Forager’s Forecast

It was evident at last weekend’s Wild Edible Plants and Food Foraging class that berry season is upon us!  It has been an unusual harvest year with many wild foods appearing and ripening here much earlier than “normal.”  Here are just a few of the edible favorites that we gathered and enjoyed in the varied dishes gracing our table.


Red huckleberry bushes can be found atop decomposing logs and tree stumps. Now is the perfect time to harvest red huckleberries; bushes in the Puget Sound area are laden with some of the fattest berries we’ve seen in a long time. Many people enjoy these small, tart berries as a trailside snack. We used them to adorn our cattail pollen crepes.


salal berries
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Contrary to what you might have heard, salal berries are not only edible, they are quite tasty! These berries are typically at their peak in August and September. Surprisingly, we were already finding ripe salal berries over the 4th of July weekend in the San Juan Islands. They are packed with Vitamin C and make a great trailside snack as well as jelly and base for fruit leather.


Goldenrod likes moist soil and often can be found growing in damp meadows, at the edges of fields and in ditches along the sides of roads. The just-opening flower buds make a sunny addition to muffins and hotcakes (which we lovingly refer to as “golden cakes”). The leaves can also make a medicinal tea.


Cattail offers us a year-round supply of food. In the spring, we collected protein-rich pollen which we used for the beautiful crepes pictured above. On this trip, we harvested the vegetative stalks (the ones without the “hot dog”) and scraped out the “flour” from the rhizome. Once blended, we teased the fibers out and used the cattail flour in our acorn muffins. Note: Always harvest from a non-polluted area!

We also enjoyed delectable thimbleberries, tiny but flavorful trailing blackberries, and tender dandelion and dock leaves to name just a few. We invite you to indulge in these nutritious and tasty wild foods that are just waiting for you!

For more detailed information on identification, harvesting techniques, and ethics as well as additional suggestions for preparations, here are some of our favorite foraging books.  We carry these books in our school store.  Please call our office (425.746.7267) or email ( to order.  We appreciate your support!

  1. Discovering Wild Plants, Janice Schofield Eaton
  2. The Forager’s Harvest, Samuel Thayer
  3. Nature’s Garden,Samuel Thayer
  4. The Boreal Herbal, Beverley Gray

Happy Foraging!

Forager’s Forecast

Seaweed Harvest

We weren’t  sure what the weather had in store as we headed out the first day in the San Juans to gather seaweeds. For those of you who read our previous post with pictures of students gathering under the sun last year, you’ll notice quite a difference this year:


Even with the wind blowing, we were able to harvest enough bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis leutkeana), winged kelp (Alaria marginata), nori or laver, (Porphyra spp.), and bladderwrack (Fucus spp.) to make some delicious meals and condiments.

Bullwhip kelp pickles

Bullwhip kelp relish

Sushi rolls and Alaria with lentils

We also enjoyed other gifts from the sea, mussels and gooseneck barnacles:

We wanted to include the perennial favorite, Navarro “oysters” with nori, but they were gone before we could snap a photo!


Seaweed Harvest

To Eat or Knot to Eat…

…that is the question.  The answer is:  to eat, of course!

Japanese knotweed
Photo:  Washington State Department of Ecology

We first asked this culinary question in our Late Spring 2008 newsletter.  When we saw a recent article in Bon Appetit magazine about invasive Japanese knotweed’s growing popularity (no pun intended) with upscale restaurants, we thought it would be a good time to repeat this article.

Japanese knotweed, or Polygonum cuspidatum, is a stout-stalked perennial herb, sometimes reaching 10 feet in length that loves to grow in neglected places. Once established, watch out! as it grows and spreads very quickly.  It is on the invasive species list in Washington as well as many other states. One tasty solution to its invasiveness is found in the recipe below.

Using last year’s stalks as the sentinels to guide you, harvest the top 4-6 inches of knee-high new shoots. Don’t delay. As they become older, the stalks will become be too fibrous to enjoy. They can be steamed and served like a sour asparagus, creamed into soup, or made into Karen’s personal favorite, knotweed crunch.

For identifying characteristics, please use a reputable plant identification guide. One of our favorites here in the northwest is Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast by Pojar and MacKinnon. As always, be safe, know what you are harvesting, and be certain to harvest in areas that have not been sprayed.  Because this is a very invasive species, be careful not to disturb the roots or do anything else that might spread the plant. Most of all, remember that if you can’t beat ’em, eat ’em!

Knotweed Crunch 

The crust and topping:

Mix ingredients and spread half into a 9″ x 13″ pan.  Reserve the other half for topping.

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup butter

Add 8 cups chopped knotweed and spread over crust.

In a medium sauce pan combine:

  • 1 cup water
  • ¾ cup sugar or honey
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • pinch of salt

Bring to boil and cook until thickened.  Remove from heat and add 1 tsp vanilla.  Pour over chopped knotweed.  Sprinkle on remaining topping.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Enjoy!


To Eat or Knot to Eat…

Delectable Roses

One of the highlights of the Ethnobotany Apprenticeship program is gathering rose petals in the spring to make jelly, infused honey and hydrosol.



Keeping with the “everything seems to be early this year” theme, this week was the peak time in our area to harvest lush, fragrant roses.


After gathering, students brought the roses back to the Earthwalk kitchen to prepare rose petal jelly.


The abundance of rose petals allowed us to add more petals than the recipe originally called for – making the jelly even more vibrant and flavorful.  What an amazing shade of pink!


We ended up having enough petals for a double batch of jelly in addition to rose hydrosol. Oh, and enough for sampling with toasted baguettes and butter to make sure it tasted as wonderful as it smelled.  (It was even better!)



Delectable Roses

Fields of Blue

In April, Ethnobotany apprentices enjoyed a day communing with one of the highlights of spring in the Pacific Northwest: blue camas (Camassia quamash).


Blue camas was a staple food for the first people who lived here.  Camas bulbs are rich in the carbohydrate, inulin, which is indigestible until cooked for a long enough period of time. Native peoples cooked the bulbs in steam pits, which converted the inulin to fructose.

Not only did native people gather camas, they tended the patches by doing periodic controlled burns to ensure their food supply.  They also weeded them of the poisonous bulb look-alike, death camas. Although easily distinguishable from blue camas when flowering, death camas has similar leaves and bulbs.  Only harvest when the blue flowers are blooming!

We were grateful for a beautiful day and a bountiful harvest of blue camas bulbs!



Fields of Blue

Lovely Arnica


Our recent field studies with our Ethnobotany and Skills Apprenticeship programs brought us to find these sunny gems at the height of their bloom.  Students soon filled a basket with Arnica cordifolia flowers and leaves from the abundance in the mountain meadows of Eastern Washington.  We were able to make fresh leaf tincture as well as leaf and flower oil infusions from the newly harvested plants.

Arnica-infused olive oil and tincture

The tinctures will be bottled into spray diffusers while the oil will become one facet of our Bruise-B-Gone salve.  Arnica flower and leaf is often used in herbal salves and oils to help our bodies recover from all kinds of bumps and bruises.  It is used as an anti-inflammatory and pain reliever for hyperextensions, arthritis, sprains, strains and bursitis.  When tinctured, arnica is used externally for bruises, sprains, and swellings.  The tinctures are also reported to demonstrate antibiotic activity.

Arnica contains helenalin which exhibits anti-inflammatory activity. Arnica works by stimulating and dilating blood vessels, particularly the capillaries, increasing blood transport and circulation into injured, bruised, or inflamed tissues. This helps to speed up the healing process significantly.  Additionally, Arnica stimulates macrophage activity, helping with dead cell removal from the damaged tissues.

BruiseBGone salve

Caution:  Arnica should only be used on external, unbroken skin.

We have seen amazing results after using Arnica salve on string lashing from practicing long bow shooting.  We have been grateful to it many times for its healing gifts.  Arnica was just one of the many blessings the earth offered on our latest foraging travels.

Lovely Arnica

Birch Bark Knife Sheath

Birch bark knife sheath

In our last post, ethnobotanist Karen Sherwood shared the numerous gifts of birch.  Now you can join Karen on Sunday, May 22 to learn how to use this wonderful plant material to create a beautiful, sturdy and functional knife sheath.

In this class, students will use time-honored techniques unique to working with birch bark. Students will form a birch bark sheath around a Swedish-made Mora carving knife (included in cost of class). Students learn how to prepare the bark, how to lash, and one of several traditional patterns to stitch the bark sheath closed.

Karen also teaches students how to  make a cedar bark-plaited lanyard so that the knife sheath can be conveniently worn around the neck. The cedar lanyard will be finished as time permits.

To join us for the class, please visit our registration page. Cost of the class, including the Mora knife, is $125. Class will be held at the Earthwalk Northwest classroom in Bellevue, WA. Directions and follow-up information are sent after registration.

Birch Bark Knife Sheath class at The Tracker School
Birch Bark Knife Sheath