I guess the riddle at the end of my previous post wasn’t too challenging as many of you correctly guessed that the plants explored and studied during my trip to the Northwest were indeed seaweeds and sea vegetables.
For being speedy with a correct response I’m sending Kitt of The Kittalog a packet of Kabocha Winter Squash, Sunset Flower Herb, Bunching Onions, Cambodian Giant Eggplant, and Empereur Alexandre Cucumbers. Maybe she will find these heirloom seeds a bit more intriguing and challenging than my riddle.
Earthwalk Northwest Presents a Seaweeds & Coastal Foraging Class
I have long been a fan of seaweeds and enjoy feasting upon them in the kitchen and using them as an organic fertilizer out in the garden. I took advantage of an opportunity to attend a Seaweed and Coastal Foraging class taught by Karen Sherwood of Earthwalk Northwest that was held on Washington State’s Lopez Island.
I first met Karen over twenty years ago when she introduced me to some of the land based edible weeds and wild plants that I collect and enjoy. She added a few new and useful wild plants to my tally during the trip out to the Northwest Coast:
Salmon Berries – These plants lined many of the trails that we hiked and offered a pleasing snack for hungry backpackers. The ripe berries come in two colors, red or orange and we were taught to look for the butterflies that appear when the tip of a leaf cluster is bent back as a means to identify this delicious wild fruit.
Glasswort – Also called Sea Beans or Sea Asparagus, it does resemble a miniature asparagus fern, like many plants found growing near the ocean it has a salty but pleasant flavor. We added glasswort plants that were just a few inches tall to an Island Frittata with seaweeds, and also munched on them out of hand.
Hooker’s Onion – Easily spotted from a distance by the colorful flowers which are edible and have a distinct onion flavor that makes for a convenient trailside nibble. There didn’t seem to be much to this wild plant other than the cluster of flowers at the top the stalk, but hidden underground it also produces an edible bulb that can be dug up and eaten.
Seaside Plantain – Officially known as Plantago Maritima, this colorful edible weed resembles the scrawny variety of narrow leaf plantain found in my backyard but is tastier and has a more substantial leaf growth. The thick, succulent leaves are tinged with a reddish hue and yield a pleasant, salty, flavor. This one would make a nice addition to a leafy green salad.
Ocean Spray – A shrub or small tree, it was also referred to as Ironwood and is more of a medicinal plant than an edible wild plant. Its clusters of tiny white berries can be used to brew a medicinal tea that is used to relieve specific ailments. It does have a somewhat edible purpose in that this was the wood of choice to be used for planking salmon to be cooked over an open fire in the traditional native manner.
Red Elderberries – These are different than the elderberry varieties that I grow in my back yard, so I’m not sure about the usefulness of this one and I am not identifying it as an edible plant. Red Elderberries grow wild on Lopez Island and are very ornamental plants displaying numerous clusters of bright red berries on a tall shrub growing about fifteen feet in height.
Enjoying Edible Wild Plants of the Northwest
As always, be cautious when identifying or handling any wild plant, be alert to possible allergies and food sensitivities, and never harvest from a polluted or contaminated environment, or where the plants are in short supply.
Earthwalk Northwest also offers monthly Wild Foods Dinners, Plant Apprenticeships and Ethnobotanical Studies, and several Wild Edible Plant Courses. Hopefully I’ll be able to take another trip out west to learn more from Karen and Frank about edible wild plants of the Northwest.
Well that’s enough talk about land plants, next time I’ll share some of the information I learned during the Coastal Foraging Course related to the incredible variety of wild ocean growing seaweeds and sea vegetables that I discovered and sampled during my visit to Lopez Island.
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