Wild Edibles Of The Stoney Mountains

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By Buck Conner with Monsieur Jerry LaVelle

From primitive man, collecting his meals around his cave, having to store and care for his food, whether acorns, pine nuts, berries or wild grain, it had to be done. There have been milled grains discovered that date before 3,000 B.C. as well as caches of dried foods.

Did you know that the "Great Room" as known today, in 1700 was the kitchen, large homes had two: a "summer kitchen" and a "great kitchen"? The areas were designed with large cooking and work spaces, a pantry with built-in shelves and a table. Ovens were added to the side of the fireplace. Iron, copper, brass and tin cooking utensils simplified the chore of cooking. A large iron crane held kettles over the fire and could be swung out from the flame for needed attention.

With all the processes needed in preparing meals and daily baking of breads and other bake goods, there was always the storage of grains, milled flours and meals, dried herbs and spices, nuts and fruits. Contained in a variety of bins, crocks and tinned objects, with vegetables and other wild edibles all stored in a root cellar near the kitchen quarters.

It wasn’t until the next century that the first refrigerator was built in 1834, holding 100 lbs. of ice, and by 1881 there were more than 1000 stove patents, ranging from iron to soapstone construction.

By now your thinking, "What is this guy trying to tell us”????

Since primitive man, collected his meals from around his cave to the modern kitchen of the mid 1800’s, we’ve come along way and I am sure there hundreds of experts on these varied subjects. What I’m getting too is the collecting of foods, wild edibles to cultivated plants and grains.

In our modern society and wonderful knowledge of medicine we seem to have passed by the learned sources for relief from our ancestors. A good example is the next trip you are planning into a bug infected area, try using "garlic" in your cooking for several weeks before leaving and while on that trek. Don’t worry, while on the trek if all members do this, you won’t offend anyone. If stopped being used a few days before reaching home it will have worked out of your system and family and friends can come closer.

You will find you didn’t use as much, if any insect spray and didn’t receive as many bites as previous trips. Many voyagers have told of the qualities of garlic and its use for centuries. Even the "Corp of Discovery" writes of the use of wild garlic and black licorice for their health needs. The builders of the Great Pyramids in Egypt as well as workers in Greece and early Olympians all knew and used garlic as part of their daily diet. The Chinese and even King Tut have been users of this herb along with licorice, found in their tombs and living quarters.

There are thousands of wild and cultivated plants, herbs and grains that are valuable to today’s research for cures of who knows how many problems. My point is we can look at some odd these, which will be correct for your trek and benefit your well being a little too. The Native American always had a medicine man with his bags of plants, berries and herbs. The early settlers in the New England Colonies had theirs too, they called them witches, burned at the stake, but their goods were kept and used. (Maybe not true!!)

I have a friend, an interested collector of wild edible plants; he teaches and studies the vegetation of the Rocky Mountains, an interest of his, for more years than he likes to admit. We have a like interest in the F & I through the Fur Trade periods, as well as in the early westward movement in North America.

After showing him an article written by "one of the in the know" gentlemen, he told me that this person could not have done what was claimed in the article, "milling cat-tail pollen" when dry, its as fine as any flour in its milled state. This was one of several statements that would not be correct and give the reader wrong field information.

At that time I asked if he was willing to share his knowledge of "Wild Edible Plants" in the Stony (Rocky) Mountains, correct for our needs, when a foot on our next trek. Monsieur LaVelle is well known for nature walks, college studies and continuous teachings of the variety of edibles available to this area.

A "Woods Walk" was planned with the AMM Baker Party, with 8-9 members showing up on Sat. May 13th, to meet Monsieur LaVelle and our class started with his first statement.

"Learning about wild plants and flowers can be an enjoyable pastime, and with the additional knowledge of which plants are edible and which are not, you can not only increase your enjoyment of the out-of-doors, but also provide eating pleasure."

With his permission, I will shorten an essay given at this time, down to the edibles we would be most interested in.

As Monsieur LaVelle would say, "There is a tremendous satisfaction in knowing that you can go into the mountains and gather wild food that is not only nutritious, but also a pleasure to the palate".

I’ve found that some of his tastes vary from others in this "la companie" of the Baker Party, but we have all heard and some have seen true French cooking. I always pass on his "Snails & Tidbits" when on a trek and he has returned with some of his goodies, he has managed to dig up along the way.

I’ve given you just a few of the many and varied edibles, available in the Stony Mountains per Monsieur LaVelle.

PINACEAE Pinus edulis Englem. (Pinyon Pine)
The seeds of all the pines are edible but most of them are so small and difficult to gather they aren’t worth the effort. The exception is the Pinyon Pine, whose nuts are relatively large, about 1/2 inch long, and very good tasting. The pinyon tree is not cultivated like the hickory and walnuts and so the pinyon nuts available are gathered from the wild. August or September is the season to harvest them, when the seeds are ripe but the cones haven’t opened. The cones ripen the second season and unfortunately the quantity of cones produced varies greatly from year to year, but you can always find some in the extensive mixed pinyon juniper forests at lower elevations in the southwest.

URTICACEAE Urtica dioica L. (Stinging Nettle)
You might wonder how a plant that requires gloves to gather can be used for food, but the stinging quality is completely destroyed by cooking or drying. Stinging nettle is a hollow stemmed perennial that grows from creeping underground rhizomes and has opposite saw toothing leaves and stinging hairs. Gather only young shoots as the older ones are gritty. With all these drawbacks, stinging nettle makes a great tasty vegetable when steamed for only a short time and served with just salt and pepper and butter. A linen-like cloth can be made from the fibers of this plant and Native Americans used it in bowstrings and basket making.

FAGACEAE Quercus gamebelii Nutt. (Scrub Oak)
Acorns from all species of oak are edible but those from many species, including our native species of Scrub Oak, contain "tannin", which makes them bitter tasting. Fortunately, tannin is water soluble and can be removed by leaching, after the acorn shell and inner peel have been removed. The leaching process consists of boiling the shelled acorn meats in many changes of water until the water no longer turns a reddish-brown and the acorn meats are a rich brown color. This may take hours, depending on the amount of tannin present, which varies with different species of oak and even from tree to tree of the same species. The leached acorn meats should then be dried. Roasting in a slow oven with the door slightly ajar will remove the taste and give them a nutty flavor. For many groups of Native Americans, acorns furnished a substantial part of their caloric intake.

Some of these people leached the acorns by placing baskets of them in slow-moving streams for several days. Over the centuries mankind has consumed more tonnage of acorns than of cereal grain.

CACTACEAE Opuntia sp. (Prickly Pear Cactus)
Prickly Pear Cactus is well known to everyone living in the West. A species of Prickly Pear also grows along the East Coast. Wherever they are found they must be treated with respect due to their formidable defenses. Prickly Pear is protected by long spines and they also have many tiny barbs (giochids) that can be extremely irritating is allowed in contact with the skin or lips.

Collecting them with cooking tongs and a long knife seems the safer way, sticks with a bark plate is more challenging. Whatever the method you use to de-arm them, it is worth the effort. The purple fruits can be split, seeds removed and the pulp layer under the skin can be eaten raw or cooked. The flavor is reminiscent of watermelon, but more so. The pads (actually swollen stem joints) are also edible. After the spines are removed they can be peeled, cut into strips and boiled for a few minutes. They are ready to be seasoned and eaten as vegetable but their okra-like mucilaginous quality is not liked by most people. A better way to prepare them after they are boiled is to roll them in cracker cumbs and fry them like "Fried Green Tomatoes".

Note: At this time, we were given samples of the fruit, pulp and raw meat to taste. We have a member from Boulder, Colo. that will get barbs of this plant in him every time he goes with us. Ken tries the raw meat of the Prickly Pear Cactus and damn, he gets a barb in his tongue, that’s different, usually its in the other end, (seems to like sitting in them, an old country thing ,we figure), reason for his name "Old Pucker Butt".

PORTULACCEAE Claytonia rosea Rydb. (Spring Beauty)
Spring Beauty is, as its name implies, a beautiful wildflower of spring. The pale pink "S" petaled flowers are small and are bourn on a leafless stalk only 6 inches or so long. It has 2 or 3 narrow pastel leaves. Spring Beauty has a starchy, edible tuber that can be used like a tiny potato. This tuber is an inch or two below ground level. These little tubers are only about an inch in diameter and irregularly shaped which makes them a nuisance to peel. I just boil them with the skins on, then when they’re done, about 20 minutes later, the skins easily slip off and they can be used anyway you might use a new potatoes, seasoned with salt and pepper. No species of Claytonia is poisonous, says the Monsieur.

PORTULACACEAE Portulaca oleracea L. (Purslane)
Purslane is a common garden weed, it is also a delicious vegetable available to anyone who cares to take the time to gather it. This low growing plant, with it’s succulent leaves and stems, commonly grows in gardens and flower beds during the heat of summer, but don’t let it’s availability prevent you from enjoying it’s goodness, not all good things are rare.

Purslane needs to be washed well because the sandy soil of which it likes to grow seems to cling to it, but it is not necessary to dig up the whole plant, just break off the tips of the young stems, leaving the rest of the plant to continue to grow. That way, you can harvest Purslane all season long. Purslane can be eaten raw in salads or added to soups and stews where it’s freshly succulence ads thicken, similar to okra.

But my favorite way of cooking it is to sauté it in a little bacon grease, this enhances its slightly sour, acidic taste that I find very pleasant, says Monsieur LaVelle.

CHENOPODIACEAE Chenopodium sp. (Lamb’s Quarter, Goosefoot)
Lamb’s Quarter is sometimes called Goosefoot, or even Pigweed, but by whatever name it is still a good edible and is in the same family as Spinach and Beets. The leaves are pale green and meaty, or farinatious, on the underside, but on cooking the meatiness is lost and they turn a bright green. Only the young plants, less than a foot tall should be used or they might be tough and strong tasting. They need to be cooked a long time and they cook down quite a bit, so gather a good amount. In addition to being used as a pot herb like Spinach, Lamb’s Quarter can be stir-fried with soy sauce and has even been used in burritos, a favorite of Gov. Bent, while in Santa Fe.

AMARANTHACEAE Amaranthus sp. (Pigweed)
Amaranths have been called America’s forgotten cereal grain. They were so popular with some groups of Native Americans that the plants were cultivated near their settlements. The young leaves can be gathered before the plant flowers and used as a potherb or in anyway that Spinach would be used. Later in the season the leaves become too tough to eat and may have a bitter taste. After flowering the plants produce great quantities of shiny, black seeds. It is easy to gather all the seeds you can use by pulling up the plant and then inverting as many of them as you can get, upside down in a brown paper bag. After a few days of drying, shake the paper bag and the seeds will collect in the bottom. These seeds may be eaten raw but they have a "mousy" taste I don’t enjoy. The objectionable flavor can be removed by roasting the seeds in a shallow pan for an hour, after which they can be ground and used to make porridge. This ground meal can be used in bakery products if it is first mixed with equal amounts of wheat flour. Monsieur says, "Don’t be put off by the name; it’s a good edible plant."

POLYGONACEAE Rumex Crispus L. (Curly Dock)
Curly Dock is easy to identify due to its dark green, wavy edged, lancelet leaves which are mostly basal and it’s tall, rusty brown seed stalk. It is a favorite of the wild-food foragers due to its ready availability and many uses. The leaves are a little too coarse to be used in salads but can be cooked and eaten in anyway you use Spinach, such as with bacon and vinegar dressing or cream sauce, for those living in the settlements. Also good in a period casseroles. Curly Dock leaves are higher in Vitamin C than orange juice. They also are higher in Vitamin A and have 4 times as much carotene as do carrots.

MALVACEAE Malva neglecta Wallr. (Common Mallow)
Common Mallow is a low growing annual from Eurasia. Its kidney shaped leaves resemble those of Geranium and they are covered with stellate hairs. It has small, five-pedaled flowers that are like flowers of the Hidisus, to which it is related. Its fruits are small, flat shaped disks about a third of an inch across, which are segmented into one-seeded nutlets. The leaves and their stems can be cooked and have been used in times of need, as a filler with other vegetables, another plant that is related to okra and used in the same way. They produce fruit all summer long making an available supply, also boiled and eaten like peas. Native Americans used the cooking water from the leaves and stems for an emulsifier for cough syrup and hand lotion.

BRASSICACEAE Chorispora tenella. (Pallas) DC. (Blue Mustard)
None of my research in books on edible wild plants lists the Blue Mustard as being edible, but I have eaten it on several occasions, and I know of several Oriental families living in the Rockies, who eat it every spring as do I. It is one of the earliest blooming plants in our area. The blue-purple, 4 pedaled, mustard- type flowers is seen along roads and trails in March and April, long before other wild flowers have begun to make their presence known. The upper and lower leaves are different, the lower ones being similar to Dandelion. While the upper ones are shorter and nearly entire. The young leaves are the part of the plant we want to eat. They are prepared like Spinach and fortunately there is no smell present after cooking the leaves. Before cooking, one will note the odor of the Blue Mustard being disagreeable.

BRASSICACEAE Nasturtium officinale R. Br. (Water Cress)
Water Cress is a succulent, perennial herb that grows either floating or partially submerged in ditches and slow running streams. Its stems root at the nodes. When gathering it, don’t pull up the whole plant, just snip off the upper leaves, which are the tenderest and leave the rest of the plant to generate new growth. Watch the condition of the water it is growing in and don’t collect polluted water. Water Cress has the deliciously tangy, peppery taste typical of the mustard family. It can also be cooked and served like Spinach.

GROSSULARIACEAE Ribes aureum Pursn (Golden Currant)
Golden Currant is a low scrub that occurs in Forrest openings in Colorado up around 8,000 feet. This native shrub blooms in April with many bright yellow, 5-lobed, trumpet-shaped flowers that are about one inch long. Golden Currant fruits in August and produces smooth, round, many-seeded berries (fruits) that are juicy and delicious. The flowers themselves are edible and contain an abundance of nectar which makes them fragrant and tasty with a sweet clover-like flavor. Some people say the flowers are better eating than the fruits.
Species of Ribes are divided into two groups, the Currant and the Gooseberry. The Currant has a smooth fruit and lacks the thorns, while the Gooseberries have thorns and bristly fruit. All the species of Ribes are edible to varying degrees.

ROSEACEAE Fragaria ovalis (Lenm.) Rydb. (Wild Strawberry)
Wild Strawberry looks like the cultivated variety only the fruits are much smaller. The leaves are very rich in Vitamin C content and can be used to make a mild flavored tea that has been used since ancient times, as a curative for all sorts of ills. Thoroughly dry the leaves and store them in an air-tight container. Don’t use wilted leaves as they are unhealthy.

In our opinion Wild Strawberries are the most delicious of the wild fruits, (Monsieur LaVelle takes great delight in watching my reaction, when testing by tasting some of his finds, makes one question our friendship at times !!). At this point we take a break from food tasting, taking notes, pictures and a chance to reload the cameras and tape in the video gear. We wanted this class for a learning tool, not just a walk in the woods, with a lot of good information lost within weeks after the class ended. Hopefully we all will be awakened again to what is available from Mother Nature. This is the reason this article was written with Monsieur LaVelle’s help. We all have a little laziness to take the easy way of doing things, correct or not, a human trait.

Once you try a few treks into our woods and gather your next meal, you get an idea of the amount of work it is to feed a family in a time gone by. When put into this light, one sees how a family worked all the time gathering, hunting or just preparing food to live another day, to do it all over again and again.
Now the fun is slipping away, right, try it a few times and you’ll learn to think of the two different worlds we experience: our love of an earlier time and the world we work in today. Hell, we got it made; one can jump back and forth just about when one wishes to. How easy we have it, when compared to our forefathers.

ROSEACEAE Prunus americana Marsh, (Wild Plum)
Wild Plum usually grows as a shrub rather than a tree and since it reproduces by new shoots growing from the spreading roots it often occurs in dense thickets. The 5-petaled white flowers grow from short twigs as do some other members of the Rose family. The purple fruit is pulpy with a large stone and tough skin and its quality varies from plant to plant. The fruit is subject to disease and damage by insects and so does not appear as perfect as the store-bought fruit.
Monsieur LaVelle says, "they can be used in jams, jellies and pies and I’ve found they make an excellent fruit leather if the pulp is spread out on plastic wrap and dried in a food denyorator. The unripe fruit can be stewed and sweetened with sugar and so is one of the few fruits that can be eaten green without upsetting the digestive system."

ROSEACEAE Prunus virginia L. (Chokecherry)
Choke cherry is a shrub with a smooth bark that has the lateral lines characteristic of the domestic Cherry tree. The dark green leaves have finely serrated edges. The cream-colored flowers hang in racemes and don’t come on until the leaves are nearly full grown. The flowers mature into a purple, pea-sized fruit with a pit. Found from the plains to about 8,000 feet in the mountains.

The kernel of the fruits are said to contain some prussic acid and a toxin related to cyanide, but these compounds are so unstable they are destroyed in cooking or even just in drying. The danger from eating them can’t be very great, because they were used extensively by the pioneers and Native Americans who included them in their pemmican.

Native Americans partially dried the ripe fruit then ground them up, seeds and all, and formed them into patties which were then dried again. These patties were stored for later use.

The ripe berries can be used in pies, jellies and sauces and Chokecherries are famous for making wine. (Of which the Monsieur takes a small drink and corks it, didn’t get to smell this one, cute!!).

ROSEACEAE Rosa sp. (Wild Rose) Hips
Everyone is familiar with Wild Rose, but not everyone knows that roses are edible. There are at least three species of Wild Rose in our area, but there is very little difference between them and they are all treated with chemicals.
The whitish area at the base of the petal may be bitter and should be removed. Then the petals can be used raw in salads and sandwiches or cooked in many ways including jam and soup or mixed with other foods as a flavoring.

The fruit of the rose is a red or orange, fleshy seed pod that remains on the bush into winter and is easily recognized. The amount of pulp around the seeds and its sweetness varies greatly from bush to bush. When you come across a plant that has hips with a lot of sweet pulp, they can be eaten right from the bush. Rose hips have been tested in the laboratory and have been found to contain more Vitamin C per ounce than oranges.

ROSEACEAE Rubus idaeus L. (Wild Raspberry)
Wild raspberry looks very much like the cosmetic species, except it doesn’t grow as tall and the berries aren’t as large. Like Strawberries, Wild Raspberries look and taste like domestic counterparts and can be used like other types of berries. Native Americans dried them for future use. I usually end up eating all of them as I’m gathering them, but if you manage to get some home, the best way to preserve the berries is to freeze them in syrup of sugar and water.

VITACEAE Vitis riparia Michx. (Wild Grape)
Wild Grape is a woody vine with tendrils. The leaves are wide and slightly lobed. The tiny greenish flowers occur in clusters. The fruit is a purple-black grape about one half inch wide with powdery bloom. The grapes grow in bunches and are the same as cultivated grapes but a little smaller and not as sweet. In this area Wild Grapes occur mostly at lower elevations.
Native Americans used Wild Grape much as we do today and are believed to have actually cultivated them as early as 1710. They also dried the grapes in the sun for future use and used the vines for weaving baskets. One early explorer reported that the Cherokees of the southern United States used the juice from the Wild Grape leaves to treat diarrhea and "lust in women". "Ladies would care for a taste of the grape", Monsieur has been heard saying at several of his mixed group teachings.

ANACARDIACEAE Rhus glabra L. (Smooth Sumac)
Smooth Sumac is a native shrub with compound leaves and pyramid shaped fruit heads about six inches long composed of orange to rusty-red, dry berries. It forms dense thickets as part of the chaparral belt in the mountains of the front range.

Smooth Sumac is used to make a refreshing drink similar to lemonade. The fruit heads are gently washed, then steeped in water for an hour or so, after which the fruits are discarded and the liquid is strained through cheesecloth to remove the small hairs. It’s sweetened and chilled.

Another native species of sumac, Three-leaved Sumac, Rhus trilobata Nutt. Was eaten by our Native Americans. They used the fruits either raw or cooked as a stewed fruit and also dried for storage and winter usage. I tasted them right from the bush and seemed fine, but I haven’t tried preparing them for the dinner table. If you do, let us know the results.

ASCLEPIADACEAE Asclepias speciosa Torr. (Showy Milkweed)
Showy Milkweed is often said to be poisonous by uninformed people, and some related species, such as Narrow-Leaved Milkweed, Asciepias subverticillata (gray) Vail, is poisonous and should never be eaten. But Snowy Milkweed has been used by pioneers and Native Americans alike and wild food enthusiasts with no ill effects and is one of my favorite wild vegetables.
"My favorite Milkweed product is the unopened flower buds, when these are cooked in several changes of boiling water and seasoned with butter, salt and pepper, they taste to me very much like corn on the cob. The flowers and the pods are also edible but the pods are tough and I’ve not had much luck cooking them." concludes the Monsieur.

ASTERACEAE Cichorium intybus L. (Chicory)
The color of Chicory flowers are blue with a slight purplish tinge, and in my thinking, they are the prettiest blue of our entire local flora. When I started learning about our wild flowers I didn’t think Chicory occurred here since I never encountered it, but finally realized I just wasn’t getting up early enough to see it, for Chicory is an early bloomer. The flowering stems are green but have very few leaves, so without the flowers there isn’t much to see.
Cultivated Chicory has long been used in the southern states as an addition to coffee. Unfortunately my efforts in this regard have not been successful. I roasted the roots then grounded them up, but the flavor they provided was that of charred wood, not coffee!

ASTERACEAE Cirsium sp. (Thistle)
Yes, despite their spiny defense, thistles are edible. There are many species of Thistle in our area and I find them very difficult to figure out in field guides, but none of them are poisonous, so it is safe to experiment with them as a food source.

When the thistles have grown tall I have sometimes cut them off near the base, then with a hunting knife, hacked off the leaves and outer green layer of the stalk, leaving a whitish interior core that is palatable as a nibble, it can be cooked as a vegetable.

Thistles are said to have saved the lives of some early explorers when that was all they could find to eat.

The cultivated Artichoke is related to the Thistle, the heart of the Artichoke being the receptacle of the flower head. An interesting experiment might be to try preparing the heads of the various species of Thistles to see how they are similar to Artichokes.

ASTERACEAE Taraxacum officinale Wiggers (Dandelion)
Everyone knows Dandelions are edible, but not many people have actually tried them. I have learned to pick only the first leaves that are produced in the spring and even then there is some bitter aftertaste. They are then, tender and with no bitterness at all. My favorite Dandelion produce is the crown, which is one tuft of the leaf bases and immature flower buds at the top of the root. To harvest these crowns dig the Dandelions in the spring before the flowers are visible. Cut off the root leaving just enough of it to hold the leaf bases together, and then trim off all but the white bases of the leaves. You will be left with a crown of leaf bases and flower buds that are similar to a tiny Brussels sprout and can be boiled and seasoned to make a tasty vegetable.

ASTERACEAE Tragopogon sp. (Salsify, Goat’s-beard)
Salsify, Goat’s-beard is a composite with narrow grass-like leaves and spherical seed heads that look like a Dandelion. It is frequent in vacant lots and roadsides throughout the front range.

There are three species of Salsify in Colorado. The one with purple flowers, T. porrifolius, is a garden escapee and is not very common. It was grown as a vegetable in years past. The other two species, T. dubius and T. pratensis, have yellow flowers but are otherwise similar and can be used in the same way as the cultivated species.

The plants are not easy to locate right off since the leaves look so much like grass leaves. But with a little practice you can learn to distinguish them. The leaves are edible but they are course and sometimes not very palatable.
The young roots may be dug, washed and cooked either alone or in other dishes like stews. They have a mild, pleasant taste and can be used as you would use carrots or parsnips.

THYACEAE Typha latifolia L. (Cat-tail)
Cat-tails provide several edible products and since they often cover large areas of marshy land they can furnish a good deal of food for the knowledgeable forager. When young shoots about a foot tall are pulled from the mud the bottom few inches are white and crisp and make a tasty snack eaten on the spot.

Later, the spikes of the immature green flowers can be boiled and nibbled from the core like corn on the cob.

At this point, "Pucker Butt" gets his feet wet trying to retrieve Cat-tail roots, "can’t take this kid any- where", moans one of the group.

Cat-tail rhizomes furnish a nutritious flour and digging the rhizomes is easy, because they are always in wet, muddy ground, but removing the flour is the hardier job. This flour has been subjected to laboratory analysis and found to be comparable to wheat flour in nutritional value.

The brown fuzzy spikes of the dry fruit have in previous times been used for insulation in clothing, similar to goose down.

LILIACEAE Allium sp. (Wild Onion)
There are at least three species of onions growing in the mountains of Colorado, the most common (best known) being Allium cernuum Roth. Fortunately, we don’t need to be concerned about which is which, all are edible and taste good. It is true that there are some similar looking plants that are poisonous, such as Death Camas, but as a rule to remember, if it smells like an onion, it is an onion. The only problem with this is, that once you have dug up a few wild onions, everything you touch smells like onion, so be careful.

Wild onions may be used as you would use onions from the supermarket, but be advised, they are strong flavored and a little goes a long way, and they don’t seem to more tender with cooking. But they are excellent as a seasoning or as an addition to spuds and stews.

The pink flowers in their nodding umber are also edible and may be the best part of the plant, and are at least the easiest to collect. Once you have learned to recognize the dried stems of the wild onion they can be found even in winter and so is a valuable emergency food to the outdoorsman.

LILIACEAE Asparagus officinalis L. (Asparagus)
Everyone is familiar with this garden vegetable but not everyone knows that it grows wild in moist spots in the residential areas.
It’s the tender young shoots of this plant that we want to collect, just like the ones in the store. If these spears are allowed to continue to grow they will produce a bushy, fern-like plant five feet or taller with pretty, little red berries, that are apparently spread by the birds.

The Asparagus spears are difficult to see growing in with grass and other vegetation. The way to find them is to learn to recognize last year’s dead plant, which often remains throughout the winter.

LILACEAE Calochortus gunnisonii Wats. (Mariposa Lily, Sego Lily)
Mariposa Lilies are so pretty, and digging them up for food by a lot of people could threaten their continued survival, so I seldom feel justified in eating them.
However, some years they seem especially plentiful, and that’s when I suppress my conscience and have them for at least one meal. Mariposa Lily is the state flower of Utah, no doubt because the Mormons ate them extensively during their first lean years in that state.

The corm may be a couple of inches long in the ground, and the stem easily breaks off which makes them difficult to collect. The corm may be eaten raw and has a mild, pleasant taste with no wild or unusual flavor at all. I like to pinch off little rootlets at the base of the corm, and then peel off the outer leaves. This removes all the dirt, and I am left with a clean little bulb about 1/2 inch across that may be enjoyed on the spot.

The corm may also be cooked by roasting or boiling, and when used in this way is similar to a potato. The Indians steamed them in cooking pits with other foods, but that’s a lot of work. The petals of the flowers are also edible, and can be eaten raw or used in a salad.

LILIACEAE Yucca glauca Nutt. (Yucca)
In June, Yucca sends up a flower stalk of large, pendant flowers with white petals. The petals are edible raw and are thicker and more substantial than most petals. They can be eaten alone or added to other dishes such as salads.
Some species of Yucca produce a soft, fleshy edible fruit but the species in our area, Yucca glauca, has a hard fruit. I have tried to eat the fruit after having roasted them, but they were still bitter. The leaves contain salicylid acid and should not be eaten.

The roots contain so much saponin they will produce a soapy lather if masticated in water and at one time were used as an ingredient in shampoo. Native Americans used the root as a hair rinse and perhaps it has a beneficial effect as I don’t recall every seeing a bald-headed Indian.

At this point Monsieur LaVelle shows the Baker Party a Yucca woven sandal, nicely crafted, he produced it while sitting in a hotel room a month earlier in Chicago. He was going to school again; he just can’t stop the education, that’s neat. He had seen a pair of similar sandals in Mesa Vera, Colo. in a museum the summer before, those were recovered from a dig going on at one of the Cliff Dwellings in that area.

As Monsieur LaVelle states, "This is just a sampling of what was and can be found if need be when trekking, do your research for your area and try your hand at finding your next meal, you may be pleasantly surprised".

Monsieur LaVelle has tried others suggestions as to other wild plants in our area, finding no nutritious value or liking to his palate, as mentioned before, if he doesn’t care for it, you can place a wager you and your companie won’t like them either.

Be aware of what is poisonous in your area, if need be take one of the many pocket guides with you, better to be safe than sorry.

This subject is a valuable tool for the trekker and seldom written about in period publications.

If getting in the gathering of wild edible plants, one of the best books around to start with is "Meet the Natives" by M. Walter Pesman, now in its 9th edition. I being a beginning gather of these plants, follow Monsieur’s advice on this book.

As "THE MUSHROOM MAN", Monsieur LaVelle would say, "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail, for others to follow".

George Kevil

36 Cal.
Apr 30, 2005
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Great information. Thanks for all your postings. I've read other things you have collected and written over the years and it's all good.

Thank you kind Sir, I hope my ramblings are worthy of this great website. :thumbsup:

Claude is a fine gentleman that works much harder than one would realize to provide this service. We all need to remember to thank him for his efforts. :applause: