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Crayfish Catching by California Indians

I like to free dive with snorkel and mask, and often find crayfish, which I’ve caught many times by hand (though I usually let them go). I find crayfish delicious, so I did a little research on the methods the California Indians used to catch and eat them.

Freshwater crayfish were eaten by the Indians of Northwestern California. The Yurok Sometimes caught crayfish by fastening a piece of salmon onto the end of a string tied to a pole. This bait was set in the water and when the crayfish grabbed it, they were pulled in. Instead of salmon, sometimes a ball of grass was attached, to which the claws or legs of the crayfish were entangled as they were pulled out of the water. The Karok used this method but with salmon gills as bait.

The Karok trapped crayfish by tying salmon gills above or in a basket that was set beside or under a rock, then lifting the basket out when the crayfish were feeding on the bait. Another Karok trap was a large, openwork, plate-shaped basket, with a four-foot stick attached to the center to keep the basket horizontal when lowered into a still place in the river. Salmon gills were placed on the basket as bait. Once the crayfish were lured onto the basket, it was lifted out quickly.

Shasta_crayfish

Shasta crayfish (Pacifastacus fortis), the only remaining native crayfish in California, is critically endangered. It’s endemic to Shasta County, where, before widespread environmental damage, it was caught by the Shasta Indians. Most crayfish in CA now are the introduced, invasive, signal crayfish (P. leniusculus).

The Shasta caught crayfish using the same type of trap, except instead of the four-foot stick, several strings were attached to the basket’s edges, and a stone was laid on it with the bait to weigh it down. This trap was used in about four feet of water in the evening. After 10-15 minutes, it was gently pulled to the surface.

Often, crayfish were simply caught by hand by the Yurok and Karok at the water’s edge. The Tolowa caught them by hand under rocks in streams while people were swimming.

The Karok roasted crayfish in ashes or hot coals till they were deep red. The Tolowa cooked them in ashes or in an earth oven. The Shasta boiled them in a basket with hot rocks.

REFERENCE:

Kroeber, A. L. and S. A. Barrett. 1960. Fishing among the Indians of Northwestern California. Anthropological Records 21(1):1-210. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

June Bugs are Edible

It’s already the time of year where June bugs are flying to my porch lights, much to the glee of my cats, who enjoy these fun toys.

June bugs are not known widely as edible, but according to one or two sources, they were food for some California Indians.

Bear River Indians ate June bugs (Nomland 1938:111). They were roasted in a fire and eaten immediately (Nomland 1938:111).

June bugs / June beetles, specifically including the white-striped June beetle
(Scarabaeidae: Polyphylla crinita and P. spp.), were listed by Essig (1931) as insects eaten by the California Indians.

Polyphylla_olivieri_Laporte_de_Castelnau,_1840_(3887609658)

June beetle: Polyphylla sp.

Essig may have determined this based on Nomland’s (1938) ethnography of the Bear River Indians. That is the only other source I have found listing June bugs as food for the California Indians.

Unfortunately, neither source mentions whether the adults or grubs were eaten. Presumably, they refer to the adults since they are commonly encountered, whereas the grubs live underground feeding on roots.

I’m confident the grubs are edible also, asĀ  related grubs in the scarab family, such as the rhinoceros beetle, are edible, and also live underground.

Essig, E.O. 1931. A history of entomology. The Macmillan Company, New York, NY.

Nomland, Gladys Ayer. 1938. Bear River ethnography. Anthropological Records 2(2):90-126. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

The Bear Doctor

BONE CHILLING TRUE ACCOUNT OF EVIL SHAMANS THAT HAUNTED AND KILLED CALIFORNIA INDIANS

The Bear Doctor was a powerful and deadly shaman feared by the Pomo, Yuki, and Miwok tribes of California Indians.

The bear doctors lived to kill for pleasure and would extort villages, forcing chiefs to pay them to leave their people in peace.

The bear doctor wore a suit of grizzly bear skin reinforced inside with a lining of hard wood sticks (snowbell), all over a suit of armor made of shells, making him virtually immune to arrows or other attacks. It contained water baskets inside, whose sloshing mimicked the sound of the viscera of a real bear. A white oak basketry helmet was fitted to the wearer’s head, and the bear’s head skin was secured over this. When worn, the bear doctor appeared, acted, and sounded just like a real grizzly bear. This suit was said to endow him with the supernatural strength and speed of a bear.

pomo bear doctor suit

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He was helped by male and female assistants, the first whom sang the songs or chants necessary to invoke the power of the bear suit as the shaman danced and as the suit was put on by the bear doctor with the help of the female assistant.

The weapons of the bear doctor were elk horn daggers, obsidian knives, and stone pestles. Sometimes he used a miniature bow that shot tiny “invisible” poisoned arrows. One common poison for arrows was rattlesnake venom, which caused even a tiny wound to rot away and masses of flesh to slough off, usually resulting in death.

Before attacking, the bear doctor stood unconcernedly near the path of his victim, with his back toward him until he was near, whereupon he suddenly whirled around and attacked. This was the method of attack of a real bear.

The bear doctors formed a league together, training apprentices and sometimes working in concert to attack and kill.

For more info see “Pomo Bear Doctors” by S.A. Barrett, 1917.

Mallow for Food and Medicine

Malva parviflora (and other Malva species), called cheeseweed or mallow, is a common introduced “weed” found throughout California in urbanized areas.

The whole plant is edible, and has a mild and pleasant taste. The larger, older leaves and stems can be a little tough, so are better cooked.

The tasty fruits look like miniature cheesewheels, from which the name comes (although it tastes nothing like cheese).

The whole plant has a mildly mucilaginous texture, but the mucilage is especially concentrated in the roots. The fresh or dried roots, chopped up and brewed into a tea, is an effective medicine for stimulating the healthy function of the bodies’ mucus membranes (internal organs, stomach lining, trachea, mouth, nostrils, eyelids, genitals, and anus).

Mallow root tea is an ancient remedy for sore throat, cough, and upset stomach because it soothes the irritated mouth, throat, and stomach.

In fact, the original marshmallow (now a wholly artificial concoction) was made by brewing a decoction (strong tea) of the marsh mallow’s roots, adding a lot of sugar, whipping the concoction into a froth, and drying dollops of it to form cough drops that were sucked to sooth the cough, sore throat, or stomach ache.

California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.

A rose by any other name would taste as sweet

California wild rose (Rosa californica) produces fruits (rose hips) in abundance. These were eaten fresh and raw by California Indians. They gathered the fruits from late summer through fall, but considered them best and sweetest after the first cold nights of fall. All rose species (Rosa spp.) have edible fruits. They taste sweet and tart. They are exceptionally high in vitamin C content. They are often dried and made into a tea. Rose petals are also edible and have a light fragrant taste.

California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.

Sugar Pine Sap

Sugar pines (Pinus lambertiana) have the largest cones of any conifer in the world! Besides having edible inner bark and seeds like all pines, their sap is particularly sweet, thus their name. It can be collected from wounds or off the scales on the cone (you can see it as yellow gobs on the pictured cone). The Northern Maidu, Shasta, Kashaya Pomo, and Wintu Indians used the sap as a candy gum. The sap was collected in the summer and fall.

California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.

Wood Sorrel

Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) is a delicious, sour-sweet herb that grows in redwood forests and similar habitats in California and Oregon.

Its leaves flowers, stems, and roots are all edible and tasty. Its tart flavor is from oxalic acid, which in dietary excess can cause kidney stones. But it’s entirely safe and healthy to eat in moderation, like any other greens.

This plant was gathered to eat by the Kashaya Pomo Indians from February through September.

But before you gather the native redwood sorrel plant, please be mindful of its smaller populations. Instead, I recommend Oxalis pes-caprae (yellow flowers pictured), which is extremely abundant in waste and disturbed areas, lawns, gardens, etc., and is an invasive introduced species.

California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.