Story and Photos By Alicia Funk

Summer is a wonderful time to step outside and have an adventure that reminds us why we live in this incredibly beautiful landscape. My favorite way to do this is through taking time to notice the native plants and find ways to add wild ingredients to my daily diet. Cultivating a relationship with the place we live connects us with the nature of this place we call home. Here are a few recipes to enjoy with friends and family this summer. 

Elderflower Champagne
Elderflower blossoms are a delicate treasure, a favorite ingredient in cocktails worldwide. Both the blossoms and the berries have been used to support immune system health. Collect flowers of Sambucus nigra subspecies caerulea syn. Sambucus Mexicana in early to mid-summer.


10 flower heads 

2 cups sugar, dissolved in 3⁄4 cup boiling water 

1 1⁄2 Tbsp white wine vinegar

2 lemons, juice and rind

12 cups water

Flip-top bottles

Mix all the ingredients and allow to steep overnight. Strain and bottle into sterilized bottles. Drink chilled.

Manzanita Mocktail
Manzanita is a traditional drink of California, enjoyed by indigenous inhabitants in many parts of the state. All species have edible berries and the plant is endemic to California, meaning it grows nowhere else on earth. Manzanita berries are also three times higher in antioxidants than blueberries.

Collect berries of Arctostaphylos viscida subspecies viscida or any other manzanita species in summer.

1 cup plump, orange-red Manzanita berries, large stems removed 

6 cups water

Coffee grinder, food processor,
or blender

Roughly grind berries on medium speed for 2 minutes, and place in a glass jar. Pour warm water over the berries.

Let sit for 2 hours to overnight and strain cider from seeds. Refrigerate and serve over ice. Garnish with ground manzanita berry sugar and native mint.

Photo by Karen Callahan

California Bay Leaf Ice Cream
Collect leaves of Umbellularia californica year-round.

1 1⁄2 cups organic heavy cream

1 cup organic whole milk

10 large fresh, native California Bay leaves 

3 egg yolks

3⁄4 cup granulated sugar

1 pinch of salt

2 tsp organic cornstarch

1+ pinch of nutmeg

1⁄2 tsp vanilla extract 

Using the back of a spoon, lightly scrape the top and bottom of each California Bay leaf, on both sides of the leaf. Repeat twice. This allows more flavor to infuse the milk and cream. 

Warm the milk, cream, salt, and California Bay leaves in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the steam begins to rise. Continue warming for about 2 minutes while stirring thoroughly. 

Cover and remove from heat. Let steep for 25 minutes then strain through a mesh strainer and discard the spent leaves.
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch in a large mixing bowl. Slowly stir in the infused milk. 

Return to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon (approximately 85°C). Do not boil.

Immediately pour the custard back into the mixing bowl and cool quickly by placing the bowl in the refrigerator or an ice bath (a large bowl of ice and water in which the mixing bowl can sit and cool), for approximately15 minutes.

Whisk in the vanilla and nutmeg. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least 3 hours to overnight. 

Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. 

Transfer the ice cream to a covered container and freeze until it is firm enough to scoop.

Makes about 1 quart.


Photo by Karen Callahan

Coyote Mint Raw Chocolates 
This low-growing, aromatic perennial with purple blossoms is a gorgeous addition to any garden. Traditionally, Karuk women made a love tea from this plant, and this raw vegan dessert is a perfect addition to a hot summer night. Collect leaves of Monardella villosa during late summer to early fall.

1 cup raw cacao butter, melted

1⁄2 – 1 cup raw cacao powder

1⁄4 – 1⁄2 cup powdered, dried Coyote Mint leaves 

1⁄4 cup raw, local honey 

Sea salt to taste

4 silicon molds 

Melt cacao butter in the sun.

Add cacao powder and stir until smooth. Slowly stir in Coyote Mint powder.

Add raw honey and sea salt, mixing well.

Spoon into silicon molds and freeze for at least an hour. Remove and serve. Store in the refrigerator.

Use more or less honey depending on desired sweetness. Makes approximately 60 chocolates. Do not consume during pregnancy.

~ Alicia Funk is the co-author and managing editor of Living Wild — Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California, currently in its third edition, with profits benefiting the California Native Plant Society. Learn more about food and health with native plants at the Living Wild Retreat at the Yuba River, Aug. 21 to 24, and find more recipes at  


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