Doing a leisurely lap around the Ventura River Preserve through Wills and Rice canyons on Friday I realized that I had forgotten my “nutritious and wholesome” granola bar. As my stomach rumbled I desperately looked around to see what nature could possibly provide. Not saying that I would eat all of these… just that you could if you had to. Considering my entire diet consists of meat, carbs and about 3 different fruits I’d be in big trouble. But in an emergency, depending on the time of year, these could all provide sustenance:
HORS D’OEUVRES –
Southern California Black Walnut, supposedly a very tasty nut if you can get in there. These will be ready to pick later in the summer, get to them before the squirrels do.
Black mustard greens, miner’s lettuce with a side of curly dock. I think I’m gonna skip this course. All widely available in late winter and spring. Miner’s lettuce is a great source of vitamin C.
FRESHLY BAKED BREADS:
You’ve got 3 choices here from plants on the preserve. All requires lifetime’s worth of experience to collect and process, and specially crafted tools to create something edible but hey, I never said it would be easy. Acorns from our oak trees are a good place to start. Ripe for picking around November, they require 3 weeks for drying, then you shell them, dry them some more. You could eat them at that point, though they would most likely be incredibly bitter, requiring numerous leachings to remove the tannic acid.
Second choice would be Holly Leaf cherry, which local tribes called ‘islay’. Gather these in late summer, let them rot for a few days, remove pulp, boil, then dry, then some more leaching to remove hydrocyanic acid (unless you’re keen on cyanide). Mash it up and you’ve got dough.
Finally chia seeds made a darn tasty meal back in the day. Just collect and toast and mash. The resulting mush could be added to drinks or formed into a cake. Unfortunately these are a little hard to find nowadays, you’d be lucky to gather enough to make a crouton.
MAIN COURSE- VARIOUS BULBS
MMMmmm… who wants some bulb. Start out with some Blue Dicks’ dug up fresh from the earth. Roast on hot ash and you’ve got a garlicky little snack.
Believe it or not yucca (Our Lord’s Candle) made quite the meal. After an extensive process involving singing off all the spiny parts, then burying and roasting underground for a day a full sized yucca bulb could feed a whole family
Getting thirsty? Give that bland river water a kick by soaking the berries of sugar bush.
Want something with a little more oomph? Mexican elderberry is in full bloom right now, soon turning to berries which should be ripe by June. Commonly used in wine or brandy, jams and pies. All other parts of the plants toxic so resist the urge to gnaw on some branch.
Besides the aforementioned elderberry, we actually have a wide variety of other edible and occasionally tasty fruits.
Chaparral currant is ready to pick when they are nice and purple, right now in spring usually
In a month or so the tasty but thorn covered fuchsia flowered gooseberry will be ripe, if you can handle the spiny outer coat. Personally I like a little extra bristle in my diet.
June is time for the California redberry, close relative of ceanothus. Pulp to seed ratio isn’t too good, you’ll be spitting quite a bit.
Finally, comb the shady stream sides in summer to find tasty little blackberries. No they don’t look like what Driscoll’s ships out but hey it’s free. Watch for the thorn covered stems.
I’m sure there’s lots of stuff I’ve missed, this is just what I found on one quick 6 mile loop. Would love to hear tales of other roughage and forage you’ve tried, the more disastrous the better.