Words On Wellness: Shorter Days
The pink fluted blooms of dancing naked ladies are like the flags heralding fall on the Mendocino coast. The shortening days and progressively golden afternoons bend us towards autumn and observing nature’s clues helps us synch with the cycles. On the ground is the purple-blue of huckleberry raven poop and we know it’s harvest time. Huckleberries are some of the most highly anti-oxidant wild foods on the planet with bioflavonoids that nourish and repair our eyes, skin and heart, plus they keep the raven feathers iridescent (just kidding, but you never know . . .).
Rain is about a month out when grey squirrels start cutting off green fir cones and eating them like corn-on-the-cob. They leave chewed cores strewn on decks and pathways to catch in your still-summer sandals. If you live near the edge of pygmy forest you will see our few native red squirrels gathering Doug fir and white pine cones, tucking them away for later. The seeds of pines are rich food for all species. They are fiddly to collect for humans but watch how quickly cedar wax-wings, nuthatches and chickadees do it. Pines and fir drip resin in the last heat of the season and again in spring. Trees have to have enough water to produce the resin that protects them from pine beetles. This same resin can be carefully collected by people to use in a hot bath for arthritis or in hot water as a steam for treating respiratory infection.
Jays, woodpeckers and wood rats prefer the protein packed acorns, even the tan oak (not a true oak) is coveted and you are lucky to gather any yourself. There are specific ways to prepare this native food for human consumption, but the twigs and leaves can be simmered as a tea to make an antiseptic mouthwash that strengthens gums. Many herbs and wild foods are succumbing to their post-flowering forms, but it is a good time to gather seeds. The white flower head of wild carrot (also known as Queen Ann’s lace) is edible raw or lightly battered and fried, while the seeds work well in soups, stews or tea blends (has a carrot flavor, be sure to identify correctly and avoid if you are pregnant or hoping to be). Nature’s bounty is year round on the Mendocino coast.