Thursday, Lily and I went out to Temescal Canyon again. Although it started out cold, we had a wonderful time. Again, our guide Chris Morasky was full of information. And this time we not only learned (and ate) some edible plants, we also went for a hike.
Here, Chris is making an arrow shaft from a toyon bush. The small knife he carries in his belt is incredibly sharp. Although it’s hard to see, he’s holding the arrow shaft in his hands. This only took him a few minutes to make. Amazing.
This is the toyon bush. The berries are edible if lightly fried/cooked. Poisonous if raw, particularly if you eat a lot of them. We tried them just to get a taste, but spit the berry out without swallowing it. Sweet and sour tasting, but really dries mouth out when raw. Very astringent. The natives cooked it lightly, and it was a very important food plant for them. Also very strong wood and used for bow and arrows. They grow very straight. Leaves are sharp/prickly edges, almost like holly. Matter of fact, these bushes populate the surrounding mountains and some believe that the first people (not the natives) who came here mistook them for holly, thus the name Hollywood.
You will see this vine all over the place in Temescal Canyon. The flowers are very delicate, the fruit looks like a cucumber (hence the name), but it is poisonous. The leaves look like regular ivy leaves but are somewhat furry. So, should you see this plant in the local Santa Monica mountains and you see a cucumber on it, do not eat it. I believe it’s a hallucinogen. Not good. I will take pictures of the fruit if we are up there when they bear them.
Chris pointed this one out to us too. It’s called Indian lettuce. I tried it. Um, very bitter. It was a staple for the natives as well. I can honestly say I might just starve if I had to eat this. Apparently, though, there are people who harvest this for local restaurants to include in their salads. Yuck!
One of the people out there asked me if I got cold easily. I do. Apparently, bitter foods decrease your body temperature. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. I’ll have to look it up.
Another very important plant for the natives (and one you might be familiar with), this is a type of elderberry–Mexican elderberry to be precise. It is medicinal, edible, and usable. All of the green is poisonous. The flowers are really powerful to stimulate the immune system. You can take the flowers and make a good, immune system boosting tea. The deep purplish red berries are good for boiling down and using it as a cough suppressant or again boost your immune system. If you take berries and boil them down with sweetener, it’s really good in a pie.
The natives used the wood to make containers as you can push the pith out of the center. They also made flutes out of it. In the plains Indians, it was acceptable for a young man to sit outside a young woman’s teepee and play his flute. If she liked it, she could come out and go under the blanket with him. The inner bark is also good for making skirts with it.
The California black walnut was used to dye fabrics. I missed some of the “lecture” on this plant as I came up late, but these are the notes someone else shared with me:
Mountain men used to dye leather/clothes dark brown with this plant. (I’m not sure if they used the bark or the leaves. Probably the bark, but don’t quote me.) To get it jet black, you needed to do a second wash with iron, which is what the mountain men liked.
Chris dyed the buckskin he’s wearing with walnut some 15+ years ago.
After about a half hour into the class, Chris took us up an animal track. If you’ve ever hiked in Temescal, you know the trails can be rather challenging. We went “off roading” so to speak. Although you can’t really tell from this pick, we pretty much ended walking straight up the mountain. What I liked the most about this part of the trek was how all of the parents (and many of the kids) helped everyone get up the hill. As we had some very young kids (2-3 year olds and parents carrying infants), there were moments when we were pushing the kids up the hill with a hand to the bottom (because that was the only place to put your hand) or having them hold our hands to get up. When we finally reached the top, the kids beamed with accomplishment while the parents panted a bit. LOL
Chris waited for us there with some fresh nopale (aka prickly pear). If you are thirsty, this is an excellent plant to quench it. As you’ll see in the next photo, it’s very prickly. In order to eat it, you need to get all of the spines off of it. You can see the slime dripping off the piece in his hand, but it does work well for thirst. With a texture like cucumber, it’s much better tasting, though. (Obviously, I’m not a fan of cucumber.) Personally, I’d be more inclined to replace cucumber in my salad with nopale. Maybe I’d even make nopale sandwiches with cream cheese. Hm… maybe not. (g)
Amazingly enough, Lily tried it (albeit under duress–she’s a very picky eater). It wasn’t as bad as she thought it was going to be. We’ve had nopale before, although she doesn’t realize it. There is a local “farmer” who sells tortillas and tortilla chips that are a blend of nopale and corn. Nopale is very good for you, corn not so much, but the tortillas and chips are quite yummy. They are more dense than the regular tortillas, but that doesn’t stop them from disappearing quickly from our house.
We stopped a little further up the hill from where we found the nopale, and Chris settled in to tell some stories. Although I have never heard Native Americans tell their stories, I would imagine he tells them much in the way they do. Most of his stories impart a lesson. He doesn’t try to hide the lesson. Matter of fact, he openly tells them the lesson, and the kids don’t seem to mind. Of course, when the lessons come from their parents, they seemed less inclined to listen. LOL Ah, well, at least they will listen to him before racing down the mountain.