Living Wild (and Eating your Weeds) with Alicia Funk

"Eat your weeds," is a comment you might hear in conversation with regional author Alicia Funk. This struck me as humorously ironic given that last week's interview taught us more about ways to effectively eradicate troublesome weeds, but never did we consider eating them. This week, Alicia Funk suggests just that: we should eat our weeds. (In most cases the plants to which she is referring are not truly weeds, rather edible and medicinal native plants that thrive in our region.) Photo: Bright red ripe toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) berries ripe in winter. "Living Wild" includes cultivation information for toyon as well as a recipe for a tasty toyon cider.

Alicia, who lives and gardens in Nevada City, off the grid with her husband and their three children, is the co-author most recently of "Living Wild: Gardening, Cooking and Healing with the Native Plants of the Sierra Nevada," (2011, Flicker Press. Available locally at Lyon Books in Chico). She believes passionately that if we as families, as gardeners, as foodies, indeed, as a culture, are going to move sustainability to the next level, we need to learn to engage with our local landscapes more intimately and more knowledgeably. "With our children watching some sort of screen for an average of five hours a day or more, this need to re-acquaint ourselves with the outdoors is ever more urgent," she insists. She founded the LivingWild.org project as way to open and encourage conversation and sharing of knowledge and experience about engaging with the great outdoors around us.

Sustainability is not just about eating food labeled organic, or about eating locally grown food, even, Alicia expressed to me by phone recently. Indigenous people have lived - and thrived - in these very environments of the North State for thousands of years, they have learned how to responsibly and thoughtfully use the many native plants around us for food, for shelter, for medicine, for art. If we want to take sustainability and healthy living to a higher level, we can learn how to as well. And Northern California is just the place to take this step, Alicia pointed out, as we are blessed with more edible and healthful native plants than almost anywhere on the planet: "When I first moved to the North State in 2004, I realized that many of the native plants I was seeing were the sources of the nutritional and medicinal supplements I had studied." Photo: The un-ripe, green berries of manzanita. According to studies conducted by Alicia, when ripe, manzanita berries, which are naturally sweet, also contain three times the antioxidants of blueberries.

Alicia Goldberg Funk first learned plant-based medicine in 1990 from an indigenous grandmother in Ecuador’s rainforest. Upon returning the US, she lived and worked in the Santa Cruz area where she studied with leaders in the field, Christopher Hobbs and Michael McGuffin, at the American School of Herbalism. Her subsequent research has focused on the science behind plants and their medicinal or nutritional uses. Safety is a primary focus to her research as is opening a conversation between the herbal world and the medical world. She is the editor of six books, including “The Botanical Safety Handbook,” “Herbal Medicine-The Expanded Commission E Monographs” and “The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs.” Her passion is creating everyday wellness for individuals and the planet. Photo: A selection of acorns, which Alicia likes to call oak nuts, emphasizing their edibility. In her workshops, she teaches how to make oak nut flour.

Alicia Funk in Chico - October 1st, 2011

Alicia will be teaching a class entitled "Native Plants for Food and Health" on Saturday October 1st from 9 am - 12 noon for the Friends of the Chico State Herbarium's workshop series. The fee for the class is $45; to register please contact the CSU, Chico Biology office at (530) 898-5356 or [email protected]

Class Description:

Connect with our local landscape by learning how native plants provided a sustainable source of food and medicine for local inhabitants for thousands of years.
Learn how to prepare and enjoy backyard fall and winter edibles such as Oak Nut (acorn) Bliss Bars, Beyond Cranberry Wild Berry Sauce, and Toyon Cider.
Discover how native plants such as Yerba Santa and California Bay can help address common winter colds.
Take a walk outdoors to identify the uses of plants in the field.
Workshop Outline Food: Backyard Edibles for Fall
• Prepare and taste Oak Nuts (acorns), Madrone berries, and Toyon berries.
Health: Natives for the Common Cold • Integrate Yerba Santa and California Bay into the natural medicine cabinet for common winter colds and flu.
Field Walk: Exploring Nature with Ethnobotanical Eyes (indoor slideshow if raining)
• Identify plants in nature and learn common uses.

Please register in advance; class size is limited to 20 participants (class cancelled with- out a minimum of 8 participants). For more information about workshop content please contact Alicia Funk at [email protected]

Following the morning class at the Chico State Herbarium, Alicia will be at the Gateway Science Museum for a hands-on activity for school-aged children and a book signing:

Plant Adventures: 1-3 pm
Gateway Science Museum on the Esplanade in Chico
Cost: free with admission

Have you tasted manzanita sugar or an oak nut (acorn) bliss bar? Our local landscape offers many plants that are useful for food and health and these plants sustained indigenous people without grocery stores for thousands of years. Come explore native plants through a treasure hunt, create a native plant journal and learn to turn acorns into delicious desserts.

Join visiting instructor and author, Alicia Funk, in an interactive program for all ages:

• Go on a treasure hunt to identify native plants.

• Learn to turn acorns into food.

• Create a native plant journal

• Taste wild food desserts and drinks.

• Signed copies of the new local guidebook: Living Wild—Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of the Sierra Nevada, will be available for purchase.

Photo: The temptingly plump hips of California rose (Rosa californica). "Living Wild" includes cultivation information for this rose as well as recipes for Rose Hip Tea and Rose Hip Jelly.

More of my environmental writing can be found in the Chico News & Review, and Pacific Horticulture. Follow Jewellgarden.com/In a North State Garden on Facebook.

To submit plant/gardening related events/classes to the Jewellgarden.com on-line Calendar of Regional Gardening Events, send the pertinent information to me at: [email protected]

Did you know I send out a weekly email with information about upcoming topics and gardening related events in the North State region? If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send an email to [email protected]

In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California. Made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico, In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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