Tag Archives: uses

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.
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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.

Fried Fiddleheads and Further Functions of Ferns

Fiddleheads on a ridge in Dark Canyon, Eldorado National Forest

Fiddleheads on a ridge in Dark Canyon, Eldorado National Forest

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The fiddleheads of most (if not all) species of ferns are edible. The fiddlehead refers to the unfurling young fronds that appear in late winter through spring, appearing singly for new plants, or at the base or middle of full-grown ferns. They can be eaten raw, but are better after being lightly fried.

The species pictured below, Polystichum munitum (Kaulf.) C. Presl, aka western sword fern, is very common in the east bay hills. Also pictured below are its fiddleheads that I fried and ate this spring.

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It is somewhat asparagus-like in flavor and texture. It makes a great side dish or could be an important survival food if lost in a fern-rich area.

Other uses:

Fronds of Polystichum munitum were also used by the Kashaya Pomo Indians of California to line earth pit ovens for slow-cooking many types of foods, as well as to line basins formed in sand for leaching acorn or buckeye meal (Goodrich et al. 1980).

Other fern species and uses:

The juice of fiddleheads of Pteridium aquilinum (L.) Kuhn, aka Western (or common) brackenfern were used by the Kashaya Pomo as a body deodorant (Goodrich et al. 1980).

The root of P. aquilinum was a staple food of California Indians of the Sierras (Chesnut 1902). The fronds of this species were used for beating down grass fires, and lining berry baskets for long distance travel (Chesnut 1902).

Hard wood from roots of P. aquilinum were easily split into flat bands for use in basketry (Chesnut 1902). Gathered from summer til fall, the root was lightly pounded to remove the bark, then the dark core was split into layers (Goodrich et al. 1980). Such bands were chewed to remove the greenish fibers, leaving the remaining black fibers, or buried in mud for a week to turn them black (Chesnut 1902).

Equisetum spp., aka horsetail (equus + setum = horsetail in latin) is a common fern on streambanks and other wet freshwater areas. Species in this genus have many uses. The hard outer “skin” can be peeled off, revealing a watery flesh with a nice taste. Though not quite substantial for easing hunger, it provides many vitamins and minerals. Horsetails are rich in silicates (which make them rough to the touch) and accumulate metals in their tissues. While this makes them risky to gather to eat from areas polluted with metals, it also makes them high in iron; a crucial vitamin.

The Kashaya Pomo used a decoction of the whole Equisetum arvense L. plant for washing itching or open sores, and drank a decoction of the whole E. laevigatum plant for kidney trouble and associated back trouble (Goodrich et al. 1980). The Kashaya Pomo also drank a decoction of E. telmateia Ehrh. stems for menstrual cramps (Goodrich et al. 1980).

The silicate-rich “skin” of horsetails were used like sandpaper for finishing wood such as on arrows (Goodrich et al. 1980). They were also used to polish wampum, the shell discs strung on strings used for money by American Indians (Chesnut 1902). The name “scouring rush” was given to this genus by American settlers since it was so useful for scrubbing metal pots and pans (rush meaning a grass-like plant growing near water).

Adiantum jordanii Mueller (=A. emarginatum Hook.), aka California maidenhair fern, is a beautiful fern growing on seeps, wet streambanks, and other wet areas. Its smooth, jet-black and mahogany leaf stems were used for keeping earlobe holes open and increasing their size (Chesnut 1902, Goodrich et al. 1980). Stems were split lengthwise, dried, and used as a material for basket design by the Kashaya Pomo (Goodrich et al. 1980). The stems are perfectly divided to be half black on one side and half mahogany on the other, which, along with their polished appearance, gives them a notable beauty (see pics below of whole maidenhair plant and its stem):

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REFERENCES:

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Goodrich, J., Lawson, C., and Lawson, V. P. 1980. Kashaya Pomo plants. American Indian Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, CA.