Yucca recurvifolia

Yucca Blossom Fritters

The genus Yucca has 40-50 species, mainly in the US Southwest and Mexico. Most have edible flowers, fruits/seeds, and flower stalks, and some have edible roots (when processed). Common names for this plant usually include “yucca” but some are known as “spanish bayonet” and one is the “joshua tree.” Besides food, the uses of this plant are many, and include the roots being used as soap, the leaves used for fibers, the leaf tips as needles, and the leaves for plaited sandals. Since the dried leaves or woody parts have a very low combustion temperature, they make excellent tinder.

Here I wanted to share a recipe for eating the flowers. Raw, the flowers can be quite bitter. But cooked, they have a nice flavor. I battered and fried some flowers from a spanish dagger blooming on campus. I used whole rye flour, eggs, and water to make the batter. Then I dipped each flower in the batter to coat it and deep-fried it in olive oil. So tasty!

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flour, batter, and yucca blossoms

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Yucca fritters! I fried a lot more but they were so good they got eaten before I remembered to take a photo!

 

Zen Affluence of Hunter-gatherers

The traditional view of hunter-gatherer or “subsistence” cultures is that their life was generally “a precarious and arduous struggle for existence” (Lee 1968).

In Leviathan, Hobbes sums up this view of “primitive” man without government in a quote, of which the last part especially has become a famous reference to such cultures:

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”(Hobbes 1651)

However, empirical data on living hunter-gatherers (even though they tend to inhabit marginal, unproductive lands that agro-industrial cultures see as worthless) show a radically different picture (Lee 1968).

It should be obvious that our modern culture, though more connected than ever with the internet, is ironically the most lonely ever. The more “primitive” the culture, the less its “development,” the more socially connected it is.

As far as poor, a poor man is defined by not meeting his wants, and our insatiable wants are making us poor, rather than inherent lack of resources. Hunter-gatherers easily met all their wants and needs because they had so little to desire beyond food, family, community, and health.

Studies have clearly shown how little hunter-gatherers worked; such cultures spent more time dancing or socializing than working. And their “work” was hunting and gathering, activities which modern humans pursue (or vestiges of them such as hiking, camping, etc.) for entertainment.

“From July 6 to August 2, 1964, [anthropologist Richard B. Lee] recorded all the daily activities of the Bushmen living at the Dobe waterhole [in the Kalahari desert]… the camp population fluctuated… with a mean of 31.8 persons. Each day some of the adult members of the camp went out to hunt and/or gather while others stayed home or went visiting. … In all, the adults of the Dobe camp worked about two and a half days a week. Since the average working day was about six hours long, the fact emerges that the !Kung Bushmen of Dobe, despite their harsh environment, devote twelve to nineteen hours a week to getting food. Even the hardest working individual in that camp, a man named ≠oma who went out hunting on sixteen of the 28 days, spent a maximum of 32 hours a week in the food quest. … [This study was during] the mid-winter dry season, a period when food is neither at its most plentiful nor at its scarcest levels…” (Lee 1968)

“A woman gathers on one day enough food to feed her family for three days, and spends the rest of her time resting in camp, doing embroidery, visiting other camps, or entertaining visitors from other camps. For each day at home, kitchen routines, such as cooking, nut cracking, collecting firewood, and fetching water, occupy one to three hours of her time. This steady work and steady leisure is maintained throughout the year.” (Lee 1968)

“The hunters tend to work more frequently than the women, but their schedule is uneven. It is not unusual for a man to hunt avidly for a week and then do no hunting at all for two or three weeks. … During these periods, visiting, entertaining, and especially dancing are the primary activities of men.” (Lee 1968)

“…During the study period 410 pounds of meat were brought in by the hunters of the Dobe camp, for a daily share of nine ounces of meat per person. About 700 pounds of vegetable foods were gathered and consumed during the same period. … This output of 2,140 calories and 93.1 grams of protein per person per day may be compared with the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) for persons of small size and stature but vigorous activity regime of the !Kung Bushmen. …estimated ad 1,975 calories and 60 grams of protein per person per day. Thus it is apparent that food output exceeds energy requirements by 165 calories and 33 grams of protein… even a modest subsistence effort of two or three days’ work per week is enough to provide and adequate diet for the !Kung Bushmen.” (Lee 1968)

The Yanomamö from the Orinoco river watershed on the borders of Venezuela and Brazil were found to have similar productive efforts; making a living on only a few hours per day (Chagnon 1983). The Yanomamö spent more time blowing hallucinogens up their noses than obtaining food (Chagnon 1983).

A major key to this way of life is egalitarianism, sharing resources, lack of resource stockpiling, and lack of stealing (Gowdy 1998).

When hunter-gatherers come into contact with a market economy, they become as acquisitive as anyone else (Gowdy 1998). Why they do this may hold the key to a sustainable future (Gowdy 1998). The thesis of Flannery (1995) in his book The Future Eaters: an ecological history of the Australian lands and people is that “future eating,” or consuming resources needed for the future, is characteristic of humans, environmental factors such a periodic drought caused by El Niño limited Aborginal population size, and ecological coevolution created social customs that act to conserve scarce natural resources.

Affluence can be created in two ways; by producing much or desiring little. Hunter-gatherers were in the latter category, the “Zen road to affluence” (Sahlins 1972). The idea that their subsistence economy is a dismal, undesirable, and difficult lifeway is an ethnocentric prejudice, a bias of agro-industrial culture and economists not based on any anthropological research or empirical investigations (Stahlins 1972).

Yet this idea continues even to this day. We all learn in economics to compare economies against the “baseline” or rudimentary subsistence economy, a mere scraping for survival to compare against a more civilized economy based on stockpiling resources, getting more, spending and trading, with the ultimate ideal to possess and consume as much as possible per capita. The fundamental problem with economic theory is utterly ignoring natural resources and environmental degradation caused by “development.”

But where has this gotten us? Look around. In the US, the “standard” work-week is 40 hours. That’s two to three times the amount of work Bushmen perform. But 86% of males and 67% of females in the US work more than 40 hours per week. And while hunter-gatherers had healthy life satisfaction, community, and exercise inherent in their work, most of us are basically automatons in our jobs and must pursue our life satisfaction, community, and exercise in our spare time. Americans work more and take less vacation than any other country in the world. But the rest of the world, at least in agro-industrial cultures, work comparable hours, from around 20-50 hours per week, still all more than hunter-gatherers work.

Still satisfied with the “progress” of civilization? If not, ditch all your consumer needs you have been brainwashed into having by corporations and the governments they control. Live a simple life. Stop supporting the agro-industrial system that is killing you, your family, other humans, all living beings, and even the rocks, water, and atmosphere of our only planet. Reclaim your right to a healthy, happy, and satisfying life.

 

References:

 

Chagnon, N. A. 1983. Yanomamö: the fierce people. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., New York, NY.

Gowdy, J.M. (ed.) 1998. Limited wants, unlimited means: a reader on hunter-gatherer economics and the environment. Island Press, Covelo, CA.

Hobbes, T. 1651. Leviathan.

Lee, R. B. 1968. What hunters do for a living, or, how to make out on scarce resources. In Gowdy, J.M. (ed.) 1998. Limited wants, unlimited means: a reader on hunter-gatherer economics and the environment. Island Press, Covelo, CA.

Sahlins, M. 1972. The original affluent society. In Gowdy, J.M. (ed.) 1998. Limited wants, unlimited means: a reader on hunter-gatherer economics and the environment. Island Press, Covelo, CA.

 

Cricket Hunting Method of Nevada Indians

Eastern Nevada Indians hunted Mormon crickets at certain times, getting huge returns of meat for their time. American Indians all ate grasshoppers, crickets, and katydids in large numbers, and had many different methods of hunting them. The Mormon cricket is a large member of the katydid family found in the US Southwest.

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Mormon cricket (Anabrus simplex)
From: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2008/1305/

Here was an interesting method used for capturing them:

On flat lands below foothills, quite a number of trenches were dug measuring a foot wide, a foot deep, and about 30-40 feet long, shaped like a new crescent moon with the horns facing uphill. The trenches were in a row, with ends joined or very close. The trenches were covered with a thin layer of stiff wheat grass straw.

At the hottest part of the day, the Indians divided into two parties, each going to one end of the trenches, and lined up single file uphill towards the foothills. Each individual was armed with a bunch of grass, which they swung back and forth as the line advanced toward the trenches (the description of the exact positioning is vague, but I’m assuming the Indians advanced from uphill, going diagonally, with one end of each line near the end of the trenches, and the other near the foothills but still far from the other party, and as they advanced, they covered all the space between them), driving the crickets [Anabrus simplex (Orthoptera: Tettigoniidae)] towards the trenches, leaving few behind, and creating a thick black tumbling mass of crickets before the drivers.

The crickets, when disturbed, can jump about one foot down hill, but only half a foot uphill, so will always go downhill to escape if possible. The Indians were exploiting this behavior.

As they reached the trenches, the Indians went slower to give the crickets time to crawl through the grass covering the trenches, into the trenches where they stopped, thinking themselves hidden and protected. Once all the crickets were driven into the trenches, the Indians set fire to the grass bunches in their hands and scattered it atop the grass over the trenches, causing a big blaze of smoke, which killed or stunned all the crickets inside within a few minutes.

The trenches were over half full of crickets, and only about one out of a thousand passed by the trenches without entering. The crickets are dried and ground whole on the same mill used for pine nuts and grass seeds, making a fine flour that will keep a long time if kept dry. A bread or cake is made with them, or the cricket flour is added to pine nut or grass meal to make a bread, making it sweeter.

Reference:

Egan, Howard. 1917. Pioneering the West, 1846-1878: Major Howard Egan’s diary: also thrilling experiences of pre-frontier life among Indians, their traits, civil and savage, and part of autobiography, inter-related to his father’s. Howard R. Egan Estate, Richmond, UT.

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Boomerangs are awesome!

I was at the library checking out a book on sling and slingstone archeology, and next to it was a book on boomerangs! So of course I got it. My dad had a nice wood boomerang when I was a kid, and I played with that and some plastic ones at one point too. They are much harder to get to return than you might think. I never got the wood one to work, and I was always scared it would hit me on returning.

We tend to think of the boomerang as a toy, or novelty, but it was a nearly-ubiquitous and very important weapon, tool, and religious object for aboriginal Australians (Jones 1996). Every hunter had at least a few, often many of various designs for many functions (Jones 1996). They called them “karli,” “belo,” “iringili,” munartajartu,” “pirrkala,” “wallanu,” “warlanu,” “warraka,” “wana,” “murrawirrie,” “ngamiringa,” “yarrakoodakoodari,” “karra,” and many more names, but most commonly, “kiley,” with different types having different names, and for different language groups (Jones 1996). Aborigines in Tasmania did not have boomerangs, nor did most in the tropical north or those in the western central desert regions (Jones 1996).

There are two main categories of boomerangs: returning and non-returning (Jones 1996). The latter are kind of like the rabbitstick that was a common weapon of American Indians to throw at rabbits and small game. This type of weapon is a major improvement over just a plain stick since they are carved thin and have a bend in one end or near the middle. This shape makes them go much further, straighter, and have more force upon impact. These sticks were found in many aboriginal societies, as well as ancient Egypt (Jones 1996).

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rabbitsticks or throwing sticks, including some returning boomerangs, from Tutankhamen’s tomb (Jones 1996)

The non-returning boomerang was perhaps more common than the returning form, the latter which may have been mainly used for small game hunting, hitting flocks of birds or to mimic a hawk in order to make waterfowl fly low into a net (Jones 1996, see more on this down below).

The non-returning and returning boomerangs were used for many purposes other than throwing for hunting: they were used for hand to hand combat (esp. the longer, straighter ones), a knife, a hammer or club, a digging tool, making fire by friction (fire plow technique), for clapping together as a percussion instrument, and for many ceremonial or religious purposes (Jones 1996). The diversity of shapes reflects their diversity of uses, and for hunting, there was many different shapes depending upon the prey and the desired flight path.

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hand to hand combat with boomerangs (Jones 1996)

The returning boomerang was sometimes thrown over a flock of waterfowl, the boomerang having a hole drilled in one end to make a whistling sound like a hawk, while hunters also made a hawk cry, in order to flush the birds towards a low net that had been previously strung across the body of water, since the boomerang-hawk made them fly low, and rapidly in fright. Upon hitting the net, hunters at each end would let it drop, trapping the birds.

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flushing waterfowl into net with hawk-mimicking returning boomerangs (Jones 1996)

The returning boomerang was also thrown into flocks of birds, being superbly effective with its high velocity and eccentric flight path making it very difficult to dodge by the birds, though the boomerangs flight path would be well-known to the hunter (Jones 1996). Of course, whenever the returning boomerang hit its mark, it fell and did not return.

The returning boomerang was used also for games and sport by the Australian aborigines, some similar to today’s contests with boomerangs, where one person throws and tries to get it to perform particular flight patterns like figure eights, or return accurately to a circle drawn around the thrower, or hit a peg (Jones 1996). A game was played mimicking war, where a line of warriors threw one by one at eachother, holding shields, and trying to dodge or block incoming boomerangs, which was difficult given their erratic flight path (Jones 1996).

Depending upon how it was thrown, a boomerang can have drastically different flight paths:

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flight path of an illuminated boomerang at night (Jones 1996)

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variability of flight path based on throwing technique (Jones 1996)

One special type of (non-returning) boomerang was biconvex, short, and wide, with a pointed handle and sharp edges (Jones 1996). This type was thrown into water to kill fish near the surface. This type was also made with metal when it became available (Jones 1996).

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fishing boomerang (Jones 1996)

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diversity of boomerangs of Aboriginal Australians (Jones 1996)

Some boomerangs were cross-shaped, others had hooks on one end, but mainly they varied by length, angle, sharpness of ends, and thickness, wood, and weight.

Often boomerangs were incised and / or painted with maker’s marks or ancestral designs. One common incising was fine flutings down the length of boomerangs (Jones 1996). I suspect this may have had an affect on performance, since overly-smooth boomerangs don’t fly as well. The dimples on golf balls really enhance their flight, and this may be analogous with these flutings (Jones 1996).

Once boomerangs became a popular tourist item, aboriginal manufacturers starting focusing more on carving and painting designs than quality of functional design (Jones 1996).

Modern boomerangs are often manufactured, and are made of plywood, plastic, or cardboard to be a safe toy (Jones 1996). Some are in made in novelty shapes (Jones 1996). Competition boomerangs include tri-bladed designs for “fast catch” events, while unequal-limbed designs (also often found in aboriginal boomerangs) are used for “maximum time aloft” competitions (Jones 1996).

The returning boomerang uses two opposite-facing airfoils blended at the center, a slight positive dihedral, and a bend in the middle around 107 degrees (lefties need to reverse the side of the airfoils). The fly using the principles of gyroscopic stability, gyroscopic precession, Bernoulli’s principle of differential air pressure and the Coanda effect along with Newton’s laws of motion.

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technical boomerang design

http://www.researchsupporttechnologies.com/boomerang_site/boomerang6.htm

Normally, a boomerang is thrown overhead, “V” pointing forward, held nearly vertically, gripped in the hand or between the thumb and forefinger. The flat side faces away. Throw at about a 45 degree angle from the incoming wind. A boomerang can be tuned by test flights, then altering the wing shapes to correct the flight errors. See the link below for more info on tuning.

http://www.angelfire.com/nc/conally/manual.html

I collected some nice bent branches of madrone the other day, and I’m going to carve some traditional returning boomerangs! I’ll post a photo-methods record when I do.

Here is a great photo documentation blog post about making a non-returning boomerang (it’s an awesome blog in general too): http://naturalskills.wordpress.com/2011/06/17/boomerang-build-a-long/

REFERENCE:

Jones, Philip. 1996. Boomerang: behind an Australian icon. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

Eating Nettles

Stinging nettles (genus Urtica) are widespread in Northern Hemisphere temperate regions and are all edible. Urtica is simple to ID; just touch it and if you immediately feel a burning, it’s a nettle! (Ur = burn in Latin, and urtica = nettle in Latin). The burning sensation tapers off in severity after a few minutes, but its after-effects (particularly felt when the afflicted part is put under hot water, or subjected to heat) can last up to a whole day. The chemical is formic acid (the same chemical in ant stings), which is injected by tiny hollow hairs covering all the aboveground plant parts.

If you don’t want to touch it, just look closely for densely packed hairs on the leaves, which become larger and more sparse on the stems, almost appearing like spines. But that’s not a fail-safe ID method unless you have otherwise familiarized yourself with its appearance.

The common species in California and the Pacific Northwest is Urtica dioica. The California Indians used this plant for food, usually cooking it first, but sometimes eating it raw! It won’t kill you to eat it raw, but it will hurt a lot. They also rubbed the fresh plant on areas afflicted with rheumatism to give relief (or maybe just distraction?!). During rites of passage to adulthood for young males, after being covered with large stinging ants for a while, the ants were brushed off with freshly-picked nettles! Double ouch!

Heating destroys the formic acid and renders it safe to eat without burning. To prepare nettles, remove the stems, boil a pot a water, put the leaves in the boiling water for 2-4 minutes (I prefer more like one minute; that’s all you need to kill the burn and leaves it with a leafy texture and taste). Either scoop out the nettles, or drain, but be sure to save the broth which is very tasty and healthy as a tea or built up into a soup. To protect your hands while collecting and preparing nettles, use a pair of leather gloves.

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Then use as greens much like one would use spinach (though nettle tastes better). You can make a mean pesto or pizza topping, or just eat them plain.

Nettles are way more nutritious than spinach, and are marketed as a super health food. They are just chocked full of vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients. Plus they are easy to ID, abundant where they are found, and not eaten by many wild animals. You may also get a little rush from eating something that could otherwise hurt you, kind of like rattlesnake or bear meat.

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Soap and Food from Soaproot

Soaproot (Clorogalum pomeridium) gets its common name from its use as soap by the California Indians. The plant is also called amole or amole lily.

I collected soaproot  from a large patch this winter, as you can see I found it by its dried stalks and leaves, since only a few small young leaves were showing:

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I made sure to leave the lower part of the root to resprout, place any seeds from the dried stalk into the hole, and re-cover it with dirt and litter. That’s how the Indians assured sustainable harvest (Anderson 2005). In fact, such gathering techniques often enhanced the growth of the bulb populations, since they co-evolved with disturbance from humans, rodents, pigs, and other consumers, they reproduce vegetatively, so the tilling and breaking up of the root, and spreading seed all act to make the population expand in number and size (Anderson 2005).

This is one soaproot, I collected, showing the lower root left at the bottom of the hole, into which I placed the seeds left on the flower stalk, and filled the dirt and litter back over it:

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Indians gathered the fresh young shoots in March and roasted them to make them sweet and tasty (Chesnut 1902).

Raw, the saponins make it toxic, but the bulb is good to eat after being slowly roasted or boiled in its skin. The Indians would use an earth oven of course, but sometimes boiled them. You can boil them for 45 mins to an hour to fully cook them. Or bake them at 400 degrees for an hour or so. Before cooking, you need to remove the fibrous outer husk, first by peeling away the easily-separated outer parts, then bending back the still-attached fibers from the bulb leaf tips (it’s a lot like an onion, which is also in the Lily family (Liliaceae)), and snipping off the fibers with scissors, and finally washing to get a nice looking cream-colored, smooth bulb.

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To make soap, just mash up one or more of these bulbs in a bowl with a jar bottom (or mortar and pestle), add water, and beat into a froth. This soap is very moisturizing; great for dandruff, and leaves hair soft, silky, and shiny. This soap was preferred by Indians to soap made by settlers for cleaning baskets, washing silk and delicate fabrics, removing dandruff, and washing hair, which was left very soft and glossy (Chesnut 1902).

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Soaproot had lots of uses for the Indians besides soap and food.

The fibrous root cover was gathered into bunches and used to make brushes used for processing acorns, being used to sweep up bits of flour and nut pieces while grinding and sorting out the hulls (Parker and Ortiz 1991). These fibers were also occasionally used to make beds (Chesnut 1902). Roasted, the bulb was used as an antiseptic poultice for sores (Chesnut 1902).

Fresh, the bulb was rubbed on the body for cramps and rheumatism (Chesnut 1902).

A decoction of the bulb was used as a diuretic and laxative and for stomach ache characterized by excessive gas in the stomach (Chesnut 1902).

Juice of the fresh green leaves was used as green ink for tattooing (Chesnut 1902).

The leaves were highly esteemed in summer, when other leaves are dry, as the best succulent, flexible, and large leaf for baking acorn bread (Chesnut 1902). The dough is completely covered with the leaves, then placed on hot rocks and covered with other leaves and ashes (Chesnut 1902).

When the bulb is roasted, a viscid juice is exuded that served as a substitute for glue for for attaching feathers to arrows (Chesnut 1902). This glue diluted with water was applied to bow backs and soot upon the bow just after to turn it permanently black, making it appear old (Chesnut 1902). The reason the probably did this was to make it less conspicuous to their prey, a bright, shiny, whitish object being alarming and suspicious to any animal.

Another famous use of soaproot is as a fish poison. Crushed pulp of the root was thrown into small, low-water streams, or deep pools to stupify fish and eels, which were then collected in great quantity to eat (Chesnut 1902). One account tells of how after the last rains of June, a village would assemble and mash up many bushels of soaproot bulbs on rocks (Chesnut 1902). Meanwhile, a 6-7 ft high weir is built downstream by driving willow poles into the river bed and lashing them with redbut bark (Chesnut 1902). Indians stationed up the stream for 3 miles or so evenly spread out the crushed bulbs while constantly agitating the water (Chesnut 1902). Shortly the fish and eels, but not frogs, floated to the surface stupified and were captured by hand or in a shallow, coarse-meshed basket (Chesnut 1902). As much as 100 bushels of fish and eels were thus captured at one time, and this quantity evenly divided between everyone in the village (Chesnut 1902). No ill effects resulted from eating such “poisoned” fish Sometimes pther plants were used in combination, or alone, but only turkey mullein (Croton setigerus) was as effective as soaproot (Chesnut 1902).

Soaproot and yucca, (esp. twisted- leaf yucca) are very similar taxonomically, superficially, and in uses by Native Americans. Yucca has saponins, its roots were used as soap, to stupify fish, and was eaten after cooking.

References:

Anderson, M. K. 2005. Tending the wild: Native American knowledge and management of California’s natural resources. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA.

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Disclaimer: Always be 100% certain of the identity of any mushroom or plant before ingesting. Many mushrooms and plants superficially look very similar, and without expert identification, it is easy to mistake a poisonous and edible species. I assume no responsibility for any harm, injury, or death from information given in this post.

mahogany obsidian from Davis Creek

Development of a flintknapper

 

These points are shown in the order I made them. These are all the points I have successfully completed. I began flintknapping late this summer, and had spurts of progress working with the California knappers, and lately by myself.

All are “woodland type” arrowhead points, with exception of the one mahogany small spearhead point.

I used all “primitive” tools, or tools used by stone-age American Indians, not out of pretension but since such tools were made from free materials I already had – meaning I didn’t have to go buy anything like copper billets. The tools I used were mule deer and whitetail deer antlers (for pressure flaking with the tines and using the rosettes for percussion flaking billets), a basalt cobble for a hard hammerstone, sandstone cobbles for soft hammerstones and abrading, and pumice stone for abrading and sharpening my pressure flakers. I made an Ishi-stick pressure flaker from an antler tine, elderberry wood, and artificial sinew (ok not primitive but close enough). Plus I used lots of leather pads, and my safety goggles (also not primitive, but I’m not a fan of obsidian flakes in the eye; Ishi, and presumably other American Indians when struck in the eye with a flake, would quickly pull down their lower eyelid, look down, and vigorously slap the back of their head. American Indians also always knapped in a designated place, and did not talk while knapping, presumably also for safety reasons).

I made the two smaller dacite points into necklaces by wrapping the notched area in copper wire and forming a loop that I strung with a tanned deerskin leather cord.

I gave the 2nd and last four (all the best) as Christmas gifts to all my family members.