shoot thickness and wall to central void ratio are the most discernible differences. Fertile shoots of Common Horsetail can be peeled and eaten in the same manner as Giant Horsetail. They are more work for less reward, and I find them to also be less tasty. The young vegetative shoots may well be edible as above, but frankly, I can’t see how they would be worth the trouble when the fertile shoots are available.
E. telmateia x-sectionE. arvense x-section The species epithet arvense comes from the Latin adjective “in the field,” an apt name for this common agricultural “weed.”

BibliographyCal-floraConsortium of Pacific NorthwestHerbariaE-flora BCFleisher, Mark 1980. The Ethnobotany of the Clallam Indians of Western Washington. Washington State University.Gill, Steven 1983. Ethnobotany of the Makah and Ozette People, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. Washington State University, PhD. Thesis.Gunther, Erna 1973. Ethnobotany of Western Washington. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.Moerman, Danielle. Native American Ethnobotany database. University of Michigan, Deerborn.Swan, James 1880. The Indians of Cape Flattery, at the Entrance to the Straight of Fuca, Washington Territory. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Collins Printer, Philadelphia PA.Turner, Nancy J. 2010. Plants of Haida Gwaii. Sononis Press, Winlaw BC.Turner, Nancy J. and Barbara Efrat 1982. Ethnobotany of the Hesquiate Indians of Vancouver Island. Cultural Recovery Papers No. 2, British Columbia Provincial Museum.Turner, Nancy J., John Thomas, Barry F. Carlson, and Robert T. Obilvie 1983. Ethnobotany of the Nitinaht Indians of Vancouver Island. Occasional Papers Series No. 24, British Columbia Provincial Museum.Turner, Nancy J. and Marcus Bell 1973. Ethnobotany of the Southern Kwakiutl Indians. Economic Botany, Vol 2, No 3.WTU Herbarium
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Birch- Maple's sappy boyfriend

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 13:59

Our warm winter has not been good for Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) sap production in Bellingham. There were some decent freezes in the late fall, but I didn’t bother tapping. In the past, the early season flow has been poor and the interval between cold spells, long enough that the taps healed over and the equipment needed to be washed. Sap did run the week following Christmas, but since then none of the frosts have been cold or long enough to stimulate any flow. Fortunately for me, Dad collected some maple sap just before the New Year while I was traveling for the holidays, otherwise I would have nothing to show for this year.
I didn't want to give up too easily. Last year, the majority of the runs happened in late February and early March. The weather was consistently cold, with a few storms thrown in. You might recall the Feb 23, 2014 snow storm that overloaded many tree branches. Such a “late” winter storm is not uncommon in this area. On the same day in 2011, it snowed 10” in Victoria BC; and on March 5, 2012 it snowed ½” in Bellingham. Beyond the tenure of my written records, I have numerous childhood memories of late storms shrouding crocuses with snow. These last few years’ experience have taught me that sap flows strongest during snow storms, so I wasn’t going to give up on the sap season during the balmy weeks in mid-February. I sanitized my taps, piled firewood, loaded my truck, and kept an eye on the weather.
Two weeks ago on Feb 21st, we had a frost that was heavy enough to leave ½” of ice in a pail outside, despite a low that was predicted to be several degrees above freezing. Freezing weather in Western Whatcom County is evidently hard to forecast. My theory is that we are close enough to the Fraser Valley that minor nighttime outflows of cold interior air provide us with lower temperatures than the rest of the Puget Lowlands. Despite the next nights forecast in the mid-thirties, I awoke to frost again on the 22nd, and decided to mobilize. I drilled into my first Maples around noon on a sunny day with temps in the low 50s, and the sawdust was dry. Two more Maples also yielded dry sawdust and no subsequent sap flow, so I gave up on Maples. Besides, I had noticed that a few of the buds had already burst. I think the Bigleaf Maples are truly done for the year.
But what about birches? I have heard that syrup can be made from birch sap too, and knew that they are said to run in slightly warmer temperatures. Why not try? I scouted the hillside with drill in hand and bored into the first Paper Birch I found. The saw dust was pulpy and my hole immediately started dripping sap! I rushed for supplies and after the first tap and pail were installed, located 5 more Paper Birches to tap.
In the 14 days since, I have collected 42 gallons of sap from those 6 birches at an average rate of ½ gallon per tree per day. The nighttime lows have been between 30 and 40, and the highs mostly in the 50s. Every other day I collected about 6 gallons, and reduced it to about 50 percent sugar before freezing it. With the exception of my first batch, which I was eager to taste, I waited until the end of the season to aggregated all my frozen near-syrup, and finish the syrup all at once. See my Bigleaf Maple syrup article for details on how to finish syrup.
The chemistry and concentration of birch sap is different than maple sap. Birch sap is mostly fructose and glucose, with small amounts of sucrose, whereas maple syrup is primarily sucrose with some fructose and glucose. The concentration of sugars is much lower in birch, often requiring 100-120 parts sap to produce 1 part syrup, compared to the 30-50 to 1 ratio for maples. The simpler sugars found in birch sap make it more prone to “scorching,” and for reason’s I don’t understand, the flavor of birch syrup is often described as “spicy” and “more savory than sweet.” I think the syrup tastes like roasted camas with a hint of peach. Katrina thinks it tastes like honey. Finishing a small batch of Paper Birch syrup
Paper Birch descriptionThere are about a dozen species of birch in North America with the center of diversity in the Northeastern Woodlands. Only three species are native to the Pacific Northwest: Water Birch (Betula occidentalis) which grows along streams and wetlands east of the Cascades; Western Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), which grows at low to moderate elevations west of the Cascades as well as open woods east of the Cascades; and Swamp Birch (Betula glandulosa) which grows in very wet areas, mostly in the mountains east of the Cascade crest. European White Birch (Betula pendula) is also commonly found in yards and parks throughout our area, and has very white bark and fine, drooping twigs.
Drooping twigs of European White BirchUpright twigs of Paper Birch
Collage showing color variation in Paper Birch barkPaper Birches are small deciduous trees that mature to heights of 40-60 ft and usually 5-12" in diameter with rare individuals growing larger than 16" wide. The trunks are occasionally clumped or multi-stemmed near the base. The horizontally peeling bark that is so characteristic of mature Birch trees takes on more color variation in our region than the white barked variety of the northwoods; grey, copper, and orange tones are also common here. The trunks of Paper Birches in the west also carry a considerable load of lichens, and mosses may cling to the base. Whatever the color or age, all the bark is covered with distinct horizontal bands of lenticels that permit gas exchange.
Paper Birch catkinsPaper Birches branches ascend at a steep angle from the trunk. In young vigorously growing trees the branches are straight, but with maturity the trunk and branches take on a more twisted form. The fine twigs have a purplish black color and usually extend upward. Catkins emerge after Red Alder but still ahead of Birch leaf-out, and are usually in clumps of 2-3 at the ends of the previous year’s growth. Leaves are alternate, simple, and have serrated margins. The trees are short lived, but die slowly. Dead tops are very common in Paper Birches, and provide important habitat for cavity nesting birds. As decay extends downward, they frequently host useful and edible fungus.   EthnobotanyThe ethnobotany of our region includes virtually no food use for Paper Birch. Further north where birches are more common, the Upper Tanana in Alaska traditionally drink Birch sap raw (Kari 1985). Eastward, other northern Peoples make birch syrup, such as the Algonquin in Quebec and the Cree in Saskatchewan (Moerman). The Cree and Montagnais also traditionally eat the bark cambium of Paper Birch (Moerman).Where birch occurs in the Pacific Northwest, the bark is used for containers and canoes, the wood for carving, and both the wood and bark burned. Birch has many traditional medicinal uses as well. The most interesting to me is the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) use of birch sap as a spring time cold and cough remedy (Turner et al. 1990).
Sap isn’t the only edible part of a birch. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that has a dramatically lower glycemic index than sucrose, is produced by wet oxidation or steaming and distillation of several plant based carbohydrates, especially birch wood. I will probably have to take some chemistry before I attempt doing this on my own.
ConclusionIn our region, collecting sap and making syrup are novel activities that, on good years, can supply the dedicated forager with their sugar needs for the year. However, Bigleaf Maple is on the margin of climate suitability (not enough freezing days; unpredictable season), and Paper Birch is on the margin of labor efficiency (the sap is 2.5 times more diluted than maple sap), and habitat suitability (not that common in the Western Washington). Even though both species have individual limitations, I have learned this year that Maple and Birch complement each other perfectly and can ensure that at least some syrup makes it into the pantry.
Notes The folks at  Kahiltna Birchworks in Alaska are the only commercial source of Paper Birch syrup that I can find. I have never heard of anyone tapping any of our other birches.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Wild Rice parching

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 15:08
Inspired by my brother's video of the rice hulling, I decided to put together a video of my rice parching equipment. Using this system I can parch 10-12 lbs of rice in 20 minutes.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Wild Rice husking machine

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 14:04
My brother produced this fun video of my bicycle powered Wild Rice husking/hulling machine.

I designed and built it myself with the help of my dad. It is made from a recycled 55 gallon steel drum with sheet rubber glued to the inside. Stainless steel rubber coated paddles rotate inside the drum and rub the hulls from the grain. These paddles are bicycle powered and spin at 100-120 rpm while an electric fan blow the chaff out of the drum. Further winnowing and hand picking is required to separate the remainder of the chaff and a few kernels that make it through with their husks in place. 

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Klipsun Magazine features local foragers

Mon, 10/13/2014 - 22:00
My bicycle powered wild rice hulling machine. Photograph by Evan AbellWWU student writer Michelle Dutro and photographer Evan Abell spent an afternoon harvesting and processing wild foods with me while working on their article "Wonders of the Wilderness," which features local foragers.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Beach Pea, An Enigmatic Edible

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 13:52

Ripe Beach Peas in the half shellI first learned that Beach Peas (Lathyrus japonicus) were edible from my college friend Joe as we were walking along the south shore of Lake Superior. I was a little cautious, having heard the oft repeated admonition that “wild peas are poisonous” but they were ripe and I trusted him, so I picked a few and ate them on the spot. Nothing ill came of it, but having only eaten one, I still always had a question in my mind about just how edible they really are. 
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest only miles from the salt-chuck, but I failed to notice Beach Peas as a part of our regional flora until I moved to Victoria for graduate school. Beach Peas thrive along surf swept shorelines of sand and pebble, and there are many more suitable beaches on Vancouver Island than in Bellingham Bay (though I have since found them scattered throughout the Salish Sea).
Flowers and young Beach PeasBeach Peas are trailing herbaceous perennial vines that are usually no taller than 18 inches, but can form extensive patches. The leaves are pinnately compound with 3-5 pairs of ovate leaflets, and a terminal tendril that is sometimes branched. Leaflets are usually smooth margined with a mucrinate tip, the upper surface of the leaflets are light green to bluish green and the lower sides are whitish green. A large sagittate stipule surrounds the stem at the base of each leaf. Both leaves and stems are hairless. The stems are somewhat angular but strongly compressed or winged like in some other members of the Lathyrus genus. Pea-like flowers are born in racemes on upright peduncles that usually rise above the surrounding leaves. Each raceme contains 3-5 pairs of light purple to dark pink flowers that begin to bloom in May. Depending on the availability of moisture, flowering can continue into September. Pea pods begin to form as the weather dries out and the first ripe pods are often available in the Puget Sound from mid-late June. Young pods are hairy and green or red with green tips. As the single row of peas mature, the pods blend to a reddish green. Each pod contains 6-10 spherical peas that are about ¼” wide.

Young Beach Pea flowers

Mature podsBeach Peas are also called Sea Pea, Sea Peavine, and as all variations of the name suggests, are strictly maritime. I typically find them growing in sand or gravel among driftwood, on dunes among the seaward extent of the Dune Grass (Leymus mollis), or more rarely on headlands. They can be found from Alaska to California, across the Arctic, the North Atlantic, and even the Great Lakes, as well Eastern Asia from China northward. Such a broad range is explained by the plant's use of ocean currents for dispersal. The seeds float and can remain viable in salt water for up to 5 years (Ohtsuki et al 2011).

Beach Pea typically grows among driftwood on surf swept shorelines
Shelled Beach peas ready to cookReputable foragers that say it is safe to eat Beach Pea in small quantities include Euell Gibbons (1964), Sam Thayer (Personal Communication 2014), and Hank Shaw (2013).  Shaw writes that the young shoots, flowers, and peas of a variety of species in the genus Lathyrus are edible. He goes on to explain that the rumors of toxicity can be attributed to Chickling Vetch (L. sativa), a cultivated species of the Old World. Scientific Studies have shown that people that rely on Chickling Vetch for a major part of their diet for several months (such as in times of famine) are prone to a muscle wasting disease called Lathyrism. Shaw concludes that Lathyrus peas when properly prepared and eaten as part of a balanced diet are perfectly safe.

To harvest the peas, bring a good pair of scissors since the stems holding the pea pods are often stronger than the roots, making it easy to accidentally pull the entire plants from their loose substrate when trying to break the pods from the stem. Once you’ve filled your basket, find a shady place to shell peas and enjoy the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. Though small, the peas can be efficiently shelled by tearing off the tip and “unzipping” one side by pulling downward on the strong fiber that runs from the stem to the tip; twist the pod slightly and it will pop open.
Boiled Beach Peas with fresh garnishMy first experience cooking Beach Peas turned out to be a success. I boiled the peas in water for 5 minutes, and then changed the water because I thought it smelled of volatile phytochemicals. After another 5 minutes they were soft and smelled more food-like, so I strained and rinsed them.  Desiring an authentic taste, I ate them plain. They have a thick, mushy texture and mild flavor that is more similar to split peas than sweet peas. Beyond their texture, there is nothing disagreeable about them and I think that they would be delicious with a little butter and salt, or honey on a knife (Anonymous).
Flowers and young podsInterestingly (and contrary to the suggestion by Shaw that they were “used by all sorts of groups… from the Eskimo to the Iroquois) the traditional use of Beach Peas for food by Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific Northwest is poorly documented in the ethnographic literature. Perhaps the best reference comes from one collaborator in Steven Gill’s work with the Makah and Ozette. Makah elder Jim Tollerud said that immature seeds are eaten as peas (Gill 1983, pg. 281). Unfortunately no further details are provided. Erna Gunther did not even mention the plant in the Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Nancy Turner provided a short account in her work with the Haida (2010), Hesquiat (Turner and Efrat 1982), and Dididaht (Turner et al. 1983), but in all cases it was lumped with Giant Vetch (Vicia gigantea) by both name and use, and was poorly regarded as a food. She wrote, “The ‘peas’ of these wild plants were not generally considered to be edible, although Newcombe (1897, 1901) reported that the seeds of young Giant Vetch were eaten, and Norton (1981) said that several of her Kaigani consultants boiled and ate the peas [of Giant Vetch] after the pods were dried, although one woman said that they were dangerous. Some Kwakwaka’wakw were also said to eat [Giant Vetch] (Turner 2010). 

I could only find a few ethnobotanical references in other parts of the plant’s range. The peas are sometimes collected and eaten by the Ainus in Japan (Batchelor and Miyabe 1898) and the Iroquois traditionally ate the stalks in the spring (Parker 1910 in Native American Ethnobotany). However, Shaw’s reference to the use of Beach Pea among the Eskimo is doubtful. Following citations back from Shaw to Moerman, I finally came to Anore Jone’s research with the In͂upiaq. In her book “Nauriat Nigin͂aqtuat, Plants That We Eat,” she cites no In͂upiaq use of Beach Pea as a food and cautions against eating it. However, she does reference Euell Gibbons’ edibility claim, but suggests he is talking about a different species (Jones 1983, pg. 141).
As an ethnobotanist, I trust the cultural traditions that have evolved through careful observation and stewardship of specific plants, landscapes, and watersheds for thousands of years. With very few exceptions, the plants that were traditionally relished by Indigenous cultures, I enjoy eating, and those considered poisonous, are substantiated by chemical analysis. But what am I to do when a plant was ignored?
A Beach Pea vine on coarse sandThe cultural cold shoulder of edible organisms isn’t without precedence among Indigenous societies in the Pacific Northwest. Tasty mushrooms like chanterelles, morels, boletes, and virtually every other edible fungi in our region were traditionally eschewed as food. Some theorize that mushrooms were avoided because of the danger of accidentally eating a poisonous one, but analogous dangers can be found in the plant world. Two members of the carrot family present a poignant case in point. The roots of Water Parsnip (Sium suave) were traditionally eaten, yet the plants look very similar to deadly poisonous Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii). Similarly, grains were almost universally avoided in the traditional cuisine. The closest things to grains that were eaten in this region are hazelnuts, acorns, and pine-nuts. 
Very young Beach Pea podsWe are left with a number of possible directions for exploring why the ethnographic record of Beach Pea is so scarce in this region. Was Beach Pea ignored because it produces seeds, and cultural groups along the Northwest Coast were typically not a seed-eaters (as I suggested above)? Was it ignored because it is mildly toxic, or not very tasty (as others have suggested and Hank Shaw disputes)? Or was it actually used, but of such minor importance that it suffered an early death to the forces of colonialism (like many root vegetables)? But what if Beach Pea isn’t actually native to the Pacific Northwest? Indulge me as I explore the antiquity of Beach Peas in our region.
Nearly every taxonomic authority in the Pacific Northwest assumes Beach Pea to be native to the West Coast but they have all drawn from the limited and haphazard nature of herbarium data. In fact, the first wave of botanists to explore the region did not observe Beach Pea. Archibald Menzies, the naturalist aboard Captain Vancouver’s ship, did not note the plant during his extensive travels through the Puget Sound, around Vancouver Island, and further northward along the Coast in the 1790s (Newcombe 1923). Similarly, Lewis and Clark, who spent a considerable amount of time on the Pacific Coast making salt during the winter of 1805-06, made no mention or collection of Beach Pea (Moulton 1999). The first possible written records come from David Douglas (1914, pgs 139 and 282) in 1825 and 1827, and these are a little problematic as he just labels them “Lathyrus sp.” and mentions “thick rhizomes that were eaten by the Natives,” which doesn’t quite fit this plant. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 19th Century that botanists such as Howell, Suksdorf, and Piper made collections of Beach Pea (WTU Herbarium). We can’t conclusively say if it was absent prior to 1850, but there is certainly room for speculation.
A Beach Pea vine on gravelIndigenous societies in the region are in a much better position than roving botanists to observe changes in plant communities. Their cultural traditions are strongly rooted in place and tied to the environment, and have been for countless generation. My experience with elders such as my mentor Clan Chief Kwaxsistalla (Adam Dick) has given me respect for both the depth and breadth of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Not only can Kwaxsistalla identify in two languages the fish, wildlife, and plants of his homeland, but he also knows their life histories, anatomies, and habitat preferences through personal experience and cultural teachings. His knowledge is certainly better than any foreign naturalist ever could hope to acquire over the course of a short expedition.
Probing these sorts of deeply embedded ethnographic sources does hint at answers to our question. Nancy Turner, in her work with the Hesquiat noted that her consultants only began seeing Beach Peas in relatively recent times. They noticed that it came to their beaches on driftwood from logging operations. Furthermore, the naming pattern of Beach Pea in aboriginal languages is consistent with newly introduced plants. Recently arrived plants are often given “cognate” or names that are related to plants that they look like or are used in a similar way. Using English examples, early settlers called many of the root vegetables that were used by Native Americans “Indian potato” because the use and appearance of the vegetable was similar to that of the potato. In the case of Beach Pea (and in some cases also garden pea), it was given the same name as Giant Vetch (Vicia gigantea) by the Haida (Turner 2010), Dididaht (Turner et. al 1983) and Hesquiat (Turner and Efrat 1982). Perhaps the Hesquiats’ observation is true for our entire region and Beach Pea is not actually native to Pacific Northwest, but introduced early in the historic period.
Whatever the case, I aim to continue experimenting with Beach Peas wherever I find them.

BibliographyAnonymous, date unknown. “I Eat My Peas with Honey,” a poem. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171639  Batchelor, John and Kingo Miyabe 1898. Ainu economic plants. Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Vol. 21, R. Meiklejohn & Co., Yokohama. http://books.google.com/books?id=RrYUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA199&lpg=PA199&dq=Ainu+economic+plants&source=bl&ots=eaq5NIZpew&sig=jOQj2AhJWckns8u11ZHTA_kiOuY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IR7IU4rrJ4-IogThyIKYCw&ved=0CFgQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=Lathyrus&f=false
Douglas, David 1914. Journal Kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America 1823-1827. Royal Horticultural Society, William Welsey & Son, London. 
Gibbons, Euell 1964. Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop. David McKay Company Inc., New York.
Jones, Anore 1983. Nauriat Nigin͂aqtuat, The Plant That We Eat. Traditional Nutrition Project, Maniilaq Association, Kotzebue AK.
Moulton, Gary E. 1999. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Volume 12, Herbarium of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.” University of Nebraska Press. 
Newcombe, Charles ed. 1923. Menzies’ Journal of Vancouver’s Voyage, April to October 1792. Archives of British Columbia, Memoir No. V. Victoria BC.
Ohtsuki, Tatsuo, Yuko Kaneko, and Hiroaki Setuguchi 2011.  Isolated history of the coastal plant Lathyrus japonicus (Leguminosae) in Lake Biwa, and ancient freshwater lake. AoB Plants http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3176521/
Turner, Nancy J. 2010. Plants of Haida Gwai. Sononis Press, Winlaw BC.
Turner, Nancy J. and Marcus Bell 1973. The Ethnobotany of the Southern Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia. Economic Botany 81(2):283-293.
Turner, Nancy J. and Barbara S. Efrat 1982. Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island. Cultural Recorvery Paper No. 2, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria BC.
Turner, Nancy J. John Thomas, B.F. Carlson, and R.T. Ogilvie 1983. Ethnobotany of the Nitinaht Indians of Vancouver Island. Occasional Paper No. 23, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria BC.
WTU Herbarium. Internet search of the WTU Herbarium located at the University of Washington, Burke Museum. http://www.burkemuseum.org/herbarium
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.