Library hours for 2017:
- Wednesdays 9 am – noon
- Saturdays 10 am – 1 pm
Native American Food Plants
It’s January now – a traditional time to settle by the fire and look through seed catalogs. Well, maybe these days we may go on line but, whatever, it’s a time for gardeners to think about the crops they intend to plant in the new year. Town dwellers may plan a couple of raised beds just to have a few early greens, or those with larger lots will be thinking in terms of rows of peas, or maybe even corn. It’s highly unlikely, however, that anyone will consider heading for the clearings, woodlands or riversides to collect a supply of foodstuffs.
Which brings us to a book we have in the HCP library called NATIVE AMERICAN FOOD PLANTS – An ethnobotanical dictionary by Daniel E. Moerman. This is a remarkable list of plants and their uses by 221 native American groups. Just a glance through the list reveals some particularly interesting information about plants the local people here on the West Coast used before the days of agriculture.
Just for instance, the Haisla used Alnus rubra, Red alder, to smoke fish and meat, and the pitch of Picea sitchensis, Sitka Spruce, was used as chewing gum. The bulbs of Allium cernuum, Nodding Onions, were cooked for eating and the tops used fresh with meat. In fact, the Hanaksiala, Hoh, Klallam, Kwakiutl and others seemed to use the Nodding Onions a good deal
The Makah also used the Sitka Spruce pitch as chewing gum, and they liked the rhizomes of Phyllospadix scouleri, Scouler’s Surfgrass, for eating raw, particularly in the springtime. Close to home, the Salish liked an onion that had strongly flavoured bulbs – the Allium acuminatum, Tapertip Onion.
Obviously, diets depended a good deal on the areas in which the various native groups lived and travelled. It is interesting to discover how they made use of the plants in their respective regions – whether cooked, eaten raw, eating only the seeds, drying for winter use, and so on.
You might find some of the 1500 plants listed in the Moerman book during one of your nature rambles. Or perhaps just a browse through the book will be quite enough to send you back to studying the seed catalogs with renewed enthusiasm!
Isabelle E Jones, Librarian
If Plants Could Talk
If plants could talk, they would have some great stories to tell us about their family “trees.” Since they aren’t able to talk (yet!), one thing we can do is read what some conscientious individuals have learned and are able to tell us through the books they have written. . . you know, those things we used to use for entertainment and information.
John Fisher was a writer who did a lot of research. His “The Origins of Garden Plants” is full of items of interest. Being a diplomatic correspondent, Fisher was able to travel extensively in a number of foreign countries. This gave him an opportunity to combine his interest in flowers with business.
So, thanks to Fisher, we learn that the Rose of Sharon (Hypericum calycinum) was introduced to England by a George Wheler who, while taking a break from Oxfordin the early 1600’s, joined a party headed for Constantinople.. . . and that’s where he came upon the Hypericum calycinum. (He was later knighted for the discovery. Plant people got recognition in those days!)
If you should need to get a conversation started one day, you might want to tell the story of how the Handkerchief (or Ghost) Tree got brought from China to England in 1911. Should there be a really serious gap in the conversation, you could go into the story of John Tradescant (also back in the 1600’s). It could take some time to tell of the seven months he spent on the Mediterranean aboard a ship sent to suppress the slave trade. During that time he must have done some hiking on shore as he picked up Gladiolus bulbs, a Tamarix anglica (native of Portugal and Spain), Rock roses, and an evergreen Viburnum tinus. And that is just a part of the list!
Another book along these same lines is “Plants that Changed our Gardens” by Mea Allan. It contains a chapter about Peter Barr who hybridized daffodils and a chapter about the Tradescent family. And the chapter about David Douglas is a “must read” for all British Columbians!
With these suggestions for starters, you should have enough reading material to make the winter days pass quickly.
Isabelle E Jones, Librarian