Native Uses of Plants in the Sacramento Region
Many local native plants sustained the indigenous people of the Sacramento Valley as food and/or medicine. Some members of those tribes continue to use these plants today in their traditional ways. This is Part 3 of a five-part series describing more about these plants and their uses. We’ll just pick up where we left off last time and take a look at four plants in the Mustard, Pea, Geranium, and Figwort families.
Brassicaceae – Mustard Family
Feb-Jun, 1-4 ft. Non-native
Although not a native plant species, wild radish is common throughout Mather Field. Edible raw, the seed pods are crisp, spicy and taste just like radish. The pods must be eaten while young and green; the older seed pods become very tough and fibrous.
Fabaceae – Pea Family
Mar-May, 4-10 inches, Native
This native species of clover forms beautiful sweet smelling patches around some of the vernal pools in California. All parts of this clover are edible and it was a favorite food of the Pomo Indian tribe of Northern California. Honey produced from the white-tipped clover nectar is considered to be one of the best tasting.
Geraniaceae – Gernaium Family
Feb-May, 1-5 inches, Non-native
Filaree may be the most prolific of the non-native plant invaders in Mather Field. It is believed that filaree was unintentionally introduced to California in the 17th century by early Spanish settlers, with the filaree seeds clinging to the wool of sheep brought from Mediterranean climates of Southern Europe (kind of like how when you walk through Mather Field a dozen filaree seeds are unavoidably drawn to your socks like little sharp magnets).
The leaves of filaree are edible raw or cooked in early spring before the plant flowers and is said to taste like parsley. Filaree however, was valued more by natives and early settlers for its ability to stop bleeding as an astringent and haemostatic. The root and leaves were also eaten by nursing mothers for its ability to increase the flow of milk.
Scrophulariaceae – Figwort Family
Butter and Eggs
Feb-Apr., 4-6 inches, Native
That’s this plants real name, I didn’t make that up. I don’t know how it got the name, someone at sometime I guess thought it looked like scrambled eggs. The name has nothing to do with its edibility though, which is too bad because if scrambled eggs grew up out of the ground that would be pretty convenient. No, this plant is not one of the edibles; however a tea can be made from the root that acts as a laxative and diuretic. So maybe not a huge score, unless your goal is diarrhea.
For more information on edible and medicinal plants here are some great websites to reference:
To learn more about California Native American history and their uses of native plants here are a few more interesting sites to explore: