Summer Wild Edibles
Summer offers a deep call to spend time outdoors in nature. I enjoy collecting native plants for food and health since it connects me with the abundance of our local landscape.
My favorite summer edibles from the Sierra Nevada region include Currants, Chokecherries, Elderberries, Manzanita berries and the leaves of wild grapes. Collect Currants and enjoy them fresh or in a jam, or use later by either freezing or drying the berries. Chokecherries are best made into syrup. Use them fresh or dry to sweeten the fruit. The early summer is just the right time to collect palm-sized wild grape leaves to use for delicious dolmas. Make Elderberries into an immune system support to treat fevers and colds in the winter. Recent scientific studies have confirmed the effectiveness of Elderberries in fighting infection. The most versatile and useful native plant discovery I made last year was turning the berries of the abundant, drought-tolerant Manzanita into a gluten-free sugar and flour. Elderberries and Manzanita berries are both more than three times higher in antioxidants than pomegranates and blueberries, so spending time getting to know how to enjoy our native berries is an essential aspect of a healthy, truly local lifestyle.
Thriving within our landscape includes finding health solutions to common health challenges from our own backyard. Around the world, native plants have been relied upon as a primary form of health care for thousands of years. They continue to offer an effective way to treat everyday ailments. Making a bug repellent is simple and can allow you to really relax in the beauty of a summer evening instead of spending your time fighting off the mosquitoes. Just find Mugwort, typically growing in sunny or partly shaded areas near creeks and rivers. Rub it directly on your skin while hiking or steep overnight in hot water and strain into an empty spray bottle. When first exposed to poison oak, use a combination of Manzanita leaf and Oak bark to keep away the redness and rash. Boil the bark of any species of Oak for 20 minutes, add Manzanita leaves and let steep overnight. Strain and keep in an empty spray bottle and use immediately after any poison oak exposure, before taking a cool shower. California Poppy has been used extensively by the Pomo Indians and is approved by the Canadian government for use as a mild sedative.
The best part of summer is the opportunity to spend time outdoors. I especially love being with my kids in nature. I’ve created a list of fun activities to do with kids in the summer as well as a natural treasure hunt to help identify native plants. Feel free to download and use with your family and friends.
My hope is that this summer I will build an even deeper awareness of the nature of the place we call home.
Wild Summer Edibles
Manzanita Berry Vinaigrette (gluten-free)
Collect and dry Manzanita berries in summer. To make Manzanita berry sugar, grind the berries roughly in a coffee grinder, then sift out the seeds by using a wooden spoon to press powder through a mesh strainer and into a bowl.
- 1⁄4 cup prepared Manzanita sugar
- 1⁄2 tsp dry mustard
- 1⁄2 tbsp sea salt
- 1⁄4 tsp fresh cracked pepper
- 1 tsp minced garlic clove
- 1⁄2 cup caramelized onions
- 1⁄2 cup golden balsamic vinegar
- 1⁄2 cup orange juice or Manzanita cider
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup sunflower or safflower oil
- Mix spices together in a small bowl.
- Mix liquid ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Combine in a blender and shake well before serving.
Wild Grape Leaves with Wild Berries
- 16 palm-sized wild Grape leaves, stems removed
- 1 cup pre-cooked brown rice
- 1⁄2 cup unsweetened fruit juice
- 1⁄2 cup toasted Walnuts
- 1⁄4 cup dried, ground berries (Manzanita, Madrone, Toyon)
- 1 tbsp organic vegetable oil
- 1⁄2 tsp cinnamon
- 1⁄2 tsp wild mint
- 1⁄2 tsp nutmeg
- Steam Grape leaves for approximately 10 minutes.
- Mix rice with remaining ingredients.
- Place a spoonful at base of leaf; fold sides inward and roll leaf.
- Garnish with seasonal fruit
note: Typically in June, pick green leaves and use immediately or dry, freeze or can for future use. The leaves are most tender when collected early. Traditionally, Maidu Indians did not pull the vine down, but would strip leaves from vines that had been torn from trees by winter floods.
Recipes for Local Health
Bug Away Spray
Chop Mugwort leaves and fill inside of mason jar. Pour boiling water over the leaves and let steep overnight. Strain out the leaves and pour into a spray bottle. Use to keep mosquitoes away.
Poison Oak Away
Boil the bark of any species of Oak for 20 minutes, add Manzanita leaves and let steep overnight. Strain and keep in an empty spray bottle and use immediately after any poison oak exposure, before taking a cool shower.
California Poppy Relaxation
Tea: Collect the upper part of spent flowers after blooming, leaves and stems. Make a relaxation tea by steeping the plant for 20 minutes, straining and then adding honey if desired.
To make a tincture for stress-relief, use a quart mason jar to soak the upper parts of 5-6 plants (leaving the roots in the ground) in 70 proof alcohol. Allow to sit for 2 weeks, shaking daily to help extract the medicinal compounds. It is approved in Canada for use as a mild sedative and the Pomo Indians used it as a sedative for babies.
Nature Activities with Kids
PLAY WITH LEAVES
Collect leaves of different shapes and textures. To make a leaf rubbing card, arrange leaves close together on a smooth table. Cover with a piece of paper. Pressing hard, color the paper with crayons until the leaves appear. Another fun activity is to arrange your leaves on a sheet of clear contact paper with the sticky side up. Cover with another piece of contact paper and smooth down until flat. Cut into a pretty shape and hang in a window.
BAKE MANZANITA BERRY MUFFINS
Collect and dry Manzanita berries. To make Manzanita berry sugar, grind the berries roughly in a coffee grinder, then sift out the seeds by using a wooden spoon to press powder through a mesh strainer and into a bowl.
- 1 –1⁄2 cups all purpose, wheat, or Oak nut flour
- 1-1⁄2 cups Manzanita berry sugar (see recipe above)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1⁄2 tsp salt
- 1 cup mashed ripe bananas
- 1⁄2 cup milk (substitute with soy, rice, or oat milk if desired)
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp vegetable or sunflower oil
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- 1-1⁄2 cups fresh or frozen wild or local seasonal fruits
- Preheat oven to 400o.
- Line muffin pan with paper cups or grease with vegetable oil.
- Mash bananas and stir in milk, egg, oil and lemon juice.
- In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients—flour, manzanita sugar, baking powder, salt.
- Mix wet ingredients together, then add to the dry and gently stir in fruit.
- Bake for approximately 20 minutes.
Makes 12 muffins.
GO ON A NATURAL TREASURE HUNT
Count how many native plants and trees you can identify in your yard or nearby nature spot. Then see how many different bugs and birds you can find.
Download the PDF of the Natural Treasure Hunt or follow any of these variations to make your own map.
VARIATION 1 Go outside without your child and draw and label a map of the native plants and trees. Give your child the map and see if they can follow the map and discover the plants.
VARIATION 2 Photograph native plants and trees and then print out the photos. On separate pieces of paper, write the names of each plant followed by clues about the plant’s uses and its appearance. See if your child can use the clues to match the correct plant name to each plant photograph.