Blueberries

There are 9 species of blueberries / huckleberries in California. Some ripen mid-summer to late September, and others ripen from early fall through mid-winter.

The sweetest and juiciest are found in full sun. These fruits were a favorite of the California Indians, who would make long treks to choice picking grounds. They would dry the berries, mash them, and form cakes of them for storage. They were also often used mixed with dried and powdered venison jerky and melted suet fat to form pemmican; the original energy bar.

Blueberry fruits also make excellent blue / purple dye.

California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.
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Blackberry Plant Uses

California blackberry (Rubus ursinus) is well-known as a delicious and abundant fruit. The Indians ate it straight off the vine and sometimes dried it for the winter.

But did you know an infusion of its roots are effective at stopping diarrhea? The Little Lake Indians of Mendocino County were known to use its roots in this manner. Diarrhea can quickly kill one via dehydration, so in any survival situation, this would be a great herbal medicine to remember!

 The spines of the young leaves are soft, and these young leaves are edible, although they have a quite astringent taste. They’re best brewed into a mild tea.
The fibers of the stems make pretty good cordage. When you soak them in water and lightly pound them to separate the longitudinal fibers, the spines will come off.
Another use for the fruits is as a dye.
Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) is a common invasive species in California. It’s distinguished by R. ursinus by having larger, thicker spines that are more distantly spaced on the stems.
California Foragers's photo.
California Foragers's photo.

Pineapple Weed

Pineapple weed (Matricaria discoidea) is a common introduced small herb found in compacted soils of disturbed areas, such as the borders of dirt trails. The whole plant is edible raw. The foliage is bitter but the flowers are sweet. The flower looks and smells like chamomile (they’re related), and have similar properties (calming, soporific, pleasant tasting) as chamomile when brewed into tea.

California Foragers's photo.

Slugs as food

I’ve been really sluggish to post this summer, so I’m posting about slugs!

Did you know there is (or at least was) an annual banana slug festival including a cookoff competition in California? It was held at Russian River.

The banana slug is the mascot of UC Santa Cruz! It is a quite large yellow slug, found in the redwood forest and surrounding coastal areas of California and Oregon. This was probably the species eaten by the below-mentioned California Indian tribes.

Lolangkok Sinkyone ate slugs. First, a slender stick was thrust through the head to hold the slug. Then, it’s belly was slit open lengthwise to remove the dark insides. It was then dried. Before it was eaten, it was roasted in hot ashes (Baumhoff 1958:195).

Slugs found in the woods were eaten by the Pomo, usually in the rainy season. They were pierced with a hazel twig, being strung on a row and spit-roasted over a fire (Gifford 1987:20).

The banana slug (Ariolimax) was eaten as a starvation food by the Yurok and Karok (Lightfoot and Parrish 2009).

The Yuki, neighbors to the above-mentioned tribes, and living in areas where the banana slug was common, did not eat slugs at all (Foster 1944:167).

REFERENCES:

Baumhoff, Martin A. 1958. California Athabascan groups. Anthropological Records 16 (5):162-230. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Foster, George M. 1944. A summary of Yuki culture. Anthropological Records 5 (3):155-244. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Gifford, E. W. 1967. Ethnographic notes on the Southwestern Pomo. Anthropological Records 25. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Lightfoot, K.G. and O. Parrish. 2009. California Indians and their environment: an introduction. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Blue Elderberry Ethnobotany

Family:
ADOXACEAE – Muskroot Family
Scientific Name:
Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea (Raf.) R. Bolli
Synonyms:
S. glauca Nutt., S. mexicana
Common Names:
Blue elderberry, pale elder, elderberry
Indian names (the vertical bars should be horizontal over the letter they follow, as should be the umlauts):
Ke|-we|’ ma:m—ke|-we|’ (+ma:m for the berry, Yuki), chin-so:k’ (Wailaki), no|-ko|m-he|-in’-e| (Concow), ba:-te|’ ka:-la|’ (Yokia), kit-ta|’ (+bu-ki|’ for the berry, Calpella, Potter Valley, Little Lake), ga-lu|’ bu-ki|’ (also the berry, Little Lake)

USE FOR FOOD
Berries – eaten by the Shasta (Dixon 1907). Eaten by Mendocino area Indians and Kashaya Pomo raw, dried for the winter, or sugar added and made into pies, canned, and jellied (Chesnut 1902, Goodrich et al. 1980).

USES FOR MEDICINE
Flowers – flower stalks are dried in the sun, then put in a bag and shaken til the flowers fall off (Goodrich et al. 1980). Dried flowers were kept in most Indian’s homes (Chesnut 1902). Made into a lotion used for fevers, sprains and bruises, or made into an antiseptic wash for itch and for open sores in domestic animals (Chesnut 1902). Taken internally by the Little Lake to stop lung bleeding in consumption (Chesnut 1902). An infusion was used to break a fever (Goodrich et al. 1980).
Inner bark – is a strong emetic, but was seldom used by Mendocino Co. Indians (Chesnut 1902).
Root – a decoction was used as a healing lotion on open sores and cuts (Goodrich et al. 1980).

USES FOR TOOLS
Wood – the very soft pith (innermost wood) was used as tinder for firestarting with flint and steel (Chesnut 1902). The soft wood was used as a spindle stick for friction firestarting (Chesnut 1902). Sticks with the pith removed were used for making syringes or squirt guns, whistles, flutes, and clapping sticks, the latter consisting of a split stick wrapped together at one end which was held and the other end struck against the palm or leg (Chesnut 1902, Goodrich et al. 1980).

Habitat: open woods and canyons or moist flats of hill country along streams, 0-3070 m (Goodrich et al. 1980, Calflora).

Notes: previously in the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae).
Gathering Seasons:

Flowers: early – mid-summer. Berries: late summer. Root: late summer – fall. Branches: fall. (Goodrich et al. 1980)