Tag Archives: edible

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, as  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.

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.

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.

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.