After climbing over the Sierra Nevada mountains from the west to the east, the landscape drops into the Great Basin. Here it is the country of sagebrush steppe, desert grasslands, cottonwood and aspen canyons, river willows, and piñon-juniper forests. This year, on the border of Nevada and California I gathered pinenuts from the single-needle piñon trees (Pinus monophylla). It wasn’t my first time gathering pinenuts — I gathered from the two-needle pinyon Pinus edulis in Taos, New Mexico in 2015 — but this was a really enjoyable trip and I got to dig deeper into the ecology of these trees as well as the ins and outs of the pinenutting process.
One of the most useful aspects to learning plant families is the way one begins to find and see the connections between seemingly separate species. Take the flowers of Ipomoea pandurata above… five-petaled big white morning glories with fuchsia centers, on a sprawling vine of heart-shaped leaves.
Now check out the next picture of Ipomoea batatas. See the similarities? Continue reading Mecha-meck, the wild sweet potato vine — Ipomoea pandurata
Sometime in August my friend Eric Lewis sends me a message. Eric is a teacher of plant knowledge and permaculture practices in the Maryland area. He’s found a large stand of wild rice in a local river. I’d never harvested wild rice before so the idea of gathering some was exciting, especially rice that was local to the Chesapeake Bay bioregion, only a couple hours drive away from me. I knew that wild rice or Zizania aquatica was a fairly common tidal grass up and down the east coast but I had no experience with it. Wild rice normally conjures up ideas of the north country regions surrounding the Great Lakes, but as I was soon to find out, it is more common and abundant than I had imagined. Eric kept daily watch over the ripening rice, and when it was ready for harvest, I borrowed a canoe and we took to the river…
The many sides of Helianthus tuberosus —
Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus, is not from Jerusalem nor is it an artichoke! Some use the shorthand “sunchoke” as an alternate name; others simply call Helianthus tuberosus “sunroot,” and this is what I prefer. It’s a tuberous perennial sunflower in the Asteraceae family (or Compositae) native to eastern & central North America. It has been cultivated for centuries as a root crop by indigenous peoples and western farmers alike. To the Cree who lived beside Lake Superior, it was called askipaw, and to the Huron north of Lake Ontario it was called skibwan. Buffalo Bird Woman in interview with Gilbert Wilson (vol. 16, 1914) names the plant kakca or kaakca in Hidatsa. Other names for this plant in indigenous languages are pange (Omaha-Ponca), panhi (Winnebago), and kisu-sit (Pawnee). In Passamaquoddy-Maliseet the word for the tuber is ktahkitom (k’tAH-kee-tOM).
The lily family (Liliaceae) contains many plants that make for excellent edibles, and cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) is no exception. Cucumber root gets it’s name from its flavor — very much like cucumber, but sweeter. The leaves have a flavor also like cucumber. All parts of the plant may be eaten raw or cooked, with a caveat regarding the berries (although non-toxic, they have a taste which may not be the most palatable in the world to us of human persuasion).