Sunday, July 10, 2011

Local author on sustainable living with native plants


An author's note says that Alicia Funk, who lives "off the grid with her husband and three children," "first learned plant based medicine in 1990 from an indigenous grandmother in Ecuador's rainforest." With her co-author, landscape architect and Nevada City resident Karin Kaufman, Funk has crafted a full-color reference, "Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing With Native Plants of the Sierra Nevada" ($29.95 in paperback from Flicker Press).

A recent visitor to Lyon Books in Chico, where the volume is available locally, Funk facilitates "living wild" workshops. According to the authors, "our modern-day American diet relies upon a mere 30 or so plant species, while 200 years ago an indigenous Californian's diet would have included about a thousand. We have lost the Native Californians' valuable 'user's manual' that could guide us to the plants we would enjoy eating and help us to learn the best ways to prepare them."

The largest part of the book is a color compendium of native species for the garden, from the White Alder to the evergreen shrub Yerba Santa (which is deer resistant). Each listing points (as appropriate) to the Foods, Medicine, and Cultural and Functional Arts sections. For the Manzanita, one can fix Manzanita Blossom Jelly for breakfast. Manzanita has been used to treat Poison Oak; its wood has been fashioned into kitchen utensils.

The section on making medicines (including teas, herbal syrups, salves and poultices) notes that the process "is a fun, relaxing experience that provides a way to personally engage in health and wellness." The authors carefully note that the uses listed often come from Native lore and haven't been tested scientifically; and in many cases the preparations shouldn't be used by those who are pregnant. Yerba Santa tea is considered a decongestant by "by Miwok, Pomo and Yuki tribes and by doctors who listed it as an official remedy in the US. Pharmacopoeia in 1894." The Maidu "used the dried and powdered inner bark (of the White Alder) as an astringent to clean wounds."

There are some 70 recipes in the food section. Elderberry wine, anyone? Oak Nut Gingerbread? (Oak nut flour is gluten-free.) It's a way to "enjoy nutrient-rich, carbon-free food from the plants growing around our home. ... We allow the wild in."

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