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Alaska Native Plants

July 16, 2011

When we started thinking about the food challenge in February, it was amazing how many things we assumed we could not get or grow in Alaska that it turns out are readily available. I (Cathy) attended a weekend intensive course on Alaska native plants, and those things that we had thought of as weeds suddenly filled a whole new niche. When I walked out into my front yard on the Monday after the class, I saw salad, greens on par with asparagus or spinach, roots that later in the year could provide winter root vegetables, as well as a pharmacopia of medicinals. The spiciness and flavor of many of the plants (which we had used to make our meal on the final day of the intensive) do not replace, but supplement, the spices we thought we needed to import. I see a summer of foraging ahead if we really want to replace the imported fruits and vegetables we usually buy all winter.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Seija Sinikki permalink
    July 17, 2011 8:02 am

    Cathy, where did you take the workshop and who was the instructor? Would you like to tell us more about the plants in your yard? I am especially interested in the winter root vegetables. I have discovered this summer that foraging and getting ready for the winter takes most of the time that I am not working for living. But this challenge is fun! We certainly started at the easy time of the year. I barely notice the difference in my eating habits. Seija

    • July 17, 2011 12:29 pm

      The class was in Homer and the instructors were Nancy Lee-Evans and Janice Schofield. Janice lives in new Zealand now, so she was just up visiting and teamed up with Nancy to teach the class. Nancy is based in Homer, if you google her, you’ll find out what she’s teaching.
      Janice’s book, Discovering Wild Plants, has finally been reprinted so is available at a reasonable cost, instead of the rare book price it had been fetching. Edibles we learned down there that are in my back yard include fireweed shoots, cow parsnip leaves, shoots and flowers (some people are allergic to them, though), dandelion flowers, to eat and roots as coffee, fiddleheads, devil’s club as a medicinal, and of course that delicious, omnipresent chickweed. Chamomile as a cold infusion tastes like pineapple juice and is very refreshing. Nettles, of course, I know you already collect those, and the list goes on…
      As for roots – look through her book (the index has roots – edible) – a lot of them are listed as emergency fare and not too palatable. She also has flour and oatmeal substitutes listed. Since Alaska potatoes are plentiful and inexpensive, I’ll probably stick with them, mostly. We also grow carrots, beets and parsnips, so I’m not looking to substitute them either. I don’t like killing the plant, I’d rather take the stems, leaves and seeds! Anyway, the roots aren’t ready until fall, when the plant moves all it’s energy into root storage, so now you could be out spotting the plants to dig in the fall (or even in the early spring!)

  2. Moe permalink
    July 25, 2011 8:27 pm

    What specific “weeds” are you planning on harvesting roots from? just the dandelions?

  3. July 26, 2011 8:07 am

    I would like to try some Indian Potato, but haven’t found any yet. Also devil’s club, called “American ginsheng,” but that would be for medicinal use.

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