Wild Harvests

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Wild food experiments and personal foraging accounts from the Pacific Northwest centering on Northwest Washington and Southern Vancouver IslandT. Abe Lloydhttp://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366noreply@blogger.comBlogger127125
Updated: 2 days 1 hour ago


Wed, 01/24/2018 - 02:54
This fall I took 13 Western Washington University students to Nepal to study the biodiversity, culture, and ethnobotany found in the central Himalayas for seven weeks. We trekked through Langtang National Park and met with villagers living inside the park, park staff, and conservation organizations to learn how the park is accomplishing its mission of conserving both the natural and cultural heritage. Towards the end of the program we more deliberately studied village live by spending 10 days in Gatlang to help with chores and rebuilding efforts from the 2015 earthquake that rocked all the villages in this area.

Nepali's still rely on wild plants to a great extent for medicine, fodder, fiber, and to a more limited extent, food. Mushrooms, berries, and wild greens form the most important groups of wild foods. The very same species of Stinging Nettle (Urtica diocia) found here in the Pacific Northwest is also abundant and widely eaten in Nepal.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

The elusive and excellent Dwarf Bilberry

Fri, 09/02/2016 - 06:00

Dwarf BilberryWashington has a whopping 14 species of Vaccinium, the genus containing huckleberries, blueberries and bilberries. With such dazzling diversity, it has taken considerable study and many a happy mission for me to track them all down, but this year I’ve finally seen them all and tasted all but one.
I spent the last week in August with my brother in Juneau and took full advantage of the foray to forage on the Last Frontier. Our journeys took us climbing to the top of Mt. Juneau, braving the bowels of the Mendenhall Glacier, trudging across the muskegs of Douglas Island, and scampering along Gold Creek. Basically as far as bus fair and our feet could take us.
We found six of Alaska's seven Vaccinium species in one bog!
LingonberryNagoonberryThis northerly corner of our bioregion graced me with discoveries of a precious and palatable sort. I had my first taste of Lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), caught the last of the ripe Nagoonberries (Rubus arcticus), a fruit that is thought by many Europeans to be the superlative fruit, and most exciting to me, I had my first good taste of Dwarf Bilberry (V. caespitosum).  
Dwarf Bilberry (Vaccinium caespitosum) is a low mat forming shrub that is usually less than 1.5’ (50cm) tall with upright to prostrate stems. Young twigs are generally round in cross section and covered with a dense layer of microscopic fuzz. The bark ranges from green, brownish green or yellowish green to peach, pink, or red on young twigs, but browns and become flaky with age. Leaves are dark green on the upper surface and lighter on the underside with prominent reticulate venation. At about 1” (1-3cm) long, the leaves have an elliptical to obovate shape and margins that are finely and sharply serrated, usually with hairs at the tip of each serration. The small flowers are borne singly near the branches and are longer than wide, range in color from white to pink, and each one often has an exerted pistil. Berries grow on short curved stalks and mature from green to yellow to orangish red to purple before finally ripening to dark blue with a whitish blue bloom. The tip of each berry has a skirt-like circular scar where the corolla attached to the calyx. The berries range in size from 5/16-7/16” (8-11mm).A line-up of ripening Dwarf Bilberries
Dwarf Bilberries have an extensive yet patchy range throughout western North America from Anchorage to San Francisco along the Pacific Coast and inland to the Rockies in British Columbia, Montana and Idaho, and the Sierra Nevada in California. They inhabit bogs, muskeg, and arctic/alpine meadows with other ericaceous shrubs such as Lingonberry (V. vitis-idaea), Bog Bilberry (V. uliginosum), Cascade Bilberry (V. deliciosum), and various heather species. Near my house in Northwest Washington, they can be found in the rugged Twin Sister’s Ranger and the remote Pasayten wilderness. I can honestly say that I’ve never found a Dwarf Bilberry in a boring place. It is almost as if a couple miles of bush-whacking is required to earn the right to find them.
Dwarf Bilberry plants are capable of fruiting prodigiously and can be collected quickly by hand or rake by anyone willing to stoop for these hobbit sized bushes. They have juicy dark flesh, thin skin, with a sweet and sour flavor that is almost as good as its close cousin the Cascade Bilberry (V. deliciosum). When picking bilberries, I prefer to kneel on the ground and pick into wide mouth containers placed below the bush. I empty this container frequently into a bigger container with a lid to minimize losses should slip or accidently bump it over. Bilberry picking is messy business and I usually return with purple hands, knees, and tongue.
Christian and I were ill-prepared for our Bilberry bonanza; with nowhere to store the bountiful harvest we were forced to eat them all.
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.


Wed, 07/13/2016 - 05:34

Blackcap Raspberries (Rubus leucodermis) are as beautiful as they are delicious. Yesterday while picking, these ripening fruit inspired a photo shoot. Look for Blackcaps in clear-cuts and sunny forest edges. They normally ripen throughout July, but it has been an early year, so get them before the dry up!

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Another tasty thistle

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 01:13

While the native Edible Thistle (Cirsium edulis) may be my favorite (see previous post), the introduced Bull Thistle (Cirsium vulgare) is pretty darn good too.

Bull Thistle is a well armored tap rooted biennial with a crowded rosette of basal leaves. Leaves are deeply lobed with long sharp spines at the tip of each lobe, and several smaller spines along the margins. The lobes are trident like and twisted sideways so that one point angles downward, one outward, and one upward. Even when the leaves are lying flat on the ground, those upward reaching spines are the bane of barefoot walkers. Upper leaf surfaces are dark green with a whitish green central vein, and the undersides are light green. Plants are covered throughout with long stiff hairs. Flowering shoots begin to emerge mid-spring of the plant’s second year and reach full height 6 weeks later. Shoots usually arise singly from the tap root but if the plants are mowed multiple stems will develop. Stems are hairy and covered with spiny, leaf-like vertical ridges that make them difficult to grab bare-handed. Branches are usually limited to the upper half and arise from the leaf axils. Flower heads are found singly at the branch tips. The heads are large, hairy, and exceedingly spiny with a squat pear shape. Hundreds of purple flowers bloom from the tip of each head.

Perfect stage for collectingBull Thistle in flower

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)Don’t confuse this plant with Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), which has leaves that are not as deeply lobed, stems that are smooth (lacking vertical and spiny stem-wings), and smaller, more clustered flower heads.Bull Thistles are common in old fields and disturbed roadsides from sea level to the sub alpine.

Hiding behind all that armor is a tasty vegetable. The shoots of Bull Thistle are best harvested mid-spring before they have reached full height or show any sign of the flower heads. Wear gloves or be prepared for a painful experience! I slice the stalk near the base with a pocket knife and then peel them from the base to the tip, revealing the tender and tasty stem. They are firm, filling, and delicious with only a mild bitterness.
Bombus vosnesenskii pollinating Bull Thistle
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Edible Thistle unprickled

Sun, 07/03/2016 - 19:24

I first ate Edible Thistle (Cirsium edule) a few days after my 15th birthday while hiking with my Boy Scout Troop. Each year we spent a week on a “high adventure,” and this particular year we were hiking through the Glacier Peak Wilderness up the Suiattle River, over Cloudy Pass, to Holden Village near Lake Chelan. Already a plant nut, I was packing a few plant field guides with me and was having a blast seeing many montane species for the first time. The other Scouts were probably annoyed when I held up the group to drop my pack and pull out some library books so that I could identify the magical looking Candystick. Or again, when I stopped in a sunny meadow to dig up the roots of Edible Thistle for my first taste. Ill prepared, I clawed at the dry rocky soil with a fallen limb until I exposed enough of the taproot to get my hands around it and pull it out. I peeled both the shoot and the root and conciliatorily offered samples to my waiting friends. On account of the fibrous stem and woody root, we all quickly spit them out.
Two decades and several other thistle species later, I have finally returned to this plant and have a very different story to tell. This plant is actually delicious and could even be called Incredible Thistle! In my book, it is the best in its class.

Edible Thistle (Cirsium edule) is a tap rooted biennial that sometimes persists for more than two years before flowering and dying. First year leaves form a basal rosette. All leaves have soft hairs on both surfaces and planar to undulating margins with 5-10 pairs of well-spaced, spine-tipped lobes.The whitish central vein tapers towards the leaf tip. The flowering stem is hairy, but lacks spines, and ranges from 0.5-1.25” (1-3cm) wide and 2-4’ (60-120cm) tall; it may or may not be branched. Stem leaves are similar to the basal leaves and they join the stem at a 45-60° angle, arising alternately up the stock getting smaller towards the top. A clump of flower 1-several flower heads is evident at the top of the shoot early in the summer. As the shoot grows, the lateral flower heads space out and grow pedicels (stalks) from the leaf axils while the terminal flower heads remained clustered. Heads are ½-1.5” (1.5-3.5cm) wide and slightly longer than wide. They are covered with white wooly hairs and long spines. Generally, the flowers open in the mid-late summer and are bright purple or occasionally pink or white.

In the northern half of its range, Edible Thistle is found in subalpine and alpine meadows. I usually see them on steep south facing slopes on scree, with grass, or with herbaceous plants, but not normally with heather. In the southern half of its range, the plant is also found at lower elevations near the coast.
The Nlaka'pamux (Thompson) ate the large white taproots of first year plants in the fall. Like Camas, Balsamroot, (and Jerusalem Artichokes) the roots contain high concentrations of in an indigestible carbohydrate called inulin. When properly cooked, this inulin caramelizes and turns black as it breaks down into sweet tasting fructose. Some inulin must remain in even the cooked roots, because Nlaka'pamux consultants report that the plants often give you gas, and their name for the plant is derived from the word “flatulate” (Turner et al. 1990). 

Lewis and Clark learned how the Native Americans near Fort Clatsop harvested and prepared thistle roots when they overwintered on the Pacific Coast in 1805-1806. They wrote. "When first taken from the earth it is white, and nearly as crisp as a carrot; in this state it is sometimes eaten without any preparation. But after it is prepared by the same process used for the pashshequo quamash [Camas Camassia quamash], which is the most usual and the best method, it becomes black and much improved in flavor. Its taste is exactly that of sugar, and it is indeed the sweetest vegetable employed by the Indians. After being baked in the kiln it is eaten either simply or with train-oil; sometime it is pounded fine and mixed with cold water, until it is reduced to the consistence of sagamity [hominy], or Indian mush, which last method is the most agreeable to our palates (Coues 1893)."

The shoots are also traditionally pealed and eaten by the Quileute and Hoh (Reagan 1934).  
Jenna enjoying a peeled Edible Thistle stalkTo eat, the stems of Edible Thistle should be harvested in the late spring and early summer before the flower heads break open and reveal the flowers. Once the flowers start to open, the thistle stalks become too fibrous to eat. If you have tender hands, you may want to wear gloves, but I find the spines to be weaker and easier to avoid than those of Bull Thistle (C. vulgare) and pick bare handed without too much pain. Use a sharp knife to cut the stem near the base and peel off the skin from the base towards the tip. The spiny leaves should come off with the skins, but it is easy to miss small strips of the hairy skin. These can be scraped off with the edge of a knife. I enjoy leaving the wooly flower heads on the top of the shoot; like prawn tails, they are a fun reminder of what you are eating. Thistles stalks are so good fresh that I can’t imagine eating them any other way. Similar to celery, they are juicy and stringy, but I find the fibers finer, the flesh firmer, and the flavor sweeter. Unlike celery, I find thistle shoots filling. 
My experience with the roots are still too limited to meaningfully report, so stay tuned.

Coues, Elliott 1893. History of the Expedition under the Command of Lewis and Clark..., a New Edition,.... Francis Harper, New York NY. 

Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria 

Reagan, Albert B., 1936, Plants Used by the Hoh and Quileute Indians, Kansas Academy of Science 
Turner, Nancy J., Laurence C. Thompson and M. Terry Thompson et al., 1990, Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia, Victoria. Royal British Columbia Museum.© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Eating Angelica

Tue, 06/21/2016 - 06:58

In the Pacific Northwest, we have several ethnobotanically significant angelica species. Many are so aromatic that I have never thought of them as food, but this weekend while hiking in the Wenatchee Mountains in Central Washington, I encountered Sharptooth Angelica (Angelica arguta) that was in the perfect stage for eating and I was without my lunch, so I gave it a try. This post is an introduction to the plant and my recommendations for harvesting the shoots.
Beginning foragers should note that I recommend extra caution when eating hairless members of the carrot family. Be sure of your ID!   

Sharptooth Angelica is a hairless, multi-stemmed herbaceous perennial arising from a long taproot. One to several pinnate to twice pinnately compound basal leaves emerge early in the spring. When still young, the leaf petioles are purplish red with white streaks but the color fades to light green with dark green streaks as the plants age. Dark green leaflets have sharply serrated margins and veins that extent to the tip of each serration. Most leaflets are lance-shaped, but they are sometimes have 2 or 3 lobes. By mid to late spring, a hollow flowering shoot emerges from the center of the plant. As the stem elongates between concealed nodes, it explodes out of the cloak like petiole of the first cauline leaf, and telescopes upwards through successive leaf sheathes to a height of 3-6 feet. By early summer, several compound umbels of brilliant white flowers finally emerge at the end of the shoot. Winged seeds form by mid-summer and are dispersed by wind before the plant begins to prepare for winter by retreating back to its root. 
Sharptooth Angelica is found in forest clearings near streams, lakes, fens, and marshes throughout the forested parts of our region from the Cascades of Southern British Columbia to Klamath Mountains of Northern California.
In California and Alaska, other species of Angelica are traditionally eaten by several Indigenous groups, but I could only locate ethnobotanical records for the food use of Sharptooth Angelica among one group. The Shuswap traditionally eat the young stems in May and mix the shoots with Glacier Lily and Spring Beauty as a seasoning (Palmer 1975).  
Like Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum), Sharptooth Angelica shoots are best eaten before the plants begin to flower. Work your way from the ground up the flowering shoot flexing the stem until you find the point where it no-longer kinks but snaps cleanly like asparagus. If several nodes are exposed, only the upper portions will be tender enough to eat. Using your fingernail or a knife to lift a corner of the skin, peel all of the skin from the shoot. The raw shoots have a very pleasant celery like flavor that is milder than cow parsnip, and have a texture that is more delicate. If you find the flavor too strong, check to make sure you have removed all of the skin, even little bits are noticeable.

I have not yet tried cooking with the shoots the way the Shuswap do. I sampled the raw leaf petioles and found them to be too strong to enjoy and impossible to peel, but I think they warrant experimentation as a potherb.

The name "Angelica" has possible origins in a myth about a monk who was taught the medicinal value of the plant by an angel, or possibly the coincidence of a European species that commonly flowers on May 8th, the same day as the feast of Michael the Archangel.  The species epithet arguta means "sharp toothed" in Latin.
CAUTION: Douglas Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii), which should also be known as “Death Angelica” looks very similar to Sharptooth Angelica. Ingesting even small amounts of Water Hemlock can be fatal.
References:Palmer, Gary 1975. Shuswap Indian Ethnobotany. Syesis Volume 8.WTU HerbariumCenter for Pacific Northwest HerbariaCalflora

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

How to harvest Wild Rice

Wed, 09/23/2015 - 06:19
Katrina and I just returned from a long weekend ricing in Idaho. Here are some videos of our techniques.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

How to eat a Horsetail

Tue, 03/24/2015 - 22:15

Spring has arrived. The cheerful song of the American Robin wakes me up each morning, their is enough daylight for late afternoon frivolities, and the Western Chorus frogs are calling so jubilantly into the night now that they would put me to sleep if I wasn’t so excited to hear them. I open the window and cock my ear to the side to take in the sound that is occasionally audible over the constant grumble of the highway! In the woods the Bigleaf Maple flowers are popping out of their over-sized buds and the birches have given their last drops of sweet water. Like the leggy frogs that leap enthusiastically in the warm air after a winter burrowed in frigid mud, the plants too seem to be springing from the ground. Nettles grow visibly between my every-other day harvests and an often overlooking edible—Giant Horsetail—claims its place in the front of the seasonal line-up of tasty shoot vegetables.
In the Pacific Northwest we have several species of horsetail. Two are edible, three are useful as sandpaper, and the remaining are neither useful to humans, nor common (limited to sloughs and marshes). Following are descriptions of the edible species.
Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia) descriptionGiant Horsetail is an herbaceous clonal species. New shoots emerge from an underground network of rhizomes beginning in early to mid-March. There are two types of shoots, the fertile (spore bearing) shoots appearing a week ahead of the vegetative shoots. Fertile shoots are ½-3/4” (1.5-2 cm) wide and 1-2’ (30-60 cm) tall. The stems elongate between nodes which are covered with papery brown bracts. At the top of each fertile shoot is a cone-like structure (strobilus) that changes from green to white and eventually matures to brown when it begins releasing spores. The vegetative shoots are slightly narrower and taller at 3/16-3/4” (5-20 mm) wide and 1.5-4’ (50-120 cm) tall. The nodes of the vegetative shoots are also surrounded by brown papery bracts, but they smaller giving room for the rings of needle like leave that give the plant its namesake appearance. The features that distinguish Giant Horsetail are most easily noticed in cross-section. A cross section of the vegetative shoots shows a large hollow center that is much wider than twice the thickness of the walls, and a cross section of the needle like leaves shows that they are rounded.
This oddball has both photosynthetic branches and a reproductive strobilus

Giant Horsetails grow at low elevations in loose, damp soil. They are found from Bella Coola and Haida Gwaii in British Columbia southward along the coast to Southern California. Their eastward range is limited by the Coast Range in BC, and the Cascades in Washington and Oregon, except for a few isolated inland populations in the Columbia River watershed. This pattern continues into California where they flourish along the Coast Range but have only limited distribution in the Sierra foothills.
EdibilityStill OK (center); too old (right)Perfect stage (left)The fertile shoots of Giant Horsetails are best picked between March 15th and April 15th. At this time they are 4-8” (5-10 cm) tall and the cones are still whitish. Before this time they are hard to see and too small to be worth the effort, and after this time they become stringy. Palatability plummets after the cones brown. Pluck shoots at ground level and carefully peel off the coarse bract that surrounds each node. These bracts are filled with silicates that will sand away at your teeth, an anti-herbivory adaptation that usually keeps the deer from eating them unless they are really hungry. Once you have peeled the shoots, discard the strobilus, rinse off any dirt, and enjoy them fresh. Their mild flavor and juiciness is similar to celery, but they lack the annoying fibers. I didn’t learn to eat Giant Horsetails until nine years ago when my friend Trent picked one at the Outback Farm ate it. They have been among my favorite wild shoot vegetables ever since.

Unprocessed vegetative shoots (left) and fertile shoots (right)Perfectly ripe and peeledThe vegetative shoots of Giant Horsetail are also edible, but much more work for a product that is not as tasty. You must pick them before the needle like leaves have started to extend horizontally. Remove both the bracts (as above) and the leaves since the leaves contain the same silicate grazing defense as the bracts.
EthnobotanyClosely related species often are used in very similar ways. Most Rubus fruits are choice edibles and most willows provide good withes for basket weaving. So too is the ethnobotany of horsetails. When I skimmed through Daniel Moerman’s “Native American Ethnobotany” I quickly realized that Indigenous societies across the continent traditionally use E. arvensis, E. telmateia, and E. hymenale for similar things such as skin poultices, tonics for internal organs and sandpaper. However, a few accounts such suggest that the very coarse stems of Scouring Rush (E. hymenale) where traditionally eaten as medicine, and I suspect that this is a case of mistaken identity on the part of the ethnobotanist. The plants all share similar habitat and appearance, making identification without a reference specimen challenging. 
The fertile shoots of Giant Horsetail are traditionally pealed and eaten by Indigenous groups from the Yurok in California to the Nuu-chah-nulth on the West Coast of Vancouver Island, and several in between (Moerman). Further north along the coast, the plant is less common; while it is still recognized, it is apparently not eaten (see Turner 2010; Turner and Bell 1973). The Makah (Gill 1983), Nitinaht, Nuu-chah-nulth (Turner et al. 1983; but see Turner and Efrat 1872), and Clallam (Gunther 1973) eat both the fertile and vegetative shoots. The Makah also eat the young strobilus after boiling it for 10 minutes, and have a special name for the reproductive shoots that reflects the “head” on the top (Gill 1983). In earlier times, the tubers were evidently collected later in the season and eaten raw by the Makah (Swan 1870), Cowlitz, and Swinomish (Gunther 1973), or boiled and served with grease by the Makah, Clallam, Quinault, Cowlitz, and Lower Chinook (Gunther 1973; Fleisher 1980). The Cowlitz also pulverized the dried cones to mix with salmon eggs (Gunther 1973). The shoots are universally regarded as juicy and thirst quenching but I can find no descriptions of the taste of the tubers (and have not yet seen or tried them myself).  The name horsetail aptly reflects the similarity in appearance of the vegetative shoots to a horse’s tail. This resemblance is also captured in the genus name which means “horse bristle” in Latin. The species epithet comes from the Greek word telmat which means “wetland,” where the plants are often found. A geographically distinct subspecies of Giant Horsetail is found in Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa and retains the subspecies name telmateia whereas our western North American taxon goes by the subspecies name braunii(in honor of the German botanist Alexander Carl Heinrich Braun, 1805-1877, who specialized in spermophytes).
A week too lateRelated species: Common Horsetail (Equisetum arvense)Common Horsetails are widespread throughout North America. From a distance, they can be distinguished from Giant Horsetail by their smaller size, more kinked needles, and longer primary (inner most) leaf segments on each branch. In cross section, the needle like leaves are angled so strongly that they appear winged, and the void in the middle of the main stem is equal to or less than twice the wall thickness. The fastidious will also find that Giant Horsetails have 20-40 ridges around the stem while the Common variety have 10-15. At harvest time, the shoot thickness and wall to central void ratio are the most discernible differences. Fertile shoots of Common Horsetail can be peeled and eaten in the same manner as Giant Horsetail. They are more work for less reward, and I find them to also be less tasty. The young vegetative shoots may well be edible as above, but frankly, I can’t see how they would be worth the trouble when the fertile shoots are available.
E. telmateia x-sectionE. arvense x-section The species epithet arvense comes from the Latin adjective “in the field,” an apt name for this common agricultural “weed.”

BibliographyCal-floraConsortium of Pacific NorthwestHerbariaE-flora BCFleisher, Mark 1980. The Ethnobotany of the Clallam Indians of Western Washington. Washington State University.Gill, Steven 1983. Ethnobotany of the Makah and Ozette People, Olympic Peninsula, Washington. Washington State University, PhD. Thesis.Gunther, Erna 1973. Ethnobotany of Western Washington. University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.Moerman, Danielle. Native American Ethnobotany database. University of Michigan, Deerborn.Swan, James 1880. The Indians of Cape Flattery, at the Entrance to the Straight of Fuca, Washington Territory. Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, Collins Printer, Philadelphia PA.Turner, Nancy J. 2010. Plants of Haida Gwaii. Sononis Press, Winlaw BC.Turner, Nancy J. and Barbara Efrat 1982. Ethnobotany of the Hesquiate Indians of Vancouver Island. Cultural Recovery Papers No. 2, British Columbia Provincial Museum.Turner, Nancy J., John Thomas, Barry F. Carlson, and Robert T. Obilvie 1983. Ethnobotany of the Nitinaht Indians of Vancouver Island. Occasional Papers Series No. 24, British Columbia Provincial Museum.Turner, Nancy J. and Marcus Bell 1973. Ethnobotany of the Southern Kwakiutl Indians. Economic Botany, Vol 2, No 3.WTU Herbarium
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Birch- Maple's sappy boyfriend

Fri, 03/06/2015 - 19:59

Our warm winter has not been good for Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) sap production in Bellingham. There were some decent freezes in the late fall, but I didn’t bother tapping. In the past, the early season flow has been poor and the interval between cold spells, long enough that the taps healed over and the equipment needed to be washed. Sap did run the week following Christmas, but since then none of the frosts have been cold or long enough to stimulate any flow. Fortunately for me, Dad collected some maple sap just before the New Year while I was traveling for the holidays, otherwise I would have nothing to show for this year.
I didn't want to give up too easily. Last year, the majority of the runs happened in late February and early March. The weather was consistently cold, with a few storms thrown in. You might recall the Feb 23, 2014 snow storm that overloaded many tree branches. Such a “late” winter storm is not uncommon in this area. On the same day in 2011, it snowed 10” in Victoria BC; and on March 5, 2012 it snowed ½” in Bellingham. Beyond the tenure of my written records, I have numerous childhood memories of late storms shrouding crocuses with snow. These last few years’ experience have taught me that sap flows strongest during snow storms, so I wasn’t going to give up on the sap season during the balmy weeks in mid-February. I sanitized my taps, piled firewood, loaded my truck, and kept an eye on the weather.
Two weeks ago on Feb 21st, we had a frost that was heavy enough to leave ½” of ice in a pail outside, despite a low that was predicted to be several degrees above freezing. Freezing weather in Western Whatcom County is evidently hard to forecast. My theory is that we are close enough to the Fraser Valley that minor nighttime outflows of cold interior air provide us with lower temperatures than the rest of the Puget Lowlands. Despite the next nights forecast in the mid-thirties, I awoke to frost again on the 22nd, and decided to mobilize. I drilled into my first Maples around noon on a sunny day with temps in the low 50s, and the sawdust was dry. Two more Maples also yielded dry sawdust and no subsequent sap flow, so I gave up on Maples. Besides, I had noticed that a few of the buds had already burst. I think the Bigleaf Maples are truly done for the year.
But what about birches? I have heard that syrup can be made from birch sap too, and knew that they are said to run in slightly warmer temperatures. Why not try? I scouted the hillside with drill in hand and bored into the first Paper Birch I found. The saw dust was pulpy and my hole immediately started dripping sap! I rushed for supplies and after the first tap and pail were installed, located 5 more Paper Birches to tap.
In the 14 days since, I have collected 42 gallons of sap from those 6 birches at an average rate of ½ gallon per tree per day. The nighttime lows have been between 30 and 40, and the highs mostly in the 50s. Every other day I collected about 6 gallons, and reduced it to about 50 percent sugar before freezing it. With the exception of my first batch, which I was eager to taste, I waited until the end of the season to aggregated all my frozen near-syrup, and finish the syrup all at once. See my Bigleaf Maple syrup article for details on how to finish syrup.
The chemistry and concentration of birch sap is different than maple sap. Birch sap is mostly fructose and glucose, with small amounts of sucrose, whereas maple syrup is primarily sucrose with some fructose and glucose. The concentration of sugars is much lower in birch, often requiring 100-120 parts sap to produce 1 part syrup, compared to the 30-50 to 1 ratio for maples. The simpler sugars found in birch sap make it more prone to “scorching,” and for reason’s I don’t understand, the flavor of birch syrup is often described as “spicy” and “more savory than sweet.” I think the syrup tastes like roasted camas with a hint of peach. Katrina thinks it tastes like honey. Finishing a small batch of Paper Birch syrup
Paper Birch descriptionThere are about a dozen species of birch in North America with the center of diversity in the Northeastern Woodlands. Only three species are native to the Pacific Northwest: Water Birch (Betula occidentalis) which grows along streams and wetlands east of the Cascades; Western Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera), which grows at low to moderate elevations west of the Cascades as well as open woods east of the Cascades; and Swamp Birch (Betula glandulosa) which grows in very wet areas, mostly in the mountains east of the Cascade crest. European White Birch (Betula pendula) is also commonly found in yards and parks throughout our area, and has very white bark and fine, drooping twigs.
Drooping twigs of European White BirchUpright twigs of Paper Birch
Collage showing color variation in Paper Birch barkPaper Birches are small deciduous trees that mature to heights of 40-60 ft and usually 5-12" in diameter with rare individuals growing larger than 16" wide. The trunks are occasionally clumped or multi-stemmed near the base. The horizontally peeling bark that is so characteristic of mature Birch trees takes on more color variation in our region than the white barked variety of the northwoods; grey, copper, and orange tones are also common here. The trunks of Paper Birches in the west also carry a considerable load of lichens, and mosses may cling to the base. Whatever the color or age, all the bark is covered with distinct horizontal bands of lenticels that permit gas exchange.
Paper Birch catkinsPaper Birches branches ascend at a steep angle from the trunk. In young vigorously growing trees the branches are straight, but with maturity the trunk and branches take on a more twisted form. The fine twigs have a purplish black color and usually extend upward. Catkins emerge after Red Alder but still ahead of Birch leaf-out, and are usually in clumps of 2-3 at the ends of the previous year’s growth. Leaves are alternate, simple, and have serrated margins. The trees are short lived, but die slowly. Dead tops are very common in Paper Birches, and provide important habitat for cavity nesting birds. As decay extends downward, they frequently host useful and edible fungus.   EthnobotanyThe ethnobotany of our region includes virtually no food use for Paper Birch. Further north where birches are more common, the Upper Tanana in Alaska traditionally drink Birch sap raw (Kari 1985). Eastward, other northern Peoples make birch syrup, such as the Algonquin in Quebec and the Cree in Saskatchewan (Moerman). The Cree and Montagnais also traditionally eat the bark cambium of Paper Birch (Moerman).Where birch occurs in the Pacific Northwest, the bark is used for containers and canoes, the wood for carving, and both the wood and bark burned. Birch has many traditional medicinal uses as well. The most interesting to me is the Nlaka’pamux (Thompson) use of birch sap as a spring time cold and cough remedy (Turner et al. 1990).
Sap isn’t the only edible part of a birch. Xylitol, an artificial sweetener that has a dramatically lower glycemic index than sucrose, is produced by wet oxidation or steaming and distillation of several plant based carbohydrates, especially birch wood. I will probably have to take some chemistry before I attempt doing this on my own.
ConclusionIn our region, collecting sap and making syrup are novel activities that, on good years, can supply the dedicated forager with their sugar needs for the year. However, Bigleaf Maple is on the margin of climate suitability (not enough freezing days; unpredictable season), and Paper Birch is on the margin of labor efficiency (the sap is 2.5 times more diluted than maple sap), and habitat suitability (not that common in the Western Washington). Even though both species have individual limitations, I have learned this year that Maple and Birch complement each other perfectly and can ensure that at least some syrup makes it into the pantry.
Notes The folks at  Kahiltna Birchworks in Alaska are the only commercial source of Paper Birch syrup that I can find. I have never heard of anyone tapping any of our other birches.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Wild Rice parching

Thu, 01/15/2015 - 21:08
Inspired by my brother's video of the rice hulling, I decided to put together a video of my rice parching equipment. Using this system I can parch 10-12 lbs of rice in 20 minutes.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Wild Rice husking machine

Thu, 11/06/2014 - 20:04
My brother produced this fun video of my bicycle powered Wild Rice husking/hulling machine.

I designed and built it myself with the help of my dad. It is made from a recycled 55 gallon steel drum with sheet rubber glued to the inside. Stainless steel rubber coated paddles rotate inside the drum and rub the hulls from the grain. These paddles are bicycle powered and spin at 100-120 rpm while an electric fan blow the chaff out of the drum. Further winnowing and hand picking is required to separate the remainder of the chaff and a few kernels that make it through with their husks in place. 

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Klipsun Magazine features local foragers

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 03:00
My bicycle powered wild rice hulling machine. Photograph by Evan AbellWWU student writer Michelle Dutro and photographer Evan Abell spent an afternoon harvesting and processing wild foods with me while working on their article "Wonders of the Wilderness," which features local foragers.

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Beach Pea, An Enigmatic Edible

Fri, 09/05/2014 - 18:52

Ripe Beach Peas in the half shellI first learned that Beach Peas (Lathyrus japonicus) were edible from my college friend Joe as we were walking along the south shore of Lake Superior. I was a little cautious, having heard the oft repeated admonition that “wild peas are poisonous” but they were ripe and I trusted him, so I picked a few and ate them on the spot. Nothing ill came of it, but having only eaten one, I still always had a question in my mind about just how edible they really are. 
I grew up in the Pacific Northwest only miles from the salt-chuck, but I failed to notice Beach Peas as a part of our regional flora until I moved to Victoria for graduate school. Beach Peas thrive along surf swept shorelines of sand and pebble, and there are many more suitable beaches on Vancouver Island than in Bellingham Bay (though I have since found them scattered throughout the Salish Sea).
Flowers and young Beach PeasBeach Peas are trailing herbaceous perennial vines that are usually no taller than 18 inches, but can form extensive patches. The leaves are pinnately compound with 3-5 pairs of ovate leaflets, and a terminal tendril that is sometimes branched. Leaflets are usually smooth margined with a mucrinate tip, the upper surface of the leaflets are light green to bluish green and the lower sides are whitish green. A large sagittate stipule surrounds the stem at the base of each leaf. Both leaves and stems are hairless. The stems are somewhat angular but strongly compressed or winged like in some other members of the Lathyrus genus. Pea-like flowers are born in racemes on upright peduncles that usually rise above the surrounding leaves. Each raceme contains 3-5 pairs of light purple to dark pink flowers that begin to bloom in May. Depending on the availability of moisture, flowering can continue into September. Pea pods begin to form as the weather dries out and the first ripe pods are often available in the Puget Sound from mid-late June. Young pods are hairy and green or red with green tips. As the single row of peas mature, the pods blend to a reddish green. Each pod contains 6-10 spherical peas that are about ¼” wide.

Young Beach Pea flowers

Mature podsBeach Peas are also called Sea Pea, Sea Peavine, and as all variations of the name suggests, are strictly maritime. I typically find them growing in sand or gravel among driftwood, on dunes among the seaward extent of the Dune Grass (Leymus mollis), or more rarely on headlands. They can be found from Alaska to California, across the Arctic, the North Atlantic, and even the Great Lakes, as well Eastern Asia from China northward. Such a broad range is explained by the plant's use of ocean currents for dispersal. The seeds float and can remain viable in salt water for up to 5 years (Ohtsuki et al 2011).

Beach Pea typically grows among driftwood on surf swept shorelines
Shelled Beach peas ready to cookReputable foragers that say it is safe to eat Beach Pea in small quantities include Euell Gibbons (1964), Sam Thayer (Personal Communication 2014), and Hank Shaw (2013).  Shaw writes that the young shoots, flowers, and peas of a variety of species in the genus Lathyrus are edible. He goes on to explain that the rumors of toxicity can be attributed to Chickling Vetch (L. sativa), a cultivated species of the Old World. Scientific Studies have shown that people that rely on Chickling Vetch for a major part of their diet for several months (such as in times of famine) are prone to a muscle wasting disease called Lathyrism. Shaw concludes that Lathyrus peas when properly prepared and eaten as part of a balanced diet are perfectly safe.

To harvest the peas, bring a good pair of scissors since the stems holding the pea pods are often stronger than the roots, making it easy to accidentally pull the entire plants from their loose substrate when trying to break the pods from the stem. Once you’ve filled your basket, find a shady place to shell peas and enjoy the sound of the waves crashing on the beach. Though small, the peas can be efficiently shelled by tearing off the tip and “unzipping” one side by pulling downward on the strong fiber that runs from the stem to the tip; twist the pod slightly and it will pop open.
Boiled Beach Peas with fresh garnishMy first experience cooking Beach Peas turned out to be a success. I boiled the peas in water for 5 minutes, and then changed the water because I thought it smelled of volatile phytochemicals. After another 5 minutes they were soft and smelled more food-like, so I strained and rinsed them.  Desiring an authentic taste, I ate them plain. They have a thick, mushy texture and mild flavor that is more similar to split peas than sweet peas. Beyond their texture, there is nothing disagreeable about them and I think that they would be delicious with a little butter and salt, or honey on a knife (Anonymous).
Flowers and young podsInterestingly (and contrary to the suggestion by Shaw that they were “used by all sorts of groups… from the Eskimo to the Iroquois) the traditional use of Beach Peas for food by Indigenous Peoples in the Pacific Northwest is poorly documented in the ethnographic literature. Perhaps the best reference comes from one collaborator in Steven Gill’s work with the Makah and Ozette. Makah elder Jim Tollerud said that immature seeds are eaten as peas (Gill 1983, pg. 281). Unfortunately no further details are provided. Erna Gunther did not even mention the plant in the Ethnobotany of Western Washington. Nancy Turner provided a short account in her work with the Haida (2010), Hesquiat (Turner and Efrat 1982), and Dididaht (Turner et al. 1983), but in all cases it was lumped with Giant Vetch (Vicia gigantea) by both name and use, and was poorly regarded as a food. She wrote, “The ‘peas’ of these wild plants were not generally considered to be edible, although Newcombe (1897, 1901) reported that the seeds of young Giant Vetch were eaten, and Norton (1981) said that several of her Kaigani consultants boiled and ate the peas [of Giant Vetch] after the pods were dried, although one woman said that they were dangerous. Some Kwakwaka’wakw were also said to eat [Giant Vetch] (Turner 2010). 

I could only find a few ethnobotanical references in other parts of the plant’s range. The peas are sometimes collected and eaten by the Ainus in Japan (Batchelor and Miyabe 1898) and the Iroquois traditionally ate the stalks in the spring (Parker 1910 in Native American Ethnobotany). However, Shaw’s reference to the use of Beach Pea among the Eskimo is doubtful. Following citations back from Shaw to Moerman, I finally came to Anore Jone’s research with the In͂upiaq. In her book “Nauriat Nigin͂aqtuat, Plants That We Eat,” she cites no In͂upiaq use of Beach Pea as a food and cautions against eating it. However, she does reference Euell Gibbons’ edibility claim, but suggests he is talking about a different species (Jones 1983, pg. 141).
As an ethnobotanist, I trust the cultural traditions that have evolved through careful observation and stewardship of specific plants, landscapes, and watersheds for thousands of years. With very few exceptions, the plants that were traditionally relished by Indigenous cultures, I enjoy eating, and those considered poisonous, are substantiated by chemical analysis. But what am I to do when a plant was ignored?
A Beach Pea vine on coarse sandThe cultural cold shoulder of edible organisms isn’t without precedence among Indigenous societies in the Pacific Northwest. Tasty mushrooms like chanterelles, morels, boletes, and virtually every other edible fungi in our region were traditionally eschewed as food. Some theorize that mushrooms were avoided because of the danger of accidentally eating a poisonous one, but analogous dangers can be found in the plant world. Two members of the carrot family present a poignant case in point. The roots of Water Parsnip (Sium suave) were traditionally eaten, yet the plants look very similar to deadly poisonous Water Hemlock (Cicuta douglasii). Similarly, grains were almost universally avoided in the traditional cuisine. The closest things to grains that were eaten in this region are hazelnuts, acorns, and pine-nuts. 
Very young Beach Pea podsWe are left with a number of possible directions for exploring why the ethnographic record of Beach Pea is so scarce in this region. Was Beach Pea ignored because it produces seeds, and cultural groups along the Northwest Coast were typically not a seed-eaters (as I suggested above)? Was it ignored because it is mildly toxic, or not very tasty (as others have suggested and Hank Shaw disputes)? Or was it actually used, but of such minor importance that it suffered an early death to the forces of colonialism (like many root vegetables)? But what if Beach Pea isn’t actually native to the Pacific Northwest? Indulge me as I explore the antiquity of Beach Peas in our region.
Nearly every taxonomic authority in the Pacific Northwest assumes Beach Pea to be native to the West Coast but they have all drawn from the limited and haphazard nature of herbarium data. In fact, the first wave of botanists to explore the region did not observe Beach Pea. Archibald Menzies, the naturalist aboard Captain Vancouver’s ship, did not note the plant during his extensive travels through the Puget Sound, around Vancouver Island, and further northward along the Coast in the 1790s (Newcombe 1923). Similarly, Lewis and Clark, who spent a considerable amount of time on the Pacific Coast making salt during the winter of 1805-06, made no mention or collection of Beach Pea (Moulton 1999). The first possible written records come from David Douglas (1914, pgs 139 and 282) in 1825 and 1827, and these are a little problematic as he just labels them “Lathyrus sp.” and mentions “thick rhizomes that were eaten by the Natives,” which doesn’t quite fit this plant. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the 19th Century that botanists such as Howell, Suksdorf, and Piper made collections of Beach Pea (WTU Herbarium). We can’t conclusively say if it was absent prior to 1850, but there is certainly room for speculation.
A Beach Pea vine on gravelIndigenous societies in the region are in a much better position than roving botanists to observe changes in plant communities. Their cultural traditions are strongly rooted in place and tied to the environment, and have been for countless generation. My experience with elders such as my mentor Clan Chief Kwaxsistalla (Adam Dick) has given me respect for both the depth and breadth of Traditional Ecological Knowledge. Not only can Kwaxsistalla identify in two languages the fish, wildlife, and plants of his homeland, but he also knows their life histories, anatomies, and habitat preferences through personal experience and cultural teachings. His knowledge is certainly better than any foreign naturalist ever could hope to acquire over the course of a short expedition.
Probing these sorts of deeply embedded ethnographic sources does hint at answers to our question. Nancy Turner, in her work with the Hesquiat noted that her consultants only began seeing Beach Peas in relatively recent times. They noticed that it came to their beaches on driftwood from logging operations. Furthermore, the naming pattern of Beach Pea in aboriginal languages is consistent with newly introduced plants. Recently arrived plants are often given “cognate” or names that are related to plants that they look like or are used in a similar way. Using English examples, early settlers called many of the root vegetables that were used by Native Americans “Indian potato” because the use and appearance of the vegetable was similar to that of the potato. In the case of Beach Pea (and in some cases also garden pea), it was given the same name as Giant Vetch (Vicia gigantea) by the Haida (Turner 2010), Dididaht (Turner et. al 1983) and Hesquiat (Turner and Efrat 1982). Perhaps the Hesquiats’ observation is true for our entire region and Beach Pea is not actually native to Pacific Northwest, but introduced early in the historic period.
Whatever the case, I aim to continue experimenting with Beach Peas wherever I find them.

BibliographyAnonymous, date unknown. “I Eat My Peas with Honey,” a poem. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171639  Batchelor, John and Kingo Miyabe 1898. Ainu economic plants. Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan, Vol. 21, R. Meiklejohn & Co., Yokohama. http://books.google.com/books?id=RrYUAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA199&lpg=PA199&dq=Ainu+economic+plants&source=bl&ots=eaq5NIZpew&sig=jOQj2AhJWckns8u11ZHTA_kiOuY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=IR7IU4rrJ4-IogThyIKYCw&ved=0CFgQ6AEwCg#v=onepage&q=Lathyrus&f=false
Douglas, David 1914. Journal Kept by David Douglas during his travels in North America 1823-1827. Royal Horticultural Society, William Welsey & Son, London. 
Gibbons, Euell 1964. Stalking the Blue-eyed Scallop. David McKay Company Inc., New York.
Jones, Anore 1983. Nauriat Nigin͂aqtuat, The Plant That We Eat. Traditional Nutrition Project, Maniilaq Association, Kotzebue AK.
Moulton, Gary E. 1999. The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Volume 12, Herbarium of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.” University of Nebraska Press. 
Newcombe, Charles ed. 1923. Menzies’ Journal of Vancouver’s Voyage, April to October 1792. Archives of British Columbia, Memoir No. V. Victoria BC.
Ohtsuki, Tatsuo, Yuko Kaneko, and Hiroaki Setuguchi 2011.  Isolated history of the coastal plant Lathyrus japonicus (Leguminosae) in Lake Biwa, and ancient freshwater lake. AoB Plants http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3176521/
Turner, Nancy J. 2010. Plants of Haida Gwai. Sononis Press, Winlaw BC.
Turner, Nancy J. and Marcus Bell 1973. The Ethnobotany of the Southern Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia. Economic Botany 81(2):283-293.
Turner, Nancy J. and Barbara S. Efrat 1982. Ethnobotany of the Hesquiat Indians of Vancouver Island. Cultural Recorvery Paper No. 2, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria BC.
Turner, Nancy J. John Thomas, B.F. Carlson, and R.T. Ogilvie 1983. Ethnobotany of the Nitinaht Indians of Vancouver Island. Occasional Paper No. 23, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria BC.
WTU Herbarium. Internet search of the WTU Herbarium located at the University of Washington, Burke Museum. http://www.burkemuseum.org/herbarium
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Coastal Black Gooseberry- A Ribes to rave about.

Wed, 07/09/2014 - 23:58

Ripe berries of Coastal Black GooseberryIn my estimation, the tastiest of the many types of currants and gooseberries that are found in Western Washington is Coastal Black Gooseberry (Ribes divaricatum). With smooth skin and tart flavor, they are a welcomed snack whenever I can find them. Compare them to our region's other Ribes which all have either daunting looking spines on the fruit, or strongly resinous flavor, and they have even more appeal. 
The first time I laid eyes on a Coastal Black Gooseberry was in June of 1997. My high school buddy, his dad, and I were just getting started on an eight week canoe expedition through the Broughton Archipelago off the Central Coast of BC. Part of our mission was to supplement our diet with as much wild food as possible and we had only packed starchy staples like oatmeal, rice, and beans to force ourselves to forage for the balance of our diet. With little experience ocean fishing or collecting seaweeds, I was keen to collect as many berries as possible, but little was ripe beyond Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis).
The Red Huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium) were starting to blush when we paddled past the hope inspiring place name Berry Island to camp at Mound Island. There along the edge of the white shell beach was a plant I had never seen. I could tell it was related to Prickly Black Currant (Ribes lacustre), but the stems weren’t covered with fine prickles. Young berries were starting to form so I made a note to look for it in the coming weeks.
A month later, when hunger had honed our ability to pull Red Rock Crab out of the shallows barehanded, jig Kelp Greenling without snagging, peal seaweed off the rocks, bake clams on the fire, and find the best (by then ripe) berry patches, we returned to Mound Island to check on those gooseberries. Sure enough, they were ripe and we happily added the large black berries to our morning mix of rolled oats and mashed Salal berries. It was a perfect combination.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned the full name of that gooseberry, and ever since then, I’ve always greeted it like a friend that treated me lavishly during hard but transformative times.
A small Coastal Black Gooseberry on Lopez Island
Note the hairy styles that are fuzed at the baseCoastal Black Gooseberry is a small hairy and armed shrub that normally grows 3-8 feet tall. The red-gray barked stems have up to 3 stout spines at the base of each leaf and normally lack prickles. The ¼-1 inch long spines are initially green, but redden in their first year and fade to orange or tan in subsequent years. Leaves are covered with fine hairs; petioles are ½-1 inch long; and leaf blades are maple shaped with 5 rounded and toothed lobes, the central being the largest and the lateral being the smallest (and sometimes absent). Flowers are solitary or born on 1-2 inch long racemes of 2-4 flowers; pedicels and peduncles are sparsely covered with gland tipped hairs or smooth. Each flower has 5 green-red sepals that usually curve backwards; petals are pinkish-white with a broad tip; the 5 stamens are white or pink, twice as long as the petals; the 2 pistils are covered with fine long hairs where they styles are fused, but are hairless where they split apart near the tip. Berries are purplish black when ripe, round, smooth, and 5/16-7/16” wide with withered flowers persisting on the tips. A range of flowers and young Coastal Black Gooseberry fruit

Range map courtesy of CPNWHAs the name suggests, Coastal Black Gooseberry thrives near the ocean. I see it most frequently on backshore dunes and rocky bluffs within a stones throw of the saltchuck, but it also grows in open woods at low elevations. It is found from Bella Bella on the Central Coast of BC southward to Los Angeles with only a few populations east of the Cascades, most notably near The Dalles in north central Oregon.
The berries of Coastal Black Gooseberry are traditionally eaten fresh and occasionally cooked, juiced, sauced, or dried into cakes by virtually all Indigenous people that inhabit the plants range (Moerman). The Kwakwaka’wakw—who steward the lands and waters around the Broughton Archipelago where I first learned this plant—traditionally gather the berries while they are still green by beating the bushes with sticks and nocking the fruit onto mats. They are eaten fresh, boiled and slathered with eulachon grease, and more recently with milk and sugar (Turner and Bell 1973).
The species epithet divaricatum comes from the English word “divaricate,” meaning forked, branched or spreading, probably in reference to the berries which are often found in clusters of two, the large spreading thorns, or the shrubs which can spread and form extensive colonies. Coastal Black Gooseberry is also called Spreading Gooseberry, or Wild Gooseberry. There are two named varieties: Ribes divaricatum var. parishii or Parish’s Gooseberry is found only in California, and Ribes divaricatum var. pubiflorum or Straggly Gooseberry is found in both California and Oregon.
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Harvest Brodiaea

Mon, 06/09/2014 - 19:44

The last camas flowers have fallen, their green leaves withered, and the grass around them parched golden under the long day’s sun. All around the Salish Sea the plants of thin soiled sites are preparing for the dry summer by setting seed and retreating to subterranean perennial parts. Visiting one such “bald” on an island at the mouth of the Skagit River, I was surprised by a final flush of color. Amongst camas seed pods, dry moss, and crisp licorice fern fronds were the vital tones of orchid, orobanche, onion, and brodiaea.

  California Broomrape (Orobanche californica)Hooker's Onion (Allium acuminatum)

White Brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina)Edible roots grace both onions and brodiaeas, but I was especially keen to have my first taste of brodiaea. Both Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria) and White Brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina were present but I failed to bring my digging stick, and the White Brodiaea were too deeply rooted to extricate with my fingernails, so this account is limited to the more shallow rooted and easy to, Harvest Brodiaea.

Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria)Harvest Brodiaea is an herbaceous perennial that grows from a small spherical to ovate corm ¼ - ½ inch in diameter. Several linear basal leaves emerge early in the spring and a single leafless flowering stalk 2-12 inches tall arises as the soil begins to dry in late spring and the leaves wilt. One to ten flowers are clustered in an umbel that is subtended by the remnants of the papery sheath which protects the embryonic flowers (similar to onion flowers) but ruptures as the flowers mature. Each flower is 1-2 inches long with 6 blue to purple tepals and a greenish white striped tube. Seed capsules filled with black seeds form in the early summer and the seeds are shaken out of the capsules by heavy wind or animals. 

Northern range of Harvest Brodiaea (CPNWH map)Harvest Brodiaea ranges from southern Vancouver Island to Southern California and has the largest range of the 19 species in its genus (all in Western North America). The Comox valley on Vancouver Island is the northern extent of its range and it is commonly found in prairies and thin soiled rocky balds throughout the islands and mainland region surrounding the Salish Sea. Further from the coast Harvest Brodiaea is less common, but a few populations are found in the Thompson and Fraser River valleys in British Columbia, the rocky slopes of the upper Skagit (Ross Lake) and Thurston County outwash prairies in Washington; the Lower Columbia and Willamette valleys in Oregon host sporadic populations as well. From the Siskiyous southward, Harvest Brodiaea once again becomes more common and can be found in both wet and dry sites including yellow pine forests, riparian wetlands, and grasslands.
At the time of first European contact, the Coast Salish collected Harvest Brodiaea. Captain George Vancouver’s naturalist Archibald Menzies wrote in his May 28, 1792 journal “On the Point near the Ship [Restoration Point, Puget Sound] where…a few families of Indians live in very Mean Huts or Sheds formed of slender Rafters & covered with Mats. Several of the women were digging on the Point which excited my curiosity to know what they were digging for & found it to be a little bulbous root of the liliaceous plant which on searching about for the flower of it I discovered to be a new Genus of the Triandia monogyna [i.e. Brodiaea]. This root with the young shoots of Raspberries & a species of Barnacles formed at this time the chief part of their wretched subsistence (in Pojar and Mackinnon 1994)." However, there is almost no mention of the traditional food value of Harvest Brodiaea among later ethnobotanical studies of the Coast Salish (Turner and Bell 1971) or  Indigenous peoples in British Columbia or Washington. Knowledge of other brodiaea species ranges from vague recollections of use among the Thompson (Turner et al. 1990) and Okanagan (Turner et al. 1980) to precise knowledge and active harvest among some Sahaptin people (Hunn 1990).
A lineup of Harvest Brodiaea cormsFurther south, the ethnobotanical knowledge of Harvest Brodiaea is more vivid. In Oregon, several Athabaskan speaking peoples know the plant as 'small camas' due to the similarity in appearance and use (Ethnobotany of Western Oregon). In California, the corms are traditionally eaten by the Atsugewi, Miwok, Pomo, Kashaya, Yurok, Yana, and other Native American groups (Moerman). Research by ethnobotanist Kat Anderson (2005) has shown that traditional techniques of harvesting and tending patches of brodiaea and onions actually increases their abundance. By all accounts, the roots of Harvest Brodiaea are dug in the late spring while flowering and boiled or baked in earth ovens before being eaten.
I boiled a few corms for 10 minutes in unsalted water to give myself an unadulterated taste of the little morsels. They quickly softened and I found their texture and flavor very similar to a boiled potato. The skins were tough and I spit them out. All the remaining roots went into the garden to multiply for future meals.
The genus Brodiaea honors Scottish Botanist James Brodie (1744-1824) and the species epithet coronariameans “used for garlands” in Latin. I can't think of a nicer garnish for my next meal of brodiaea.


Anderson, M. Kat 2005. "Tending the Wild, Native American Knowledge and the Management of California's Natural Resources." University of California Press, Berkley CA.
Biota of North American Program (BONAP)- North American Plant Atlas- Brodiaea
Calflora- Brodiaea coronaria
Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria- Brodiaea coronaria
Ethnobotany of Western Oregon- Harvest Lily (Brodiaea coronaria)
Hoover, Robert F. 1939. “A Revision of the Genus Brodiaea.” American Midland Naturalist Vol. 22, No. 3.
Hunn, Eugene 1990. "Nch'i-Wana 'The Big River', Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land." University of Washington Press, Seattle WA.
Native American Ethnobotany- Brodiaea coronaria
Oregon Flora Project- Brodiaea coronaria
Pojar and MacKinnon 1994. “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, & Alaska”. Lone Pine, Vancouver BC.
Turner, Nancy J. and Marcus Bell 1971. "The Ethnobotany of the Coast Salish." Economic Botany.
Turner et al. 1990. "Thompson Ethnobotany, Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia." Royal British Columbia Museum Memoir No. 3.
Turner, Nancy J., Randy Bouchard, and Dorothy I. D. Kennedy. 1980. "Ethnobotany of the Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington." British Columbia Provincial Museum Occasional Papers Series No. 21.
WTU Herbarium- Brodiaea coronaria
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Yellow Bell

Mon, 05/26/2014 - 22:16

The Methow Valley in north central Washington is a paradise of plants that explodes with color during the short period between the bitter cold winters and the dry dusty summers. For the last several years on mother’s day weekend, Katrina and I have traveled over the Cascade Crest to explore eastside edibles, hunt for morels, and participate in the Sunflower Run. The snowpack on Highway 20 was so deep this year that it took crews until May 8th to clear the road. Similarly, the wildflowers were delayed in their phenology. I had the pleasure of catching the Yellow Bells (Fritillaria pudica) in bloom for the first time in the Methow Valley, and got my first taste of this delicate but filling root vegetable.

Immature seed capsuleYellow Bell bulb with bulbletsIt is easy to see that Yellow Bell is closely related to two edible lilies found on the west side. Like Chocolate Lily (Fritillaria affinis) and Northern Riceroot (F. camschatcensis), Yellow Bell has a bulbous root that is surrounded by numerous bulblets that resemble grains of rice. These break off easily while being dug by bears, rodents, humans, and other animals, and are an important mechanism of plant regeneration. The large central bulb begins to push up a sprout when the first fall rains moisten forest openings in the pine forests, but this sprout stays far enough below the soil surface to avoid damage from the ensuing bite of winter cold. With a head start on the spring, the plant grows rapidly as soon as the snow has melted and takes advantage of the ample soil moisture to sprout an upright stem with 2-8 sporadically arranged narrow leaves, and 1-3 hanging bell-shaped flowers that emerge yellow and age to a bright orange. The petals blush and fall away quickly after the flowers have been pollinated (hense the species epithet pudica meaning "shy" in Latin) and the stems straighten to produce upright cylindrical seed pods that split into three chambers and disperse flattened seeds.

Yellow Bell grows in shrub-steppe and mixed coniferous forests at low to mid elevations. They can be found east of the Cascade crest from Kamloops Lake in southern British Columbia southward to the Klamath Mountains and Modoc Plateau in northern California. They are also found sporadically throughout the Rocky Mountains south of Kimberly BC to northwest Colorado. The eastward range extends through Montana and a few places in North Dakota.

Yellow Bells are probably a traditional food among all the Native American tribes that share the plant's range. The Nlaka’pamux (Thompson), Shuswap, Syilx (Okanogan), Spokan, Paiute, Blackfoot, and Ute ate the bulbs fresh, steamed, or boiled (Moerman). The Nlaka’pamux and Sylix welcomed the flowers as an early sign of spring, and immediately collected the bulbs (Teit 1930) along with those of Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum); these roots were often steamed in an earthen pit for 15 minutes and then sun dried on mats for use throughout the rest of the year (Turner et al. 1980; Turner et al. 1990).
Mt. Potato (left) and Yellow Bell (right)Challenged by my camping companions to produce a wild food meal, I set out with my diggings stick to locate some Yellow Bells. I found them growing abundantly in an open Ponderosa Pine and Douglas Fir forest with Mountain Potatoes (Claytonia lanceolata). Since they are relatively shallow rooted plants, I was able to dig both species out of the gravelly soil quickly. To ensure future harvests, I replanted the flat rootlet-covered disc at the base of each Yellow Bell bulb as well as all the small bulblets that easily broke from the main bulb. After 45 minutes, I had about 15 Yellow Bell bulbs and 50 Mountain Potato tubers- enough for a meal. Yellow Bell bulbs are the shape of pattypan squash and have a starchy bland flavor when raw. I boiled them with the Mountain Potato tubers, roasted sausage, and some wild rice that I had brought along, and seasoned the broth with freshly harvested Bare-stem Desert Parsley (Lomatium nudicaule) leaves. Cooked, Yellow Bell bulbs are slightly sweeter than raw and have a smoother, corn starch texture. Though I only had time to harvest enough for a single serving, the soup was a hit and everyone got a taste.
A lineup of Yellow Bell bulbs, the one on the left still has the basal disc attached
Yellow Bells have a similar nutrient profile to a potato but have 50 percent more protein, six times as much calcium, and nearly 30 times more iron (Norton et al. 1984). At 64 calories per 100g fresh weight, Yellow Bell bulbs have more caloric value than Common Camas (61 cal/100g) but less than Northern Riceroot (98 cal/100g). Yellow Bells are slightly higher in fat and much higher in calcium but lower in carbohydrates than both Common Camas and Northern Riceroot (Kuhnlein and Turner 1991).

Sources:Biota of North America Program, North American Vascular Flora, North American Plant Atlas, Fritillaria pudica distribution
Calflora, Taxon Report 3641, Fritillaria pudica
Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria, Fritillaria pudica
Kuhnlein, Harriet V. and Nancy J. Turner 1991. “Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples, Nutrition, Botany, and Use.” Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology, Volume 8, Gordon and Breach Publishers.
Moerman, Dan. “Native American Ethnobotany” University of Michigan Herbarium.
Norton, Helen H., Eugen S. Hunn, C. S. Martinsen, and P. B. Keely 1984. “Vegetable Food Products of the Foraging Economies of the Pacific Northwest.” Ecology of Food and Nutrition, Volume 14, pages 219-228.
Teit, James 1930. “Ethnobotany of the Thompson Indians of British Columbia.” Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, US Government Printing Office, Washington DC.
Turner, Nancy J. Randy Bouchard, and Dorothy Kennedy 1980. “Ethnobotany of the Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington.” Occasional Paper Series No. 21, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria BC.
Turner, Nancy J., Laurence C. Thompson, M. Terry Thompson, and Annie Z. York 1990. “Thompson Ethnobotany, Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia.” Royal British Columbia Museum Memoir No. 3. Victoria, BC.
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Bitterroot Mts live up to their name.

Thu, 04/17/2014 - 21:44

The branching taproot of BitterrootA few weeks ago Katrina and I traveled to Missoula for the Northwest Scientific Association Conference. She presented her Master’s research and we both attended several great talks related to fire ecology, wetlands, climate change, and bryology. We made a point of leaving some time to explore the dry slopes around Missoula for early spring edible roots. In particular, I was keen to find Bitterroot (Lewisia rediviva), and a type of biscuit root called Cous Root (Lomatium cous), since both are traditional root vegetables of major importance to Native Americans throughout the dryland forests of Columbia River watershed.
The large Bitterroot flowers range from pink to white.

Wild onionsWhen we arrived in Missoula, the north slopes of all the surrounding mountains were still covered with snow from a late winter blizzard. I was worried that we were too early and the plants would still be dormant, but just like in the Cascades, the perennial roots had quickly sprung up after the snow melted. It even snowed a few inches one morning, but hastily melted in the afternoon, further coaxing the precocious leaves of Wild Onions, Camas, Bitterroot and Cous Root from their wintery reserves.
A small thick Cous RootBoth Bitterroot and Cous Root seemed to prefer to grow in rocky meadow soil. They take advantage of the moisture from snow melt and flower very early in the season, but I was even earlier. No sign of the huge pink Bitterroot flowers were visible yet and the plant's presence was only discernible by small tentacle like leaves. Cous Root produces leaves and flowers at nearly the same time, but both were still in the early stages of unfurling. Soil that probably becomes dry and impenetrable later in the year yielded to my digging stick and I pried out several starchy roots of both species, quickly realizing why Indigenous harvesters of these roots employed narrow tipped digging sticks that easily pierce tough soils and slide between rocks. These roots were smaller than I had imagined, but they were also more abundant than I thought they would be.

Cous Root Distribution (CPNWH)Emerging flowers and leavesCous Root is a sparsely leaved yellow flowered tap rooted herbaceous perennial. Blue-green Tri-pinnately compound leaves arise basally, or from the bottom of the flowering stalk; leaflets are elliptic and up to 15 mm long; the base of the leaf petioles are broad and flattened, red or streaked with red, and wrap around the flowering stalk. Yellow flowers emerge in a compound umbel with or shortly after the leaves on a 10-35 cm long stalk; each umbel is comprised of 5-20 rays (stalks) that are 1.5-10 cm long at maturity. Well-developed involucel bractlets that are 2-5 mm long subtend each cluster of flowers, but an involucre (bracts below the larger compound umbel) is absent. The short taproots often have tuberous enlargements. Cous Root grows in open dry meadows in rocky soil in southeastern Washington, eastern Oregon, Idaho, western Montana, and northern Nevada.

Cous Root line-upRehydrated Cous RootNative Americans throughout the plants range peeled and ate Cous Roots fresh or dried. Dried roots were often pulverized into flour or meal and later boiled to thicken and flavor soups (Moerman 1998). The common name and species epithet “Cous” comes to us from the Sahaptin word x̣̣awš, which is also written coush (Hilty et al. 1980; Hunn 1990; Ettinger and Harless 1995). Eugene Hunn writes that Native Americans living along the Mid-Columbia traditionally harvested as much as 60 bushels or Cous, Bitterroot, and other spring root vegetables every year. Some, such as my friend Heather, still harvest Cous and Bitterroot every spring. Cous is dug after the seeds have formed in late March or April at lower elevations and as late as June at higher elevations. At this time the bark is easy to peel from starchy roots (Hilty et al. 1980).  Bitterroot Distribution (CPNWH)Bitterroot prior to floweringBitterroot is a very small herbaceous perennial with a proportionately large flower. Small linear leaves arise in the early spring in a basal rosette; each leaf is 1-5 cm long and 2-3 mm with a thick fleshy consistency and blue-green color that makes them resemble sea anemone. In May or June large white, pink, or purple flowers emerge singly or in clusters of 2-5 on short stems. Branching taproots 5-10 cm long reach into the gravely or rocky soil that they inhabit. Bitterroots grow in sagebrush plains and open forests in the mountains east of the Cascade Crest in southern British Columbia southward to California and eastward to Montana and Wyoming.
A small but stout BitterrootPeeled and dried BitterrootLike Cous, the roots of Bitterroot were universally eaten by Native Americans wherever they were found. The skin of the roots is exceedingly bitter thus leading to the common name, but traditional harvesters deliberately harvested the roots in the spring before they flowered when the skins easily slip off yielding a starching root that only has the slightest hint of bitterness.
I've transplanted both species into pots in my back yard so that I can continue my experiments with these tasty roots without having to drive over the mountains.

ReferencesConsortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria (CPNWH). http://www.pnwherbaria.org/

Ettinger, Marjorie L. and Susan E. Harless 1995. “Warm Spring Reservation of Oregon: Botanical Descriptions and Floral Checklist.” Kalmiopsis. http://www.npsoregon.org/kalmiopsis/kalmiopsis05/ettinger_harless.pdf
Hilty, Ivy E. Jean H. Peters, Eva M. Benson, Margaret A. Edwards, and Lorrain T. Miller 1980. “Nutritive Values of Native Foods of Warm Spring Indians.” Extension Circular 809, Oregon State University Extension Service, Corvallis Oregon. http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1957/24929/ECNO809.pdf?sequence=1
Hunn, Eugene S. 1990. “Nch’i-Wána: ‘The Big River’, Mid-Columbia Indians and Their Land.” University of Washington Press, Seattle WA. http://books.google.com/books?id=2Nx1guRPcu8C&q=Lomatium+cous#v=onepage&q&f=false
Moerman, Dan. “Native American Ethnobotany” database. University of Michigan, Dearborn MI.http://herb.umd.umich.edu/

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

Bigleaf Maple sap- running strong

Sun, 03/02/2014 - 02:52

It snowed 8” in Bellingham on Feb 23rd and for the last week, the Bigleaf Maple taps have been running copiously. February 26th was the best day of the year so far and I collected 66 gallons of sap. Stiff shouldered and sleepy, I am beginning to learn what it means to work on a "sugar bush": repeated trips through the forest hauling 40-60 lb containers of sap in each hand over rough terrain, followed by late nights tending the evaporator. I can’t even keep up! With so much sap, I’ve had to fill every large cooking pot in the house in addition to 50 gallons of storage capacity in the form of carboys and plastic buckets. If this keeps up, I might have to upgrade to a 55 gallon drum.     
The homemade evaporator has been performing admirably. With a backlog of sap, I have been boiling for 16 hours a day at an average rate of 1.5 gallons per hour. I have experimented with a pre-warming container to try to improve my efficiency, but it I haven’t yet worked out a system to keep the condensation that forms on the outside of the container from dripping back into the evaporator tray.
It is snowing again and I expect another few days of sap flow before the season comes to a close. With luck I will end up with more than a dozen quarts of syrup this year, five times more than last year, and enough to replace sugar for most of our sweetening needs this year. Some may say it is too much work for so little syrup, but the labor is its own reward. My shoulders are getting stronger and I always smell like maple steam and smoke - manly perfumes that draw Katrina closer when I crawl into bed after midnight.
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

My Bigleaf Sugar Bush

Wed, 02/05/2014 - 23:42

A dripping tap. CD Lloyd PhotographThe sap is running! For the last few days we’ve had the sweet combination of freezing nights, above freezing days, and ample soil moisture that are needed to produce Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) sap. The forecast looks very promising for the next week, so with luck we will get enough sap for several gallons of nectar al a Ent.  
Up until now, this has been a pretty pathetic winter for maple syrup, but for strange reasons. Our first hard frost was October 29th, which is about normal. Then three weeks later winter came on strong with a major Fraser outflow event from November 19th through the 26thfollowed by one day without frost and another 13 days of consecutive frost. What should have been three perfect weeks of weather (during a period that on average only has 2 frost days) hardly yielded a drop, a fact that I attribute to the dryness of the ground and perhaps temperatures that didn’t get far enough above freezing (usually we have the opposite problem). The weather then turned warm and wet from December 11th to the 18th and when the next cold snap hit I got more sap in two good days than I did the previous three weeks. January only had nine days of frost (compared to an average of 21), but hardly any sap flowed, this time perhaps on account of the temperatures that weren’t far enough below freezing, or the ground being too dry again (as any skier will tell you, we haven’t received much precipitation this winter).
Here is a graph I made from data recorded at the Bellingham Int. Airport
However, last week our luck turned and we got a good soaking of rain that was immediately followed by freezing nights. Yesterday, when I installed a few new taps, I was rewarded with immediate flow, and today my dad and I rounded up 8 gallons of sugary tree water. Oh Joy!
I've noticed needle ice on some of our best maple sap days. CD Lloyd Photograph
Last year Katrina and I had so much fun making our own maple syrup that we decided to scale our operation up considerably this year. That meant finding more trees, purchasing more taps, and building a larger evaporator. Naturally, this was all done in my frugal forager manner, so aside from the taps and hosing, everything was built myself from recycled or scrounged materials.
Bigleaf Maple tap kitI don’t camp out at my sugar bush, so my tapping equipment must be large enough to hold a few days of sap and tight enough to keep out rain, insects, and debris. I use 5/16” Tree Saver brand taps and connect them in pairs to a ¼” barb tee with about 6” of 3/8” OD vinyl tubing (both available at any good hardware store), and then connect another 12” of tubing to a plastic 5 gallon cooking oil jug that I scavenge from a local restaurant and wash thoroughly. The rig looks a little like a stethoscope, but works well. This year we tapped all of my dad’s maples, and his neighbor was kind enough to let us tap his as well, so all told, we have about 2 dozen taps (a modest operation). We certainly would like to expand. The presence of Bigleaf Maples is high on the priority list of our “perfect” piece of property.
My worn out mini evaporator and the nearly finished replacementScaling up meant saying goodbye to the hole riddled woodstove that my brother salvaged from a sunken boat, and hello to something larger. But what? It is difficult to pick up a used evaporator here in the Pacific Northwest, and I learned last year that setting a pot on top of a wood stove is terribly inefficient. For a while I hankered over professionally constructed evaporators build specifically for commercial scale sugar bushes, but sticker shock finally brought me back to my senses; I’m not ready for an evaporator that is rated for 5+ gallons an hour and costs $3K. Rather, I redirected my energy towards designing and building an evaporator better suited to my needs. 1-2 gallons an hour is more than sufficient, and cheap is best of all.

Door latchI designed my evaporator around a 21 quart (full sized) stainless steel steam table tray- the kind you see in buffets and salad bars. For $5 at the scrap yard, I had myself an evaporator tray that didn’t require any welding. The stove box, however, was another matter. From the same scrap yard, I purchased a 4’x8’ sheet of 12 gauge steel and about 10 feet of angle iron for another $50. My stove dimensions are 12” wide x 25” long x 18” tall, so I started by cutting a 12” x 86” rectangle using a ferrous metal blade in my circular saw. I carefully laid out my corners, and then kerfed out ¾ of the metal thickness in each corner and bent the sheet into a cube. I cut the angle iron into four 24” long legs, and tacked them onto the corners. Then I cut a 12”x25” base and welded it to the bottom, and welded a small piece of steel to the back end of the stove top with a 3” hole and a short piece of 3” pipe for the stove pipe junction. The door was the biggest challenge, but I found a perfect oval of steel at the scrap yard, and coaxed my dad into cutting out the same shape with a cutting torch. We fastened the door to the stove with weld-able hinges, and I made a little latch out of a bolt, a strap of steel, and an old spring. Next I drilled two air ports in the front of the stove, and welded on short sections of 2” pipe. I bricked the inside, welded up a grate, and painted the entire thing with stove paint. The evaporator tray slides down into the firebox where the flames can hit it directly, and a stove gasket is glued to the rim of the evaporator tray to seal in the heat and smoke. This was my first welding project, so the first few were terrible, but by the end, I was in the flow and I am very pleased with the product. It didn’t hurt the pocket book either- my entire evaporator cost me less than $100.
The sugar shack ready for action.I will probably replace the 3” stove pipe with 6” stove pipe when I get some, and have plans of eventually hooking up a fan to turbo charge the burn. If I don’t use a fan, I will install some perforated pipe just under the evaporator tray to add extra oxygen. My evaporator took a while to get going with a pan of cold sap, but once it was burning hot I evaporated 4 gallons in about 3 hours on my first try. The fire box is big enough that it will burn for an hour or more between refueling, which is a nice interval for working on other projects.
Usually I only evaporate my sap to about 50 percent sugar concentration and put it in canning jars or in the freezer until I have enough to “finish” a large batch. However, Bigleaf Maple syrup has been so long anticipated this winter that I just had to finish the most recent batch. Now, ¾ of a quart of amber syrup glows brightly from the pantry. How sweet it is! I can’t wait to check the taps again.

A nice boilLiquid gold. CD Lloyd Photograph Special thanks to Christian Lloyd for three of his excellent photographs. You can read about his sailing adventures and see more of his work at Life on Water.
© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.

More salt making

Fri, 01/10/2014 - 23:59
Evaporating salt into darknessLASER evaporationKatrina and I made some more salt with our friends Paul and Eli out on Lummi Island. We stayed up into the night to finish and I took some fun photographs.

Long time readers may remember our early methods, which have continued to evolve. When not taking the salt works on the road, we now use our smokehouse/sugar shack/salt shack to keep the rain out of the brine. I am also putting the final touches on a new evaporator for combined maple syrup and salt use. More to come soon!

© Wild Harvests 2011-2012. Wild Harvests by T. Abe Lloyd (http://www.arcadianabe.blogspot.com) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://www.blogger.com/profile/15355814866987311366.