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By Request: The Ethnobotany Thread

It was asked by a couple of members that I put together some notes on edible plants and their uses. Before I begin, some upfront notes:

This subject is pretty big, and I'm not exactly the fastest typist. In addition to my normal work and teaching, I've also recently been appointed Assistant Curator/Armorer for the local museum, so I have my hands quite full. I'll work on it when I can.

I'll put installments in with separate posts. Hopefully they won't jumble up too much, but I can't think of any real way to organize a format for this.

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If you were to recommend the

If you were to recommend the best and most complete collection on medicinal herbs and how to use them including recipes for tinctures, poultices, salves, etc. what would it be.

I am a starting my second garden this year and have planned on growing a large medicinal/spice herb garden and I picked a wide variety because of descriptions and uses that I read at the time I ordered seeds. Now I am looking for a book to use for quick reference instead of my other alternative which is sort through bookmarks and google information and print it out.

Good question!

There's a really old publication from the 50's called "Ethnobotany of Western Washington" by Erna Gunther. If you can find a copy of it, it's a great and easy reference, but no photo IDs of the plants. This is actually what started my interest in becoming a botanist for the ranger district.

"Plants of Southern British Columbia" by Robert Parish is a very good illustrated reference and provides tips on plant uses. I used to keep this one on my desk at the Forest Service.

There was another one called "Edible Wild Plants: a north american Field Guide" that is pretty good too. I can't remember the author's name.



reedr3v's picture

Do you have a website where all of this

accumulated knowledge can be accessed?

Unfortunately no,

though I did tinker around with the idea. Most all of this is from memory and experience for the members here. I have some pamphlets I made for one of the classes I teach in wilderness survival, but nothing online yet. With all the interest here though, I should probably revisit the idea.

Second part

Choke Cherry
Prunus virginiana

The berries can be collected and eaten, but astringent and tends to dehydrate. Have water handy. DO NOT eat the seeds or let pack animals eat the leaves, especially in the fall when they are wilting. They have a concentration of hydrogen cyanide.

The roots are a natural sedative, among other things. A tea made of them can have a calming effect.

The bark is very useful when soaked in water for a few days and fermented. It is an excellent remedy for eye infection

Licorice Fern
Polypodium vulgare v. occidentale

Eating the rhizomes either raw or roasted is a good treatment for cough and sore throat.

Braken (Brake Fern)
Pteridium aquilinium

Rhizomes are a great source of starch. Roast and peel them. The fibers in the rhizomes can be dried and made into a bit of string, sort of like hemp or jute.

Field Horsetail
Equisetum arvense

These are nature’s Brillo pad. You can clean pots and pans with them and polish wood, such as for arrow shafts.

White Pine
Pinus monticola

The bark can be boiled and the drink used to treat stomach disorders, as well as act as an antioxidant/blood purifier.
Lumps of the sap can be chewed to relieve cough and also act as a resin for small tool assembly.

Indian Camas
Cammissia quamash

One of my favorites. The roots are collected and boiled. They taste a lot like yams. A strong word of warning: ONLY pick these plants when they are in bloom if you are new to this. The edible version blooms a pretty blue color.
The other version is Zigadenus elegans, which is Deathcamas, and it is highly toxic. A very small piece can be eaten to induce vomiting, but in general stay away from it- even a small amount can kill you. The poisonous version can be distinguished only by the flower, which is a milky or dingy white.

Rubus parviflorus

The berries make an awesome jam or wine, or can be eaten raw. They don’t do well for drying and storage. The bark of the plant can be boiled to make soap, or drank as a treatment for anemia.

Symphoricarpos albus

The berries cannot be eaten, but they can be pulverized and diluted with a bit of water to make a shampoo. It is also a key indicator plant to look for in the field when hunting. Grouse, turkey, pheasant and quail nest near bunches of these shrubs for the winter food source.

Nice, MW

Thanks for the information. I am sure it is much needed.


"Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths." Proverbs 3:5,6


The lip of truth shall be established forever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment...Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are His delight. Prov 12:19,22

First Piece

I'll go ahead and start by putting in some of the material from a pamphlet I made for a class I teach. I can't put the photos in here, so I'll just reference the botanical names and you can find them online.

Oregon Grape
Berberis aquilinium

There's several variations to this shrub, this one being more common in the northwest.

Berries can be eaten, though very sour. Makes an agreeable syrup.
Inner bark and roots can be used to make yellow dye

Medicinal: a tea of the berries treats diarrhea, high fever, and other febrile disease. Citric content is excellent combatant against colds.

Achillea millefolium

This plant is primarily medicinal in nature. It is used to aid in blood clotting by crushing the leaves into a poultice and applying to cuts, abrasions and minor lacerations. Its genus name, Achillea, is named for Achilles. The yarrow plant was said to be the plant used to treat his leg wound, the Achilles’ heel.

The roots when chewed create a nearly instantaneous numbing effect of the mouth. It is excellent for treating toothache.

The plant can be steeped into a weak tea, and aids in relief of menstrual cramps and hemorrhaging.

Arrow-Leaf Balsamroot
Balsamorhize sagittata

This plant is very useful. The young flower stems can be peeled and eaten. The roots are very tough, but when baked in a fire or dried, they can be eaten as is, or they can be ground into flour and used for baking. The large leaves can be soaked in water and used to treat burns.

The roots can also be boiled into a tea and drank for treatment of whooping cough and to relieve the early stages of tuberculosis.

Wild Sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis

A remarkable plant. The roots are exceptionally sustaining and high energy when eaten. They are spicy and aromatic like root beer, which is one of their uses. The plant encourages sweating, is stimulating and detoxifying and so is used internally in the treatment of pulmonary diseases, asthma, rheumatism and stomach aches.

Oxeye Daisy
Chrysanthemum leucanthemum

Limited uses, but handy in a pinch. It is a close relative to chamomile and mildly aromatic.

The leaves and flowers are edible, but the taste is not exactly pleasant. A tea made from the leaves is useful for relieving bronchial infections and chest colds. The un-opened buds can be collected and stewed like capers.

Western Serviceberry
Amelanchier alnifolia

This is a tall shrub, 6-10 feet high with purplish blue berries. The berries are edible and very good.

NOTE: these shrubs are often found growing with C. douglasii, or Black Hawthorn. The berries looks very similar as does the shrub itself, but the leaves are different and the shrub has thorns. Be careful not to mix them up.