Category Archives: Survival in the wild

Bear Grylls style

Book Review – The Collector by Jack Nisbet

The CollectorHave you ever had a book you’ve waited years to read? This is mine.  I remember seeing it at Borders Bookstore when it first came out in 2010.  I picked it up, read the back, and flipped through the pages.  It was in the Northwest Natural History section, right by the front of the store.  Near Wheedle on the Needle and Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. I loved the beautiful illustration of a Douglas Fir cone on the front cover.  It was about David Douglas and the Natural History of the Northwest.  The recommendation on the front called it ‘exhilarating’ and I was sold.  I really wanted to read this book.  Over the next few months every time I saw The Collector I would categorize it in my mind in the ‘to read’ section and would often touch it as I walked by.  I had already claimed it, if not bought it.  But then Borders closed and it was lost in my imaginary book pile for awhile.  Until last month when I visited Powell’s Books in Portland for the first time.  I was shocked at the size of the store. I was starstruck with the amount of books in one location. I was shaken with excitement and this book was uncovered in my memory.  I inquired about the Natural History section, located The Collector and it became mine after a $16.95 exchange.  Sometimes I get tired of reading about people and I just want to read about plants.  Enough with the character development, just give me a forest. Give me a cone!  Give me a leaf and a bud and a season and I have a story.  But it turns out that this book is more about the man and less about the plants. And that is just fine, because the man was all about the plants.  The man, David Douglas, was a Scottish botanist/explorer who described and categorized many plants right here where I live, in the Pacific Northwest.  He came to the Northwest in 1824 and since then his name is synonymous with this part of the country, as in the ever-present Douglas Fir.

Douglas Fir

Douglas Fir

I don’t want to start at the beginning though, but rather at the end.  The end of the book.  (Spoiler Alert) He dies! It’s unbelievable.  It’s disconcerting.  It’s so sad.  In the middle of his travels, while exploring and observing and doing what he did best, suddenly David Douglas has a freak accident without any witnesses, and he’s gone.  No more Noble Fir, no more Salal, no more Brown’s Peony!!!  No more discoveries, at least.  I was not ready for this ending and actually had tears come to my eyes as I read it.  Just like that?  His life was over just like that? Yes, I know it was almost 200 years ago.  Of course he has died since then.  But the manner of his death was so shocking and unexpected.  He was so full of life and enthusiasm, with packets and cartons filled with newly discovered plants and seeds.  There was so much momentum in his life when it came to an abrupt end.  So tragic.

If you enjoy plant names, you’ll like this book.  It’s filled with references to men like William Hooker and Archibald Menzies, who were contemporaries of Douglas.  We get to find out the story behind the people behind the plant names, such as Pseudotsuga menziesii.  “When modern naturalists set out to study the flora and fauna of the Northwest, many of the names that roll off their lips and out f their field guides first flowed from the pen of David Douglas.” The author, Jack Nisbet does a satisfying job of telling the story of  Douglas.  This book is written from letters and journals written by Douglas and his friends.  One thing I would have liked was more plant information.  He told us where the plants were discovered, how their seeds were collected and shipped back to England, but I wanted to know how they influenced the gardens of England.  He briefly mentioned this with a few plants.  I would have liked a showcase of a few of his discoveries with more details about where they were growing, where they ended up, the importance in the retail industry and possibly how they influenced plant breeding.  Give me more!

The collector recounts the life of Douglas, giving his early history, but mainly focusing on his natural history explorations in North America. His first collecting trip was to the Northeast of the United States and this just whet his appetite. Soon thereafter he was sponsored by the Hudson Bay Company and sent by the London Horticultural Society to the Northwest.  David Douglas began collecting even before he arrived in the Northwest.  During the long ocean passage from England to the Northwest, his ship docked in several ports for supplies.  One stop was in Rio, Brazil where Douglas said “my pockets (were) filled with the granite of Rio; my hat outside and inside was pinned full of insects and both my arms full of plants.”   I like that the first plant he noticed when he stepped off the ship in the Northwest  was the leathery green leaves and pink blossoms of Salal, our ever-present shrub. He noted that the local pronunciation was not Shallon, as recorded by Lewis and Clarke, but rather Salal.  He referred to lupine as the “most magnificent herbaceous plants I have ever beheld.”

Lupinus latifolius

 I didn’t realize how much work he actually did to make his trip possible.  He walked, he hiked, he climbed, he rode horses and often foraged for his food.  He suffered from cold and heat and physical exhaustion.  Nisbet reports that “Gathering seeds was not the only painstaking work at hand, for he also had to analyze each new plant he found, determining its genus and then comparing its characteristics to the limited species that had been identified in the botanical manuals of his day.  His primary references were Thomas Nutall’s Genera of North American Plants and Frederick Pursh’s Flora Americae.”  I admire his dedication and persistance.  He also recorded many of the native american customs and uses for plants.  Besides visiting the Northwest on two separate occasions, he spent several years in central California and was exploring the Hawaiian Islands on his return trip when he died so prematurely.

David Douglas—The Collector

According to a fascinating blog post I recently read by Naturanaute on Plant hunting, ” 15-30% of the world’s flowering plants (around 70000 species) are yet to be discovered, which means that finding, describing and even cultivating these unknown plants is essential to gain a better understanding of global biodiversity.”  David Douglas was a pioneer in this field and it’s exciting to realize that even in our day, new discoveries are being made.  I really enjoyed reading this book.  For any natural history enthusiast it was a well written and exciting adventure.  Hearing descriptions of the early flora and fauna of my country was priceless.  I’ll end with the beautiful closing words of Jack Nisbet “The thrill of such discoveries lifted him (Douglas) from the sagebrush summer into Blue Mountain snow squalls, where he could disappear in a riot of June wildflowers.  On the shattered basalt atop Mount Blalock, the collector knelt close to judge the progress of one season’s royal peony seeds.  During the course of some future excursion, when the elements had toasted them to perfection, he would gather a few.  That was one of the ways Douglas would share part of this place with the rest of the world: he would take those seeds home, and encourage them to sprout anew.”

Killdeer

This little bird went through a lot of stress today. Can you find it? It’s really well hidden.  It was harassed by cats, heavy equipment, people and trucks, yet still it valiantly tried to draw us all away from it’s nest with the broken wing display. I took this photo at the end of the day and it appeared too tired to move.  Here are the beautiful eggs.  I hope they survive the dangers.

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Camouflaged Killdeer

Nesting Killdeer

Nesting Killdeer

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Killdeer Nest (Photo by Josh Sanborn)

The Eighth Day of Christmas—Milkweed

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, eight maids a milking.  The plant that comes to mind for this day is Milkweed.  Milkweed is an important plant in the garden for butterflies, but people can use it too.  I’m re-posting a fascinating article I found about milkweed from Wildfoods.Info

Milkweed?

If Green Beans, Broccoli, Okra, Sisal, and Geese Aren’t Weeds, Why Is a Single Plant With the Attributes of all Five Considered One?

© 2003 Forager’s Harvest

Most people know milkweed simply as food for the monarch butterfly’s caterpillar, or as a tenacious, pesky weed of hayfields. If those butterflies weren’t so beautiful, and if their annual migration to Mexico weren’t so amazing, few people would care what happened to this herb. But milkweed isn’t your average weed.

Common MilkweedIn World War II, schoolchildren across the Midwest collected thousands of pounds of milkweed fluff to stuff life preservers for the armed forces in the Pacific, because kapok, the normal material used for this purpose, came from Japanese-occupied Indonesia and was unavailable. Today, you can buy pillows, jackets, and comforters stuffed with this material, which is wonderfully soft and has a higher insulative value than goose down, from a company called Ogallala Down, in Ogallala, Nebraska. Some people believe that milkweed will become an important fiber crop, as one of its attributes is that it is perennial and therefore does not need to be replanted every year. Milkweed stalks also produce a coarse, sisal-like fiber that can be used for twine, which varies in strength from one plant to the next. This possibility has been little explored commercially, but it was well known to Native Americans.

The milkweed that we are talking about here is the common milkweed Asclepias syriaca. There are numerous other species of milkweed in North America, but common milkweed is by far the best known. It is abundant in the whole area east of the shortgrass prairies, north of the Deep South, and south of the boreal forests of Canada. It is a common sight of roadsides, fencerows, meadows, sunny woods, and abandoned fields. Common milkweed produces pairs of large, oblong, thick leaves all along its unbranching stem, which is typically three to six feet tall. Both the flowers and the okra-like pods are quite distinctive, as is this herb’s growth form. When broken, all parts of the plant produce a white latex, but there are many other plants with this characteristic. Overall, milkweed is a beautiful and very distinctive plant.

I am amazed that, as much attention as milkweed has received as a fiber crop and a butterfly planting, so little has been said about its use as food. Ethnographic records show that common milkweed was eaten as a vegetable by tribes throughout its range. It provides edible shoots (like asparagus), flower bud clusters (like broccoli), and immature pods (like okra). The soft silk inside the immature pods is a unique food, and the flowers are also edible. Milkweed conveniently provides one or more edible parts from late spring until late summer, making it one of the most useful wild greens to learn.

No, It’s Not Bitter

If you’ve read the accounts of milkweed in any wild food books, you’ve probably heard that the plants are very bitter and need to be boiled in three changes of water before being eaten. This is simply not true of the common milkweed Asclepias syriaca. The repeated boiling process so carefully described by so many authors is completely unnecessary. Boiling once is perfectly sufficient.

In an article in The Forager, Vol. 1 Issue 2, “The Milkweed Phenomenon,” I discussed the fact that, although most authors claim that milkweed is bitter, I had discovered none with such a taste in sampling the plant over many years in four Midwestern states. I attributed the discrepancy to a regional difference in flavor caused by hybridization with closely related inedible milkweeds found further east than the areas of my experience. This is apparently wrong. I was giving the authors who claimed it to be bitter the benefit of too much doubt.

I received word from a reader in New Jersey who says he’s tried the plant from Maine to Georgia on hundreds of occasions and has never encountered any that was bitter. I also spoke with one individual from New York State, and one from Ohio, who refute that milkweed is bitter.

I talked at length with Peter Gail, a wild food instructor from Cleveland, Ohio, who was the only acquaintance who had told me that he had found milkweed to be bitter. In fact, it came out in our conversation that he had not personally found milkweed to be bitter. A participant in one of his workshops ate milkweed, which had been boiled in three water changes, and became sick. If water-changing supposedly eliminates the bitterness, what does this mean? Obviously, repeated boiling can’t solve the problem of milkweed that makes people sick after being boiled three times. It sounds like a food allergy or intolerance to me. That can happen with any plant, and this is the only case that I’ve heard of for milkweed. If the participant had found the milkweed bitter, he probably wouldn’t have consumed it.

It is unfortunate that so many stern warnings have been made about the use of milkweed as food. It is true that all parts of the plant contain small amounts of toxins. (A small amount of toxin is an everyday aspect of human diet.) The toxins in milkweed are washed out of the edible parts by boiling. A small amount of milkweed can be just thrown into recipes, but larger amounts, or milkweed that you plan to eat as a vegetable dish, should probably be boiled first and have the water discarded. After normal preparation milkweed is not a danger, unless you are that rare sensitive individual.

Shoots and Tops

Come late May, when oak and maple trees have just begun to adorn themselves with summer splendor, look for the thick shoots of milkweed pushing up among the dead stalks of last year’s plants. This has become a springtime ritual for me. I visit the milkweed colonies anxiously, usually much too early – but I’m afraid of missing the best young shoots. Every few days I scour the fields hopefully until, finally, my eyes come to rest on an inconspicuous yet distinct spear of succulent promise. Kneeling to pinch it off at the base, I scan the lush new grass around it and spot a half dozen more. The milkweed season has begun.

It is often warned that milkweed shoots closely resemble those of dogbane, a mildly poisonous relative that also produces a milky latex. Of course, you must be positive of your identification before consuming any plant, but don’t let anyone convince you that differentiating between milkweed and dogbane is prohibitively difficult. There are a number of differences. Dogbane shoots tend to come up a little earlier, so where the two plants grow side by side (which is not uncommon) they are usually taller. (This is not a reliable indicator, of course.) Dogbane shoots are always much thinner than those of milkweed, and they are usually reddish-purple on the upper part of the stem. Milkweed stems and leaves are minutely fuzzy, while dogbane stems are smooth. As the plants get older, the differences become more obvious, as dogbane tends to form several spreading stems, while milkweed shoots remain unbranched.

Milkweed shoots appear asparagus-like, except they have a few pairs of small leaves clasping their sides. The smaller they are, the better they taste – but as long as they bend easily and break off when pinched they are good to eat. Normal size is three to six inches.

Just boil the shoots in salted water until they are tender, which is usually twenty minutes or so. (All milkweed parts are cooked in roughly the same manner.) Despite the rather long cooking time, these shrink far less than most green vegetables. Milkweed shoots are almost universally liked. They are often compared to asparagus, but I think the flavor is highly reminiscent of green beans. As the plants grow taller, you can still eat them, using only the top few inches and removing all but the smallest leaves. At this stage they are never quite as good as the younger shoots.

Common Milkweed

Flowers and Fruit

In midsummer the unopened flower buds can be gathered. They look like miniature heads of broccoli but are softer. Dice up a small handful of these and toss them into a soup, casserole, pasta dish, stuffing, or stir-fry to excellent effect. To eat larger servings of the flower buds alone, boil them, drain the water, and season. Many people consider this the best part of the milkweed plant. I think they taste almost identical to the shoots and the pods. There is one small warning that must be made with milkweed flower buds: sometimes they are full of tiny monarch caterpillars.

Usually the first milkweed flowers in northern Wisconsin appear in early July. The blossoming season is over a month long. The multicolored flowers have a sweet, musky odor and are a favorite of insects. I have read that certain Native American tribes boiled and mashed the flowers to form a kind of sweet sauce, but I have not had any success with this. I have eaten the flowers in small quantities raw, and they have a rather pleasant flavor.

Common MilkweedAs the flowers wither away, seed pods will form in their place along the upper parts of the stem. Even though a cluster contains dozens of flowers, it rarely ends up producing more than four or five seed pods. In a season, an average milkweed stalk produces only four to eight pods. They first appear about the size and shape of a teardrop. When fully grown they will be three to five inches long. Until they are about two-thirds grown the immature pods make a superb vegetable. The smallest pods, under an inch long and still firm, are most desirable. When the pods are fully formed they become tough and unpalatable and should not be eaten.

Milkweed pods are excellent in stew, stir-fry, or eaten as a vegetable side dish. They are delicious with cheese and bread crumbs. The pods can also be made into pickles, but they become soft after boiling.

The best time to gather milkweed pods is late summer (from early August to early September around here). The size of the pods varies greatly from one plant to the next. An immature pod on one specimen may be larger than a full-grown pod on another, so determining which pods are immature can be tricky. The pods that are too old tend to be rougher on the outside than the young pods. They also tend to have more pointed, curved tips. These are tendencies, not rules, however. There are a few more reliable ways to determine the age of pods.

There is a line running the length of each pod, along which it will split open to release its seeds when mature. If you pull apart on both sides of this line and it splits open easily, the pod is probably too old to use. For the beginner, it is best to open up several pods and examine the insides to get an idea of which ones are in the proper stage for harvesting. In an immature milkweed pod (one that can be eaten) all of the seeds will be completely white, without even a hint of browning. The silk should be soft and juicy, not fibrous. It should be easy to pinch through the bundle of silk or to pull it in half. Immature pods are also plumper and harder than mature ones. Don’t let this seem more complicated than it really is – with time you will know, at a glance, which pods to collect.

A few times each season I gather a large quantity of milkweed pods. I work my way through my favorite patch and fill a cloth bag, which doesn’t take very long, since milkweed often grows in large, prodigious colonies. I leave the tiny pods for next time, and ignore those that are questionably old. When I get home I sort through the pods, keeping all of those less than about 1.5 inches long to be eaten whole. If I do not use these immediately, I can or freeze them (after parboiling). Milkweed pods, after they are picked, begin to toughen in a few hours, and may become unpalatable in a day or less.

The immature pods which are more than 1.5 inches long are used to make a unique food product that is called milkweed white at our house. Milkweed white is simply the silk and soft white seeds from immature pods. I open up each pod, remove the white from the inside, and discard the rind. (The rind is actually edible, but I don’t find myself having the appetite to eat all of it that is left over.) When raw, milkweed white is sweet and juicy. (I only eat small amounts of it raw, however.) When boiled, it has a mild, pleasant flavor and a chewy texture. Mixed with other foods, the boiled white looks, tastes, and behaves surprisingly like melted cheese. In fact, most people assume that it is cheese until I tell them otherwise. I often add this boiled silk to rice, pasta, casseroles, and soup, and it has never disappointed me. (It will disappoint you, however, if you expect it to be exactly like cheese.)

The lowly common milkweed provides two different useful kinds of fiber (stalk fiber and silk), plus six different vegetables (shoots, leafy tops, flower buds, flowers, immature pods, and white). It is abundant, easy to recognize, familiar to many of us, and is a perennial that appears in the same place year after year. It’s blossoms feed numerous kinds of butterflies, including our most beloved, as well as hummingbirds and honey bees. Pretty amazing, huh?

Little Known Edible and Useful Plants for the Northwest

This week I attended the Focus on Farming Conference in Snohomish County as a volunteer with the Washington State Nursery and Landscape Association.  I was lucky enough to hear a talk by Dave Boehnlein of Terra Phoenix Design.  His concept of permaculture was easy to understand.  To create systems and landscapes that provide things other than aesthetics.  He suggested some new plants  for this permaculture approach.  His idea is to to help people meet their own needs and create an integrated garden design.  Dave is a great speaker and shared his enthusiasm and new ideas with us.  Here is his list of Functional Plants for the Pacific Northwest. You might find a new favorite on his list!

1.  Cork Oak (Quercus suber)  From Portugal, Mediterranean.  Used for cork production.  Tough plant, can take poor soils and dry conditions.  Evergreen.

2. White Mulberry (Morus alba)  A permaculture all-star plant.  Produces fruit July through September.   Chickens can forage underneath.  Leaves are high in protein and a fodder crop for sheep and cattle.  When leaves are young and tender they are edible to humans as well.  Silk worms only eat mulberry leaves.

3. Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativas)  Can take poor soils.  Is the most expensive spice on earth.  It takes 30,000 plants to make one pound of spice.  Beautiful and useful.

4. White Currant (Ribes glandulosum) Birds will eat the red and black currants, but don’t see or eat the white.  This plant can grow and produce in the understory, in part shade.

5. Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana) From Chile, well-adapted to the Northwest.  Spectacular nut tree as well as timber tree. The nuts were the staff of life for the indigenous people.  Need male and female trees to produce nuts.  Nuts sell for $60/lb.

6. Fuki (Petasites japonicus) From Japan, shade tolerant and likes wet soil.  Huge leaves make a big statement in the landscape.  Can harvest stalks when tender for a food crop.

7.  Italian Stone Pine (Pinus pinea) This is the pine that produces pine nuts.  It needs good drainage and is a tough plant.

8. Chinese Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) A hardy palm for the Northwest.  Because of the dissimilarity to our native plants it is a dynamic nutrient accumulator, drawing up micronutrients from the soil.  Used for fiber, building (roofs) and the flower stalks are edible.

9. Bladder Senna (Colutea arborescens) A nitrogen fixing shrub.  Reaches 9-10 ft. tall.  Orange/yellow flowers with pink seed pods.  Easy to manage, doesn’t spread prolifically.  No thorns.

10. Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) From the East Coast of the United States, aesthetic value, up to 6 ft. tall.  Fiddlehead fronds are edible.

11. Amole or Soap root  (Chlorogalum pomeridianum)  From California, tubers used for soap. Perennial, flower, resilient.

12. Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) Tuber forming, like potato.  A lost crop of the Incas.  Also a weed barrier.

13. Goumi (Eleagnus multiflora) From Japan7-8 ft. Beautiful bronzy new growth and stems.  Little berries high in lycopene.  Thorny, self-fertile.

14. Pineapple Broom (Cytisus battandieri) Nitrogen fixer, up to 12 ft. tall, clusters of yellow flowers with a pineapple scent.

15. Yuzu Citrus (Citrus ichangensis) From Japan, the most hardy of the citrus.  Like lime or lemon.  Needs good drainage, protection.

16. New Zealand Flax (Phormium) Fiber plant of the Maori people, use for plant ties.

17. Ground Nut (Apios americana) Nitrogen fixing vine, produces edible tubers, has nice flowers.

18. Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) Has a high sugar content, tastes like wintergreen.  Can be used for birch syrup or drinks.

19. Udo (Aralia cordata) From Japan.  Perennial to 6 ft. tall.  Harvest shoots when they are 6-8 inches,  like asparagus. An understory plant.

20. Azarole (Crataegus azarolus) As well as other Crataegus.  Drought tolerant, can take winter wet.  Has juicy, sweet fruit.  Ornamental and production!

For further information he listed a few resources:

Plants for a Future (pfaf.org)

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke and Eric Toensmeier

Creating a Forest Garden by Martin Crawford

Dave Boehnlein

Dr. Peter Raven Lecture—Conservation and Biodiversity

Dr. Peter Raven

This week I attended the Miller Memorial Lecture by the esteemed botanist and conservationist Dr. Peter Raven, President emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  I was captivated from the beginning to the end.  Held on the University of Washington campus, the lecture lasted just over an hour.  The title was ‘Conserving Plants in a Changing World’, but this dialogue was less about plants and more about our changing world.  I was expecting more plant information, like when he spoke about the changes in plant growth in Missouri over the last several decades due to global warming.  Hibiscus that used to die back, are now growing into trees, etc…   Nevertheless, I was fascinated with his well-spoken words and profound message:  The world is changing and we need to do something to slow down the negative impact our species is having on the environment.

He said that the inequalities between the western world and less developed countries are serious.  He showed a photograph that I’ll never forget.  A typical family, like you would find in America or Europe, and how much food they eat in a week.  It was all spread out on a table and benches, filled with fruits, vegetables, breads, meats, cheeses, pizza….an abundance.  Then he showed a picture of an African family and the food they consume in a week.  A few sacks filled with grain, some fruits and vegetables.  It wasn’t much, it was surprisingly little.  The disparity between the two families was startling.  It was a stark reminder of how much I use, how much I take and how much I think I need.  Suddenly I didn’t feel like complaining about my small house and lack of resources.  They suddenly seemed plentiful.  Here are the images from the book The Hungry Planet.

Family in Chad, Food expenditure for one week $1.83

Family in Germany, Food expenditures for one week $500.07

Ecological Footprint

He stated that of all the living species on the earth, humans use 45% of the photosynthetic productivity and 55% of the fresh water.  He joked that if one species would disappear (ours) extinction wouldn’t be so much of a problem!  He discussed our ecological footprint, or the measure of humanity’s demand on nature.  Our current footprint is over the earths bio-capacity, or we are using four times as much productivity as the earth has to offer.  One site he referenced with further information is footprintnetwork.org whose opening page states, Do we fit on our planet?

Dr. Raven spoke about our dependence on biodiversity.  All of our food and many of our medicines come from plants, yet in the United States 90% of our food comes from only 103 kinds of plants.  There are many others that are not being utilized or haven’t yet been discovered.  He stated that every species matters.  Two thirds of the people in this world use plants for medicine.  Willow was developed into aspirin, warfarin was first isolated from moldy sweet clover and is used as a blood thinner.  But as we all know, besides helping us survive, plants also offer us simple beauty and spiritual refreshment.  We need them!

Why are so many species disappearing so fast?  Habitat loss, spread of invasives, hunting and gathering, global warming and deforestation, to name a few.  Many of these have consequences that we never imagined, like droughts and wildfires from global warming and destruction of our forests from pests such as the emerald ash borer.  The emerald ash borer is an invasive pest from asia which has killed between 50 and 100 million trees in North America since it’s accidental introduction only twenty years ago.  He said that our nation has allowed science to become political, such as the discussion over global warming.   Science simply presents the facts and tells what is happening.

Dr. Raven disclosed that there are 375,000 plant species named and 75,000 awaiting discovery.  I’m not sure how scientists came up with that number, but I believe it.  There are many living things in this world still undiscovered, terrestrial and in the oceans.  To help preserve biodiversity and save plants there are many things that we can do.

  • Set aside natural areas as reserves, especially those with altitude changes.
  • Go out in the field and learn more.
  • Preserve endangered botanical species.  Traditionally we would grow plants and put them out in nature.  Now seed banks are becoming popular because of climate change.  Seattle has the Miller seed vault.
  • Conserve energy and consume less.
  • Teach children about the wonder of nature and biodiversity.
  • Limit global warming.
  • Use alternative energy.

Even though I have heard this message before, Dr. Raven spoke with such intelligence and passion that I look at the world differently now.  I’m ready to pick a few of the suggestions above and make a few changes in my life.  Which ones will you pick?  He closed with this quote:

The world provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.  —Ghandi

Fireweed in Alaska

Native Bites: Fireweed

Fireweed Blossoms

I first discovered this plant in my front yard when I moved to Washington State.  I watched it in the spring growing tall, yet not knowing it’s name.  I saw it blossom light, bright purple, swaying in the wind.  I really didn’t take notice however until the flowers fell and the seed pods opened.  That’s when the fun began.  The long seed capsules split and curled, releasing hundreds of silky white seeds that floated through the air.  Maybe others didn’t want thousands of Fireweed seeds drifting through the neighborhood, but I did.  I wished they would keep floating around, swirling past the birch tree, sweeping up and over the viburnum and dancing with the wind.  It’s a beautiful wild magic.

After that I began to recognize Fireweed, also called willowherb, with it’s distinctive purple flower growing in clumps all over the area.  Even on a trip to Alaska several years ago, I saw it growing abundantly.  It’s easy to spot in open woods and along roadsides.  Called Fireweed from it’s habit of establishing in open areas after a fire, it’s native along the West Coast.  And it’s edible!

From the book Wild Harvest:  “The tender young shoots are an excellent early pot vegetable—just boil a few minutes.  A handful of the dried leaves, which brew up easily and have a fine flavor, will make a pot of tea.  The glutinous pith from the large summer fireweed stalks can be scraped out and either eaten raw or used in making delicious wild soup.”  I haven’t tried my own taste test yet, but Northwest Foraging says that the young shoots have a bitter taste when eaten raw and it’s better to use them as a cooked green.  Also, the pith from the summer stalks is a good, chewy hiking snack and bees produce a fragrant popular honey in fireweed rich areas.  We’ll never be hungry again!

Fireweed in Alaska

Resources:  Wild Harvest: Edible Plants of the Pacific Northwest by Terry Domenico, 2008.
Northwest Foraging by Doug Benoliel, 1974.