Tag Archives: ethnobotany

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.

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!

┬áThe 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.