Wild in my Heartland: Foraging Fridays

This week:

Western Redbud (Cercis orbiculata Greene or Cercis occidentalis Torr)

My memory of Redbud extends back to every Spring of my childhood. The vision is almost always the same…on a car trip into the mountains, usually heading towards Lassen, my mother would call out, “Oh! Look at the Redbud!”. Lining the roads as the elevation rose, and set against the barely wakening earth with her colors of pale green and dark grey oak, pink branches waved in greeting. One of the first flags to unfurl, the blossoming of the Redbud coincides with the Vernal equinox, leading the parade of wildflowers soon to follow. She feels like a secret to me, blending in with the rest of the trees in summer and bare and twiggy in winter, her memory recedes through the colder months until her re-emergence in spring. To me, her debut feels like the bell in meditation…a pleasant shock that snaps me back to This moment with a reminder to breathe.

In spring, the flowers are edible and in fall, the seed pods (you can see the ancient and no longer yummy pods above). We all did our fair share of munching on the flowers last weekend. They are mild and slightly sweet, without the bitter aftertaste that can sometimes accompany “edible”, but not necessarily palatable, flowers. On her first encounter, Fern was satisfied to stand at a bush and nibble for fifteen minutes. However, to listen to other foragers, you would think that the Redbud was a delicacy. I hate to say it, but I don’t think the flavor is much to write home about, with other flowers like Borage or Nasturtium being (in my opinion) a tastier treat. I have yet to try the seed pods, but I did collect a few, thinking I would plant the seeds around our home in Shasta Co. (If you do eat the pods in the fall, only take a few and leave most for critters and reproduction, ‘Kay?)

Regardless of the taste, Western Redbud is such a quintessential wild beauty that I love her, just because.

I knew that the young Redbud twigs and bark were used in basket making, primarily by the Maidu Indians, so I spent some time researching and trying to find out more. The Maidu lived south of Redding and East of Oroville, in the watershed of the Feather River. One of their sacred spots, Table Mountain, has one of the best wildflower displays in all of California, and I’m hoping to take Fern up there in a few weeks. One thing I learned this morning was the Maidu word for Spring, Yo-Meni, which translates as “flowers”. Aw.

The rest of my research was heartbreaking however, and I almost lost my inclination to write today. It is difficult to find information written by the tribe and their descendents, and most of what is out there was written by A. Kroeber (who is best known for his writing on Ishi.) in the early 1900s. However, any history of the California Native Americans always leads back to their genocide, spurred by the Gold Rush. The level of cruelty and dehumanization is mind-blowing, the theft of their lands outrageous. I don’t want to say anymore about my own feelings on it, because in a way I don’t feel it is my place. Here is part of the story told by the Maidu themselves, and here is documentation of what befell all the tribes around Shasta County, written by local historian Dottie Smith.

Here are three examples of Redbud baskets (other materials, such as Willow, are in the weave as well). Their technology and skill was so advanced that these puppies were water tight.  The first is Maidu, the second Pomo, and the antique photo is unknown.

To see more examples, The Oakland Museum of California has a beautiful collection (that should probably be repatriated). Materials and tribe of origin are included for each.

I am hyper aware of some long overdue thanks I want to give (Teeny and Sara, I’m looking at YOU), so I will be back next week to share the package love, as well as some other springtime goodness. In the meantime, I leave you with this song. I hope it imparts some blossom giddiness and gets you set for a good weekend.

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.

Love to all!


10 thoughts on “Wild in my Heartland: Foraging Fridays

  1. lalalalalalala. i like that part of the song.

    redbuds have long been a favorite of mine, too! something crazy magic about their blooms’ color. and their big heart shaped leaves. zhi has been enchanted by the leaves since she was so little. when i first woke up to the plant kingdom, in my early 20s, well, to the wild kingdom outside of the market, the spring blooms caught my eye like nothing else. i know where specific red buds are in town and i look for them each spring now. we’re actually buds. heh. i’ve planted one up here, and it grows leaves every year, and then the branches all die in winter. so it’s like a bush or something. and it doesn’t flower. wah. but there is a lovely giant one in the bakery court yard. i’ve never eaten the flowers!! maybe i tried last year, something sounds familiar about that now. maybe cuz of you, i would bet. they don’t seem to grow wild around here. i think the only time i see them, they have obviously been planted by a person. i appreciate the history you included. i don’t know how to digest the history of genocide. david still hasn’t watched schindler’s list. he can’t. my best friend from childhood’s dad was a native american rights’ lawyer. at his funeral this year, it was done in the native american tradition. he was the dean of the law school too, and all these native americans came and rocked the law school lawn out. where we were all gathered. with spirituality. gives me goose bumps just writing this. took everything , including the cars passing by into this other dimension, where nature ruled… and we all knew it in those moments with their very simple drumming and toning/singing. mother nature.

    1. odd that your redbud doesn’t flower. i wonder if it is not a local species? they are particular about the amount of cold (or not) that they need in winter to bloom. and it is beautiful to hear of your connection to her, i love that you have seen her magic.

      the genocide thing is really hard to digest. i grew up in shasta co., even took local history in high school, and it wasn’t until my adulthood that i learned about all the tribes and their demise. it is this part of our american history that actually might hold a key to our healing around racial tensions in our country…if our past actions were drummed into our head as much as our manifest destiny, we might hold more humility about border issues, immigration, prejudice, etc.

      1. the red bud is 1 foot tall! ha! that’s why it doesn’t flower. and it has to start over every year. poor baby. i need to make it it’s own greenhouse i think.

        and oh how i wish and pray our country, or the whole world, could drum it into our hearts and heads what we as a species have really done to each other and all the other species while we’re at it. i feel so good just imagining that kind of healing. let’s go backwards for a while. like with a homeopathic remedy. go back and heal up all that was not healed up properly.

  2. I had no idea redbud flowers and seed pods were edible! I went out and munched on a few blooms today, not bad. Will definitely try tossing some into a salad possibly with some nasturtiums that grow nearby out front too 🙂 Also, how pretty would it be to add them to a sauteed rice dish?

    By the way, our transplanted clump of miner’s lettuce totally took off, woohoo!

    1. yes, i love the idea of tossing the flowers in with salad or rice bits…they’re not an entree, but are definitely nice as an occasional bite. i love that you have one right there at home. and YAY for the miner’s lettuce! watch them tho…they get pretty enthusiastic and will spread. more reason to eat wild salad!

  3. I meant to say this ages ago, but on my Christmas trip home I spent a lot of time staring out of car windows and marvelling at the wild edibles I could see! I have to thank you for this because you opened my eyes! I’m still learning about the ones in my new state because the climate is so different but I am enjoying the journey.

  4. Yeah, I was bouncing in my seat to Gobbledigook, that was some good happiness. I like your disclaimer and DON’T want poopy pants. having said that though, I have been a little reckless with foraging for edible wildness….found some nasturtiums at my mums place and encouraged steve to eat a leaf with me, i was like “mmm it’s quite bitter at the end’ and he looked all wide eyed, he says “yes, it’s too bitter, like poison bitter, are you sure these are nasturtiums” – what ensued was a fit of much nasturtium spitting by both of us. Turned out it was nasturtium. Geez Steve, trust me why don’t you! I also identified some Oxalis with purple petals – I used to eat it as a child, and encouraged a friend to eat some with me, she was miles more trusting than my dear man, it tasted exactly the same as i remembered, soury and juicy. (I don’t remember anyone telling me it was safe to eat as a kid…i dunno….maybe my nana did?) Thanks for putting up links…I read the Dottie Smith Account, you said it pretty much perfectly, that the cruelty and dehumanization was outrageous. I want to believe that people have changed and that we no longer possess the potential for such heinous endeavours – but evidently according to world events, that is not yet so. Yegads, I’m always hijackng your comments section with some long train of thought.

    1. errrr…you said nasturtium leaves…you meant flowers, right? because the leaves aren’t edible and may indeed be poisonous. nice knowing ya. 😉 we have smaller oxalis here that has light purple flowers. fern figured out on her own what they were.

      and i like your hijacking ways. xo

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