Wild Plants, Wild Places
Summer is an incredible time to step outside and have an adventure that reminds us how fortunate we are to live in this incredibly beautiful landscape. Manzanita Cider is a traditional drink that has long been enjoyed by the indigenous inhabitants in many parts of the state. Although all species have edible berries, Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida, is abundant in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. The cider is easy to make, high in antioxidants, and naturally sweet. You just fill a blender with the dry berries and grind on low-medium for about a minute. This is a modern way to crush the berries and expose the sweet powder without crushing the large seeds. Cover the crushed berries with cold water and soak for anywhere from several hours to overnight. Then strain the mixture and enjoy the refreshing, apple like flavor over ice on a hot day. The tart, lemon-like flavor of Douglas-Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is delicious as a drink or a refreshing sorbet. The basic recipe for tea is to bring four cups of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and add two cups of Fir tips. Let it steep for 10 minutes and then strain out the Fir needles. To make a vegan Fir tip sorbet calls for just a little more steeping time and an ice cream maker. The leaves of Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicum) taste like nothing else; it’s a flavor people either love or hate. Though the leaves are bitter when chewed, if sucked they stay sweet and quench the thirst. Physicians in the Old West valued Yerba Santa as a remedy for coughs, pneumonia, and bronchitis, and listed it in the official manual for doctors, the U.S. Pharmacopoeia, in 1894. At least seven indigenous groups in California relied upon it as a tea for colds and congestion. Since I prefer to take my medicine in the form of dessert, I developed a recipe for raw chocolate made from Yerba Santa. A walk through the woods in summer connects us to this lovely place we call home, and offers a delicious reason to grow, tend, and treasure the elements of California’s native cuisine.
(Collect the berries in summer.)
1 cup plump, orange-red Manzanita berries, large
6 cups water
Coffee grinder, food processor, or blender
Roughly grind dry, whole berries at medium speed for 2-3 minutes until well crushed, but without grinding the large seeds. Place in a glass jar. Pour room-temperature water over the berries. Let the mixture sit for anywhere from 2 hours to overnight, and use a strainer to separate the seeds from the cider.
Refrigerate and serve cold. Keeps refrigerated for about a week.
(Collect the young tips in spring
or use tips year round.)
2 cups fresh Fir tips, chopped
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. fresh ginger, chopped
1 tbsp. honey (if desired)
1-quart glass jar
Cloth to cover the jar
Make a ginger starter (called a
“Bug”) 1 week ahead. Daily, for 7 days, feed your starter 2 teaspoons of sugar and 2 of chopped ginger. Keep the jar covered with the cloth and rubber band. When bubbles form and start to make sounds, the starter is ready. Strain 1 cup to make the soda and keep 1⁄4 cup for a new starter. With the new starter, add the starter ingredients to 1⁄4 cup of the reserved starter and repeat
the same method.
FIR TIP TEA
Bring 4 cups water, 1 tablespoon honey, and 2 cups Fir tips to a boil. Turn off the heat and let the mixture steep until cool. Mix 1 cup strained ginger starter per 1 quart of strained Fir soda, and pour into flip-top bottles. Let the mixture sit in a warm place for 2-5 days and test for flavor. If desired, let it sit longer to create more carbonation and less sweetness. Open the lids to let air out of the bottles once a day. Keep refrigerated. Strain when serving, and garnish with fresh Fir tips.
DOUGLAS-FIR TIP SORBET
3 cups water
1 cup sugar
1 quart fresh or frozen Douglas-Fir tips plus a few extra to garnish
Bring the water and sugar to a boil, stir, and turn off the heat. Add the Fir tips and steep, covered, for 30 minutes. Keep the liquid and strain out the tips. Chill overnight in the refrigerator. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Garnish the sorbet with extra Fir tips when serving.
YERBA SANTA RAW CHOCOLATES
(Raw, Vegan) (Collect the leaves in summer or fall.)
1 cup raw cacao butter, melted
1⁄2 – 1 cup raw cacao powder
1⁄4 – 1⁄2 cup powdered, dried Yerba Santa leaves
(or coyote mint leaves as a substitute)
1⁄4 cup raw, local honey
Sea salt to taste
4 silicon molds
Melt the cacao butter in the sun. Add the cacao powder and stir until smooth. Slowly stir in the Yerba Santa powder. Add the raw honey and sea salt, mixing well. Spoon the mixture into silicon molds and freeze for at least an hour. Remove and serve. Store in the refrigerator or freezer.
NOTE: Use more or less honey depending on the desired sweetness. Makes approximately 60 chocolates.
Photos from Alicia Funk.
*Recipes from “Living Wild-Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California”
by Alicia Funk and Karin Kaufman.
Bear Yuba Land Trust (BYLT) is thrilled to be partnering with local author Alicia Funk on a variety of projects that get us close to the land.
Alicia is the founder of the Living Wild Project, which offers educational resources and access to the wild food of California, thus deepening our relationship with the native landscapes we inhabit. She is also the author of several books, including “Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California.” Bear Yuba Land Trust is a community-supported nonprofit that has protected from development more than 13,000 acres of open spaces and wild places in the Bear River and Yuba River watersheds. The Trust has also built more than 30 miles of local public access recreation trails and gets people outdoors on conserved lands with its active Encounter Nature program, which includes guided hikes and educational programs for people of all ages. While some wild food sources such as Manzanita
and Douglas Fir can be found in abundance on nearly all BYLT preserves, as an important part of the ecosystem and wildlife food web, native plants must always be treated with care and reverence. Over-harvesting is a real threat to rare and special indigenous species in California. To learn more, stay tuned for guided wild food walks led by expert field guides during the Fall of 2018, or check out the online resources at BYLT.org and livingwild.org.
Bear Yuba Land Trust