Wild in Shasta County: Foraging the Watersheds of the Foothills

A conglomeration of a weeks worth of delights and goodies are in store for you! Does it matter that I didn’t harvest any of them, save for a few nibbles? I think the adventure is in the discovery.

We spent every morning at the creek, a daily meditation I am missing terribly.

I love going back to the same spot in nature, throughout a season, or all the seasons. There is a march of species, and their goings-on, that I feel privileged to witness and my own process is received in reciprocity. After only three weeks away, many of the flower friends I saw last time were going to seed, and new ones had arrived on the scene.

Clusters of Dock seeds on tall stalks stood out as red flags against the gold grasses. You can roast the seeds to eat as snack, and even turn them into flour (according to Euell Gibbons). A caution against eating too many seeds with the sheath on…reportedly a large portion can give you the shits. But if you are needing a clean out…

Pennyroyal was thriving and in great quantities.

Pennyroyal is in the mint family, and many people enjoy using it for tea. I can’t stand the flavor, having used it too many times medicinally. I do think it would be nice as a light infusion, but I would also caution against making it too strong, or drinking too frequently…it’s pretty potent stuff. Use the leaves and flowers for tea (before they have gone to seed), to aid in digestion and blood flow. You can also rub the leaves on your skin as a bug repellent. DO NOT USE DURING PREGNANCY as pennyroyal is used to start sluggish menstruation. NEVER NEVER NEVER take pennyroyal oil internally….it can be fatal.

California Wild Grape was everywhere, to the point that I would think it was an invasive. You can eat the young leaves (dolmas!) and the tendrils (as shown above). The plants do produce fruit as well.

Buttonbush or Buttonwillow. These shrubs can get to be quite big, small tree size even, and when in full bloom have these cute round flowers all over as decor. The shrub was used by local natives medicinally, but there is very little info out there about it. More importantly, it is used by all the animal and insect people as a major source of food. During a foraging hunt on a favorite farm road, Fern and I trespassed (Shhh!) to find some cattails. The cattails were not at the stage I desired, but in their midst stood a huge buttonwillow, It was covered by an aura of dragonflies and butterflies. I was transfixed and transported, that is until Fern started clamoring for blackberries.

California Wild Rose. This is a native that I rarely see, so I would caution against harvesting unless there is an abundance. Have you noticed how so many roses today have had the smell bred out of them? The logic behind that is beyond me. The little flower above, though small, had a scent so heavenly that it must be used as a trap by the fairies…it was so dreamy, I could have stood there with my nose in the bloom all day. They could have tied me up before you could say “lilliputian”.

I am too short on time to list all the numerous uses for rose. You can taste the flavor by picking a petal, plucking off the pith (white part where the petal attaches at the center) and nibbling. The petals can also be used to make a no-cook rose petal jam and you can also blend the petals up with eggs to make a subtly flavored omelet or souffle. (You can do this will all roses, by the way.)

Found lots of cattail this time, but all past the point I wanted to harvest. You can eat the flower heads like you do corn on the cob, before they emerge out of their sheath in the spring. After that, you can harvest the pollen, to mix into baked goods. At this point in the summer, reportedly the roots are delicious, but take a look at those roots…

I’m not digging in that. When I put my mind too it, I can override my squeamishness…but not this day.

Fern has not yet developed the “EWWWW!” response. Or perhaps she is just a true naturalist. Either way, I withheld my automatic reaction, and let her poke about in the muck, reminding myself that “Algae is just a water plant, algae is just a water plant…and will not turn her into a giant protozoan…”

Sometimes when foraging, you discover someone else has been too…

A Great Blue Heron pellet, full of crawdad bits and the numerous exoskeletons of beetles. Amazing.

Sometimes during the deep sticky fecundity of summer, all that inbred fear of the natural and the wild will surface…like in squeamishness about algae, or just a general sense of paranoia, of feeling leery. And then I encounter the shy rattlesnake, curled up at the base of a tree, peering up at me and just willing me to go away with a flicker of the tongue. I watch the dragonfly next to me on the rock in the sun, until in the next moment it is a lizard next to me, with a dragonfly in its mouth, chomping with enthusiasm. Slowly, as my own armored soul gently thaws, it becomes clear that the humming I hear from the Indian Rhubarb, or the song of water over rocks is one of gentleness. I will even risk your eye rolling and say it is one of love.

So much of what we project onto nature (Ferocious wild animals! Killers! Survival of the Fittest!) is just an extension of our own relationship to the world. When I have a chance to really melt into a communion with all the other species and elements we share this planet with, the truth that surfaces to my stunned monkey brain is about the simplicity of being. Responding when necessary, doing what needs to be done to survive, and loving, joyfully, every second of it. The path is not about conquest, and I often feel the most sorrow when I realize how much our self imposed separation from the natural world has cost us.

We’ve still got a lot of summer left kids…get out there and enjoy it! Much love.



P.S. Leaving tomorrow for Colorado, and I will be back next Monday. Thank you all for your sweet and heartfelt response to my last two posts…I’m sorry I don’t have time to comment back individually, but I cherished each one. xo


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