Wild in the North Bay: Foraging Fridays

hello all! sorry for the late post, but it was a busy busy day, with the 2nd half spent in marin, and wandering the woods on mt. tam.

my colleagues from holos institute and i went for a hike after a business meeting and supervision session. for those who don’t know, holos is an ecopsychology non-profit where i am doing my internship for my MFT license. despite the fact that we all feel deep connection to nature, many of us (like ALL of us) sometimes have difficulty making it out into the wild. as therapists, it is especially important that we make this a priority, and so it was a treat to be on the trail with my friends and peers, to deepen, unwind and reconnect with land and with our hearts.

of equal importance is being present, so of course i forgot my camera in my car! despite this, i collected two plant friends to share with you (and in the interest of expediency, i’m gonna make it brief).

the first:

Umbellularia californica

California Bay Laurel (also known as Oregon Myrtle)

these trees grow all over the hills and mountains of the bay area. and just like the bay leaves that you buy in a little jar to put in your stews, the bay laurel are a wonderful addition in cooking. local native americans used the leaves to treat headache, toothache and earache, among many other uses.(the wikipedia page actually talks a lot about this.). my favorite use, aside from soups and stews, is to put a bay laurel leaf in your water when you steam artichokes. it lends a subtle flavor to the flesh and heart of the choke that is delicious! plus it makes your house smell good.

aside from sight, the best way to identify a bay laurel tree is to pick a leaf (or pinch it on the branch) and smell it! it is unmistakable…almost a little like eucalyptus, very pungent and familiar…it should remind you of spaghetti sauce! once you recognize it, you will see the trees everywhere. pick a few leaves and let them dry on a cooling rack until they are crispy and then keep them in a jar. just keep them out of the sun, as the light will break down the volatile oils and then they won’t be as yummy.

the second friend:

Usnea (lichen in the Parmaliaceae family)

Usnea (also known as old man’s beard.)

if you live in the pacific northwest, or anywhere where there is forest and ocean, or forest and lots of moisture, you have probably seen usnea plenty of times, but walked right past it. it is called old man’s beard, for the way it hangs from trees all hairy-like.

usnea is a marriage of a fungus and an algae. who knew? it is also an excellent immune booster, and a great ally in dealing with staphyllococcus. it is antimicrobial and antibiotic. it can be used topically to deal with wounds (strong infusion or even packed–after being cleaned!–into the wound), and internally has primarily been used to treat upper respiratory and lung infections, as well as urinary tract infections. internally, it is best used in tincture form. for lots and lots more great info, check out what susun weed has to say about it. (however, using usnea long-term has not been sufficiently researched, so you know, don’t be a doofus.)

there are a few lichens that look kinda similar to usnea, but there is one fail safe trick to identify it. grasp a strand between forefingers and thumbs, and gently pull. the grey-green outside should come apart to reveal a white, rubber band-like strand inside. if it just breaks apart, then it is not usnea. however, when usnea has dried out a little, it looses its elasticity, so if you aren’t quite sure, spritz a section heavily with water and let it re-hydrate, then try again.

i found a nice video about identifying usnea, and also how to make tincture with it.

ok kids, it’s been a long day. as always, the disclaimer…

think with your stomach! do not ingest wild plants unless you are sure you have identified them correctly and are willing to take responsibility for using yourself as a guinea pig. it is SO not my responsibility if you eat the wrong thing and get poopy pants, or die. you’re an adult. you can make your own choices.

have a great fourth!


2 thoughts on “Wild in the North Bay: Foraging Fridays

  1. Great tip on identifying Usnea. I just collected a handful of what I had thought to be the lichen to make a tincture. Some broke apart while others had the fail-safe elastic white center. After reading your post and spritzing the dry batch I know now they are all in fact Usnea. Thanks!

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