Archive for October, 2010

Stalking the Wild Fungi

Chanterelles at Yachats

For the last 2 months I have been engaged in learning everything I can about the fungi that grows in Cascadia.  Why I am writing about this on a blog that is trying to support our reconnection with native plants?  The reason my dear friends is that you cannot learn the life cycles of native plants without understanding the fungi, especially the Mycelium.

For instance, last year I sat upon a journey to try and find and photograph wild orchids in the coastal areas and coastal mountains of Cascadia.  It was not an easy task.  Many of the orchids such as the Fairyslipper (Calypso bulbosa), Mountain Lady slipper (Cypripedium montanum), Western Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata ssp. Mertensiana) and the Slender Bog Orchid (Platanthera stricta) grow in very fragile areas of our ecosystem.  One indication that an ecosystem is healthy is that the mycelium is unbroken and produces a plethora of fungi.  From spring to fall each year there should be lots and lots of fungi, edible and otherwise available in the forest.

Some orchids will only grow where the Mycelium is intact.  That means there must be old growth trees, few logging roads, and especially there can be no clear cuts. Mycelium provides water and nutrients that keep the forest alive.

So I began my two month long cram session on fungi.  I attended the Yachats Mushroom Fest held in Yachats, Oregon.  I also attended an overnight fungi workshop held at Drift Creek Camp near Lincoln City, Oregon.  The workshop was sponsored by the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning Center in Salem, Oregon.

The Yachats Mushroom fest was three days long and wonderfully educational.  I am a amateur naturalist, a native plant lover without much training in biology or botany.  And, whatever training I attend cannot be too intellectual.  I need teachers who will speak in the language of the naturalist, not the scientist.  But I need the science to be able to fully emerge myself in helping the save these amazing native plants. I was pleasanly surprized at the level of education. I not only understood, but my passion for wild nature was strengthened.  In Yachats we attended two workshops and a mushroom collecting and identifying walk in which the instructors could speak both languages.  One of the workshops was all about the nutritional value of edible mushrooms and also how to cook  and store them.  I learned that there are between 3500 and 4000 varieties of mushrooms and fungi in the Cascadian bioregion.  I learned that many are both nutritional and medicinal and much of the world uses these fungi for healing, nutrition and utility. The cooks made delicious pizza and pâté made from wild Chanterelles mushrooms.

The overnight event organized by the Friends of Straub Environmental Learning center and held at Drift Creek camp was well organized.  We spent two hours in lecture learning about the ecology and identification of mushrooms. Our instructor was Jake Hurlbert, who also taught at the Yachats Mushroom fest was exceptional. Jake is the educational mycologist for the Pacific Northwest Mycological Association and also belongs to the Lincoln County Mycologial society. Presently Jake is conducting a 7-year study of the ecology of fungi and plants of Oregon.

 Did you know that fungi evolved from the same genome as animals?  Now isn’t that strange.  We are closer to fungi than plants genetically!   Jake sent all participants out into the forest for three hours and told us to collect whatever we found.  He then had us bring all the specimens back and he spent another two hours identifying them and taught us about the ecology of these fungi.  Then we had a nice dinner of wild mushroom lasagna and spent a cozy rainy night in a great lodge.

If you would like to know about about fungi – find out if there is a local Mushroom (mycological) society near you.  Here is a link to a website (Puget Sound Mycological Society) that lists many of the mushroom societies in Cascadia. My favorite of course is the Lincoln County Mycological Society.  After all these rains, we should a really nice crop of Chanterelles available.  Happy Mushrooming!

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Who came first?

“Animals are something invented by plants to move seeds around. An extremely yang solution to a peculiar problem which they faced.”
-Terence McKenna

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The White Oak (Quercus garryana)

Oregon White Oak

THE OREGON WHITE OAK (Quercus garryana)

When I look across the skyline I still see the White Oak. These trees have been here in Cascadia for thousands of years. The acorns of the White Oak were an important food source for native peoples. Where ever you find these trees you will also find a vast ecosystem of food, healing plants and pronounced animal, insect and plant communities. For instance, if you look up into the branches of the White Oak in the fall and winter you will see mistletoe, at its base you will find small herbs, sweet flowered ground covers, and sumac (also known as poison oak).

When European settlers first arrived in Cascadia they found most of the valley’s of Western Oregon and Washington filled with White Oak forests. The trees are found on dry, rocky slopes of bluffs sometimes on deep rich, well-drained soil and low elevations. As you head south from Eugene, the species of oak trees are slightly different and they are named “Black Oak”.

The White Oak tree is recognizable by is deeply round-lobed oak leaves and it’s light grey bark, with thick furrows and ridges. The tree can grow to be 100 feet or taller.

The acorns of the White Oak were eaten by the local First peoples such as Salish and Kalapuyan, Chehalis, and Nisqually peoples. They harvested the acorns, soaked them to remove the bitter tannin, and pulverized them into a type of flour. These acorns were easy to store through the winter and were not prone to spoilage by mold, moisture or cold. The food from the acorn mash was high in proteins, carbohydrates and nutrients.The Chehalis roasted the oak acorn on a fire. Some first peoples buried the nuts in baskets in the mud of sloughs all winter and ate them in the spring. (Gunther 1945)  All acorns contain large amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fats, as well as the minerals calcium, phosphorus and potassium, and the vitamin niacin. Total food energy in an acorn also varies by species, but all compare well with other wild foods and with other nuts. (Wikipedia: acorns). It is important to remove tannins by soaking overnight in water. Since tannins, which are plant polyphenols, interfere with an animal’s ability to metabolize protein, it is important to remove them before consuming the acorn.

The First Peoples of Cascadia had many uses for oak including making combs, digging sticks and used as fuel.(Turner 1979). And of course, mistletoe is found in the branches of oak.

The bark of the White Oak was one of the ingredients in the Saanich  and Cowlitz “4 barks” medicine used against tuberculosis and other ailments (Turner and Hebda 1990).

Creatures that make acorns an important part of their diet include birds, such as jays, pigeons, some ducks and several species of woodpeckers. Small mammals that feed on acorns include mice, squirrels and several other rodents. Such large mammals as bears, and deer also consume large amounts of acorns: they may constitute up to 25% of the diet of deer in the autumn.

If you live in Portland, there is a beautiful specimen of the White Oak in a park near People’s co-op off of Powell street and 22nd avenue. Go sit under this tree and prepare to be taught. It is the mother of many trees in Portland. I found true grounding under this tree.


Gunther, Erna (1945) Ethnobotany of Western Washington: The knowledge and use of indigenous plants by Native Americans,University of Washington Press.

Turner, Nancy J.(1979) Plants in British Columbia Indian Technology, British Columbia Provincial Museum Press, Victoria, Canada

Turner, N.J. and R.J. Hebda. (1990)  Contemporary use of bark for medicine by two Salishan native elders of southeast Vancouver Island. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 229: 59-72
“respiratory ailments were treated with bark of Abies grandis, Arbutus menziesii, Cornus nuttallii, Prunus emarginata, Pseudotsuga menziesii and Quercus garryana;”

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Oregon White Oak

Plants as Teachers

If you are looking for a good teacher for learning about plants, look to the plants themselves. All knowledge that would lead us to live rightly on the Earth can be found in its plants.  You only need to possess excellent powers of observation and do what the plants ask you to do. If you know and understand the plant teachers, you will never be hungry, unsheltered, or unclothed. You will surely be a person who lives a prosperous, abundant life.

You have only to go outside and look about you.  If you spend enough time observing the plants, you will learn that they live in systemic communities.  Each plant lives in its own network of fellow plants that provide support and help attract nutrients and pollinators. Humans could learn from these communities, but many humans hold themselves above or apart from nature.

While you are outside, look out to the horizon if you can, and take note of the most prominent plant. Perhaps you see a giant white oak, which was once plentiful and extremely valuable to human survival for thousands of years in Cascadia.  If you live in the forest and cannot see the horizon, look up.  You will see the teacher trees, the mother plants, and their surrounding network of supporting plants. When humans slice away this support through such practices as clear-cutting, slash-and-burn procedures, and use of chemical herbicides, they put plant communities and other biological communities at risk. We must remember that we are all connected; we must hold each other up.

Plants have not forgotten that we are all part of the same community.  When we enter a plant community, the plants will try to heal us and restore us and bring us to a state of balance. What we need to learn is how to recognize  the healing that is occurring and give it support through our actions and the way we care for our bodies and minds.

In research conducted by entomologists Karban and Baldwin of the Wageningen Agricultural University in the Netherlands, plants were found not to be passive organisms at all.  The research challenged the human idea that because plants are firmly rooted in the soil and cannot run away from their enemies, they have long been considered passive in interactions with other organisms.

After decades of research on plant pathogen and plant herbivore interactions, the scientists found that plants take an active role in adapting to adverse conditions.” (Induced Responses to Herbivory  [page 83]).

One of my favorite passages in Stephen Harrod Buhner’s book, The Lost Language of Plants: The Ecological Importance of Plant Medicines to Life on Earth is a story about the interaction between deer and plants in a meadow.

Harrod Buhner writes about researchers asking the question, why don’t deer eat meadow plants down to the root when grazing? The researchers watched a meadow for several seasons, taking all sorts of samples.  In the end they found that the plants themselves control the deer, sending off an aroma and plant chemistry that signal the deer to eat, and then, when the deer have eaten just to the tops of the stems, emitting a bitter chemical that causes the deer to stop eating.  Both plant and deer are healthier for the grazing: the plant receives a good trimming that allows it to build better plant structure, and the deer receives nutrients.  What is most amazing in this story is that the plant is able to switch its chemical output almost instantaneously.

Now if all this is true, why would you, a human, be surprised that when you enter a forest, the plants want to bring you to a state of balance in their community?

Plants teach and compel and push us to return to our true nature and our place in the surrounding community.  When we walk in the forest and we are covered by synthetic chemical smells–smells of plastic and petro and synthetic hormones and medicines–the plants will rain down upon us a curtain of plant substance chemicals. The plants will clean the air and water for us and try to reconnect us to the earth. The community we belong to is connected to all living and nonliving things on this planet. Until we find our way back to living balanced and harmoniously within the tapestry of life, we will continue to feel disconnected and dis-eased. Don’t believe me?  Go into the forest and find a Western red cedar. Sit under the tree for an hour and see how you feel.  You will not only feel changed biologically and psychologically, you will feel connected to the place.

Original post to Portland Indymedia on January 19, 2008 – you can view original with comments at this link

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“The ultimate role of ethnobotany lies not in the identification of new natural products for the benefit of the modern world, but rather in the illumination of a profoundly different way of living in relationship to nature.” -Wade Davis

                         Who is Wade Davis?  Follow the link

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It’s that time of year again!  The Yachats Village Mushroom Fest.  OCTOBER 15-17, 2010  – It cost $5 for the weekend.  The meals are extra and keynote speaker cost extra.  I went last year and it was so much fun and very informative.  The speakers and mushroom identification events were superb!  Take a walk on the wild side.  Connect with the fungi!

 Again, I attended last years event and the speakers were very informative.  Yachats is located on the Oregon coast just south of Waldport, Oregon.  A beautiful drive this time of year.  I learned a great deal about fungi found in the Cascadia bioregion.  There are actually hundreds of fungi that are edible and medicinal located in our forests and valleys.  First peoples and settlers used some of the fungi for utility too.  The fungi was used for Bowls, shoe soles, bags etc.  We were taught how to cook and yes…we did eat some of these delectable forest specimens. The fungi are high in protein and other nutrients. The medicinal value are amazing.  The far east has used mushrooms for healing non-stop for thousands of years.

  Every hour a bus would come and pick us up and take us into the forest for a FREE walking lectures.  We learned how to identify the mushrooms and learned about the forest ecosystem that supports and thrives on this important fungi.

Also during the day are many workshops.  Check out the link for a full schedule.  From mushroom identification, to cooking and using mushrooms for fiber dye…check out the schedule.

This year the keynote speaker is DAVID ARORA Acclaimed mushroom expert and author of Mushrooms Demystified  and All That The Rain Promises & More will deliver the festival’s opening night keynote address. Friday, October 15 at 7:00 PM.  Admission $12, $8 students.  He will also be offering a full-day workshop on Sunday as well. 

Get out of your house!  Get away from the computer.  Go to the coast and have a really wonderful time learning about the bounty of the ecosystem we live in.

Here is a link to their website:  The Yachats  Mushroom Fest

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