California Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Evergreen Huckleberries to Wild Ginger

California Foraging: 120 Wild and Flavorful Edibles from Evergreen Huckleberries to Wild Ginger

by Judith Larner Lowry


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A passionate wild foods and native plants expert, Judith Larner Lowry tracks down local varieties and traditions. Along the way she shows you what to look for, when and where to look, and how to gather in a responsible way. 
  • An A to Z guide for foraging year-round
  • Detailed information for safe identification
  • Suggestions for sustainable harvesting and wild food gardens
  • Tips on preparation and use

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781604694208
Publisher: Timber Press, Incorporated
Publication date: 07/29/2014
Series: Regional Foraging Series
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 722,515
Product dimensions: 6.60(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Judith Larner Lowry has been the proprietor of Larner Seeds, specializing in California native plants and seeds, for the last 35 years. Lowry designs and plants native plant gardens, gives talks, and contributes to Orion magazine, BayNature magazine, and numerous other journals. She lives with her husband in Bolinas, California.

Read an Excerpt

One foggy summer day near the coast, I discovered an unexpected treasure trove of California hazelnut bushes. They were loaded with sweet, mild nuts that were ripe and ready to eat. I found a comfortable place to sit, a rock to crack the shells, and settled in for a session of hazelnut appreciation. To other hikers on the trail, I was hidden from view by the hazel’s leafy branches. 
Soon, I heard two parents cajoling their children onward up the trail. The children sounded tired and complained about being hungry and bored. I thought momentarily of having them join me in my cozy fort under the hazel and sharing the bounty. 
While I considered it, they disappeared up the path. Maybe I should have called out to them: There is delicious food here. Come join me. 

I didn’t then, but I am calling out to you now. There is delicious food all around us. 

Two unexpected strands have come together during the writing of this book. One, an even greater deepening of my appreciation for California’s native flora, I expected and welcomed. The other strand has taken me by surprise.
For most of my adult life, I have been an advocate for California’s native plants. At my mail-order native plant seed and nursery business, we specialize in growing seed crops of native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees, some of them threatened with local extinction. 
Through the years, my realization that many of these native plants are also food has felt like startling new information about old friends I thought I knew well. I first started to value California’s native plants for their drought tolerance and appropriateness to California’s climate and soils. Then they became a crucial part of my developing and deepening sense of home in the Golden State, and I wanted to live surrounded by them. Their importance as habitat for native bees, butterflies, birds, and other creatures added yet another layer to my appreciation of the grounding details of sharing life with the plants that evolved here. 
Early on, I learned that many of the seeds we gathered from the wild were grain crops for California Indians. The wildflower meadows that drew me with their beauty represented to many native peoples a harvest of healthful seed foods, produced with no added fertilizer, pesticides, water, or plowing. That’s how the journey of this book began, with the seeds.

When I hear people talk about the importance and value of diversified sustainable farming operations, I look at the wildlands and think about what a diversified sustainable farming operation they already are. Or once were, and could be again.
At our seed-growing garden, I proclaimed a zero-tolerance policy for weeds, the better to learn how the native species grow when unimpeded by teasel, fennel, velvet grass, or other rampant invasive plants. My proclamation of this weed-free zone was made partly in jest, since there is no way to totally eliminate weeds. This I know from experience. But we didn’t allow them much of a presence here until my interest in eating naturalized European and Eurasian forbs, otherwise known as weeds, caused me to occasionally stay the weeder’s hand. The response was surprising, even to me, though I have watched this story so many times before, the old disappearing under the onslaught of the new.
In one season, black nightshade, curly dock, and borage grew where they hadn’t been before. Sheep sorrel and chickweed appeared from out of nowhere. Huge colonies of lambsquarters sprang up overnight. The native clarkias, tarweed, and red maids may have been thinking, Oh no, not here, too, as my demonstration garden became a place of somewhat uneasy alliances.

Soon, I was eating these weeds from elsewhere with gusto. Treating weeds as food crops required a close and constant attention and a rigorous control of weedy reproduction. I learned how to have my borage and control it too, making pesto, stews, and stir-fries using a combination of both weedy and native greens. I learned something about the proud histories of weedy greens, especially their roles in intriguing national dishes, like green sauces made in Germany with borage leaves, or salsas made with black nightshade berries in Guatemala.
I began to savor this second strand: harvesting and eating the edible weeds to protect the native plants, while managing and harvesting the native plants in ways that increase their numbers. This pattern now guides my gathering days in the wild. It could be called sustainable foraging, and I hope it will guide yours too. 
By imparting an interest in foraging to you, it is my hope that you will fall in love with wild edibles, their tastes, and their histories, forming alliances and culinary relationships all your own. That you will discover a pattern of interaction that benefits both you and the plants. And that the mantle of indifference toward land and plants that has replaced our evolutionary closeness will slip easily off your shoulders, as you welcome a new, knowledgeable intimacy with wild food plants.

And now a few words about the organization of this book. The introduction provides an understanding of the rich nature of foraging in general, beginning with definitions, and then offering important guidelines, from safety issues to plant identification tips to legal matters. A brief discussion of the regions of California will help you locate both yourself and edible wild plants of interest to you. A Seasonal Gathering Guide will tell you what plant part you can find, when.
Also included in the introduction is a brief pitch for the advantages of planting wild food plants as part of gardens around your home. A discussion of developing your own sustainable foraging ethic builds on this concept, which is woven throughout the book.
The majority of the book is a section called Edible Wild Plants of California, with more than 120 California native and naturalized non-native edible species, organized alphabetically by common name. The index will help you find plants under their scientific, or botanical, names.
Each plant entry includes one or more photographs with informative captions, a list of common names the plant is known by, the scientific name currently in use, and the edible parts of each plant, followed by an introduction to the plant, discussion of its identifying characteristics, where and when to gather, how to gather, how to use, responsible harvests as part of a sustainable foraging ethic, and any precautions needed in the use of the plant.
At the end of the book, websites, books, and organizations are listed that will be helpful to both beginning and experienced foragers. Also included is a list of public botanic gardens throughout California, where labeled native plants can be viewed, a great way to learn. 

Table of Contents

Preface 8

Introduction: Foraging in the Golden State 12

Seasonal Gathering Guide for California 25

Wild Edible Plants of California 38

Angled onion 39

Beavertail cactus 41

Big leaf maple 43

Black nightshade 45

Bladderpod 48

Blue camas 50

Blue dicks 53

Blue elderberry 57

Blue flax 60

Blue palo verde 64

Blue wildrye 66

Borage 70

Bracken fern 72

Bull clover 74

Butterfly mariposa lily 76

California bay laurel 78

California blackberry 81

California black oak 84

California bottlebrush grass 87

California brome 89

California buttercup 92

California hazelnut 94

California juniper 97

California oatgrass 99

California oniongrass 101

California wild grape 103

California wild rose 105

Candy flower 107

Cattail 109

Chalk buckwheat 111

Chaparral yucca 113

Checkerbloom 115

Chickweed 117

Chuparosa 119

Common mallow 121

Common tarweed 123

Cow parsnip 125

Coyote mint 128

Creek monkeyflower 130

Curly dock 132

Desert ironwood 134

Douglas fir 137

Evergreen huckleberry 139

Farewell to spring 141

Fawn lily 143

Fennel 145

Foothills palo verde 147

Giant blaring star 149

Golden chia 151

Golden currant 154

Golden prettyface brodiaea 157

Goldfields 159

Gray pine 161

Hairy bittercress 163

Harvest brodiaea 165

Himalayan blackberry 167

Holly leaf cherry 169

Honey mesquite 172

Indian ricegrass 174

Kellogg's yampa 176

Lady fern 179

Lambsquarters 181

Lemonade berry 183

Madrone 185

Manzanita 187

Meadow barley 190

Meadowfoam 192

Milkmaids 194

Miner's lettuce 196

Mormon tea 198

Mountain mule's ears 200

Mountain pennyroyal 202

Mountain sorrel 204

Narrowleaf mule's ears 206

Nasturtium 208

Nevada stickleaf 210

Nootka rose 212

Northern California black walnut 214

Ocotillo 216

Oregon grape 218

Perennial pickleweed 221

Point Reyes checkerbloom 223

Prickly pear 225

Purple sage 228

Purslane 230

Pussy ears 232

Red huckleberry 234

Red maids 236

Redwood sorrel 239

Redwood violet 241

Salal 243

Saltbush 246

Sheep sorrel 248

Sierra mint 250

Silverweed 252

Singleleaf pinyon pine 254

Soaproot 257

Sourberry 260

Springbank clover 262

Stinging nettle 265

Sugar bush 267

Sugar pine 269

Swamp onion 271

Tall coastal plantain 273

Tanoak 275

Thimbleberry 278

Thistle sage 280

Tidy tips 282

Torrey pine 284

Tree mallow 286

Rule 288

Valley oak 291

Vetch 293

Vine maple 295

Wapato 297

Watercress 299

Western serviceberry 301

Wild ginger 304

Wild hyacinth 306

Wild radish 308

Woodland strawberry 311

Wood rose 314

Yellow pond lily 316

Yerba buena 318

Yerba santa 320

Metric Conversions 323

Resources 324

References 326

Acknowledgments 327

Photography Credits 328

Index 329

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