Gardening with Deb Babcock: The Yampa plant and other edible natives
CSU Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays continuing through the gardening season. Call them at 970-870-5241, email at firstname.lastname@example.org... or visit them in the Routt County Extension Office, 136 Sixth Street.
Last week I wrote about some of the poisonous plants of the area that you surely never want to ingest. This week, I’ll tell you about a few of the edible natives that grow in Routt County forests and meadows.
The Yampa plant (Perideridia gairdneri subsp borealis), which you can see in a native garden at the Yampa River Botanic Park, as well as in the wild in sagebrush and meadows, was generally harvested in late summer by the Indians who lived in our area many years ago. They prepared the plant numerous ways, eating the roots raw, boiled, roasted or dried and ground to make flour for porridges, bread or cake.
The root, which smells like carrots, has a sweet, nutty flavor while the flower adds a little spiciness to salads. The seeds can be used as you would caraway seeds in baking or sprinkled in a salad.
The Yampa plant, a member of the carrot family, has white lacy flowers that sort of look like a little umbrella. Botanists call this type of flower an umbel. It looks a little like yarrow but has smooth, shiny leaves instead of the lacy, fern-like leaves you see on yarrow plants.
CSU Master Gardeners are available to answer your gardening questions 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursdays continuing through the gardening season. Call them at 970-870-5241, email at email@example.com… or visit them in the Routt County Extension Office, 136 Sixth Street.
This plant flowers in July through August, with seeds forming late August to September. Yampa is monoecious, meaning it has both male and female parts on the same plant. Insects provide pollination.
Be very careful, however, if you’re looking to harvest this plant for your own use. It looks very similar to the very toxic Poison hemlock, water hemlock and death camas, which also grow here.
Other native plants to the Yampa Valley that are edible include three types of violets (Viola rydbergii, V. adunca and V.nuttallii) that are white, purple and yellow, respectively. All add a pretty and spicy enhancement to salads.
Everyone’s springtime favorite, the glacier lily (Erythronium grandiflorum) is also edible. The flowers and leaves are wonderful in a salad. And the seed pod that forms can be eaten raw or cooked like you would beans, which is what the seed tastes like. Use all parts in moderation as it can cause digestive upset.
Sweet anise (Osmorhiza occidentalis) provides a licorice flavoring when you throw its leaves into your salads. The flower heads make a nice tea, and roots can be dried and grated for use in numerous baked goods, ice cream and tea.
Note, a little goes a long way. And this plant, too, is in the same family as the poison hemlocks. As Karen warns, “if you do not smell a distinct anise odor, do not use it.”
Cattail (Typha latifolia) is what Karen calls ‘nature’s grocery store’ since each part of this plant is edible. Its roots, the stalks, the cattails themselves, even the pollen.
Finally, wild onion (Alliums spp) offer a unique flavor through their flowers and leaves. The bulb is best eaten raw since cooking tends to diminish the flavor.
Another caution with wild onion is that death camas looks a lot like onion in its early stages. Be sure to smell each leaf and look for the distinctive onion aroma.
Like with anything you ingest, you need to absolutely, positively know what it is you’re harvesting from the wild or you may be picking a lethal plant that is sure to ruin your meal and more.
Deb Babcock is a Master Gardener through the CSU Extension Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or log onto http://rcextension.colostate.edu.
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