By Alicia Funk I Photos by Karen Callahan, Alicia Funk
Summer is the time to get outdoors. Looking for these common native plants is a like going on an edible treasure hunt, taking us away from the magnetic pull of our screens and into the beauty and relaxation of nature. By foraging in the wild, we deepen our relationship to truly local foods of the native habitat we live in. All of these plants are stunning additions to the home landscape and provide easy access to delicious seasonal food.
Brewed from green leaf manzanita or pine mat manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula, Arctostaphylos nevadensis) this is a great summer thirst quencher.
A kids’ favorite, berries are edible from all species of manzanita and they are ripe when they are deep red in color, typically at the end of summer. They are edible right off the bush, and their sweet and tangy powder is a delicious treat while hiking. Make sure to avoid the large seed inside. An added bonus is that the berries are higher in antioxidants than blueberries so they are one of our local superfoods.
To make manzanita cider, you’ll need 1 cup of plump, orange-red manzanita berries, large stems removed, 6 cups warm water, and a coffee grinder, food processor, or blender. Roughly grind berries, cover with water, and let sit for 2 hours to overnight. Strain cider from the seeds and serve cold.
Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra subspecies caerulea) are small deciduous trees, 10 to 25 feet high by 10 to 25 feet wide, that grow in full sun to partial shade in open habitats below 10,000 feet. Gently gather elderflowers and avoid over handling before making pancakes so they keep their beautiful pale-yellow color. The flowers can store for a few days in the refrigerator before using. When ready to make pancakes, remove flowers from the stem by gently rubbing flowers between your hands. Then follow your favorite pancake recipe, folding the flowers into the batter before cooking.
Wild Currant Scones
Currants are commonly found in the Sierra and all have edible fruit. Wax currant (Ribes cereum) has shiny red fruit on a 6-by-6-foot shrub and its range is up to 12,000 feet elevation. Sierra currant (Ribes nevadense) is a beautiful, medium-sized shrub and its blue fruit hangs in 6-inch-long clusters. Gather and dry or use immediately in your favorite scone recipe.
Thimbleberry Jam in the Hand
Thimbleberries (Rubus parviflorus) are deciduous, spreading shrubs that grow 5 feet by 4 feet in partial to full shade within moist woodlands. The plants have no thorns and produce red, thimble-shaped berries that turn into a soft jam-like consistency as soon as you remove them. Eat immediately and enjoy their sweet taste.
Gooseberry Guava Juice
Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii) is a deciduous shrub, about 2 feet by 2 feet, growing on slopes below 9,200 feet, and is one of many species of gooseberry found in the Sierra. All gooseberry species have edible fruit. Sierra gooseberry produces a large, sweet fruit, densely covered with thorns. Don’t let the thorns scare you away. Take a stick and gently tap the stems, catching ripe fruit in a basket. To make a local juice that tastes like it’s made from tropical guavas, place 2 cups of gooseberries in a bowl, just covered with water. Crush berries with a potato masher and then pour into a mesh strainer placed over a bowl. Pour 6 cups of water over the crushed berries. Move berry strainer over another bowl and pour the same water over them again. Repeat until desired taste is reached. The juice is delicious served cold over ice on a hot summer day.
Blackcap Raspberry Muffins
Blackcap raspberries (Rubus leucodermis) spread like garden raspberries, but they have white stems reaching up to 6 feet high and fruit that turns black when ripe. They are one of the most delicious of our native fruits eaten raw or folded gently into muffin batter for a wild treat.