It has been awhile since I last wrote a blog post. Mostly, the reason is that WordPress shifted the tools for creating a blog post and I was disgruntled to have to figure it out. Sigh. I tend to be really resistant to change when it comes to technology. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble.
Anyway. Now that I am actually writing a blog post, it’s not so bad after all.
In April, it will be 3 years since I moved back to California after being away for about 8 years. I lived in Southern Appalachia in Western NC and then in Northeast Mississippi for those years (Mississippi is my home state, actually).
During that time, I deepened my learnings around plants and plant medicine. My first herbalism course and teachers where in the Bay Area…where I lived for 7 years.
So, it feels really nourishing to be back in the state that I first learned about plant medicine and herbalism. It’s surprising that that would be the case…that I had to wait until I was 24 years old to start learning the plants. But, such is the reality of our culture. Our culture has an amnesia when it comes to traditional food ways, life rhythms, plant medicine, farming the ‘wild,’ and seasonal cycles. Much of my work is to help people realize the value of these things and bring them back to life.
A recent exploration of mine has been big-berry manzanita (Arctostaphylos glauca) which is quite different than the species I was familiar with in the areas I hiked surrounding the Bay Area. Just so you know, manzanita is in the Ericaceae family, the same as blueberry.
Apparently, this species of manzanita is one of the few species that grow tall enough for you to walk under. And, such is the reality of this special spot me and my small family happened upon months ago. It really is a magical forest to wander through…the deep, blood red branches of peeling manzanita trunks and branches…as well as the rounded, expressive sandstone outcroppings (I believe it is sandstone).
Now, this particular trail has become my favorite place to visit in our home area. I have only bumped into one person on this trail after being there for about 5 visits, now. And, since manzanita allelopathic, it deters other plants from germinating…meaning…there’s no poison oak!
Although, manzanita has done a good job of deterring other plants and trees to grow, there is still some diversity. Chamise and oak are the two other common species in this habitat…but not nearly as prolific as the big-berry manzanita.
Of course, my wanderings with this plant have led me to explore the tree. I have done so with crafts and medicine/food.
First of all, let’s talk about the fruit. The skin is thin and leathery. It peels right off of the giant seeds and can be dried and powdered to use in tea or in certain dishes. It has a sour taste and is cooling and astringent; I’m sure there is a good bit of Vit C. I would love to learn more about its properties/constituents, so comment below if you have anything to add.
I had to discard fruits that had some species of black mold on it. Manzanita does have an issue with a particular mold and you can see it on certain branches where it has turned black and it is dusted in gray.
I then let the fruit husks dry and ground them with a spice grinder/coffee grinder. I have used it in teas, rubbed it on fish before cooking, and sprinkled it on an apple galette I made. My 3-year old daughter loves the taste and forages frequently when we are out on the trails. She asks for the ground powder at home, as well.
The leaves are medicinal as well. However, I haven’t explored that yet. They are astringent and cooling and are probably used similarly as blueberry leaves, for urinary tract infections and inflammation in the urinary tract. I would definitely add something like echinacea root or usnea lichen to the leaves to really knock out the pathogen and restore balance.
Another thing that impressed me about this plant was its super tough shell around the seed. Whoa. My friend has a gem saw and I asked him to cut a cross section so that I could see what the seeds looked like inside. He said it was terribly difficult to cut through!
However, those seeds must be seriously nutritious as the local wood rats actually gnaw through the shell to get to the seed! My friend’s daughter pointed these out while we were on the trail and I couldn’t believe it. They are either starving out there in that habitat or these seeds are extremely tasty.
I talked to a local herbalist about these large, curious seeds and he mentioned that the local First Peoples (the Chumash) would drill holes in the seeds to make necklaces and to do other bead work. Right after I found out about that, my friend had received a gift of a necklace with manzanita big-berry seeds and some polished cross sections of its branches.
That same friend helped me craft some hand drills from local driftwood and branches I had earlier taken the bark off of to make plant medicine (tincture). So, I was all set to explore this craft.
Sandpaper. Hand drill. Beeswax. And, there ya have it.
I made a simple necklace with a locally found shell, a manzanita berry, and some waxed ramie cord. I like the weight of it on my neck and it reminds me of my walks on the ocean or roaming the manzanita forest.
So, there ya have it. Le phew. A blog post.
And truly, there is more to explore with this lovely tree and its relatives in the manzanita forest. It seems that the plants are always teaching us something when we ask and listen.
I’ll end this post with some other nature treasure we found along the way…
From top left to bottom: a hardy flower gone to seed, growing out of lichen-softened sandstone; a wasp gal, already cracked open; a wreath I added manzanita, oak, and chamise to; an interesting root burl of manzanita found climbing a rock (it really looked like a goat spirit); lichen