Tag Archives: ethnoecology

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.




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.


Winter Foraging

On Saturday, Emily and I went on a foray for mushrooms at a park on the SF peninsula. We were with MSSF people who were out to collect for the fungus fair which was the following day. But the rains were super late this fall, and despite the fact that it poured on Friday, the mushrooms were apparently quite scarce. Chris Schoenstein, the leader of the foray, told us just one good rain in Sept. would’ve probably been enough, and kept pointing out areas that were rife with mushrooms on the same day the year prior.

Good thing plants are always around. I wasn’t too bothered by the dearth of mushrooms since there was plenty of edible and useful flora to gather. See my cornucopia of a haul:


Toyon berries, bay nuts, buckeye seeds, soaproot bulbs with fibrous covering and young shoots, mint leaves, two spp. of mushrooms, an oak gall, and madrone walking/digging stick.


There was plenty of toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) berries which are good to eat, though are kind of acidic and mealy raw. The California Indians usually cooked the berries to make them sweeter by tossing them about in a basket with hot coals or sometimes by boiling (Chesnut 1902). I’m going to try the cider recipe on this site: http://www.livingwild.org/winter/toyon/

Straight toyon shoots were used to make arrow shafts, the wood being rather strong, but fairly light. The California Indians also used a decoction of the leaves for stomachache and various aches and pains (Chesnut 1902), but they contain cyanide compounds, so I wouldn’t use too many leaves. Interestingly, Hollywood got its name from the many large toyon trees that grew there back in the day. Toyon is not a holly (genus Ilex, Family Aquifoliaceae), but its berries and leaves look pretty similar.


I also collected a basketful of California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica) nuts. These are so good to eat once cooked. Se my below post about the bay laurel tree for more info on prep.

We recently made “California Native cookies” (our invention) using half bay nut flour, half acorn flour, and manzanita berries.

Here is the recipe:

1 cup acorn flour (from the valley oak, Quercus lobata)

1 cup roasted bay laurel nuts

1 cup California wildflower honey

1/2 cup manzanita berry flesh (seeds removed)

1/2 cup organic butter, softened

1 organic free range egg

1/2 tsp baking soda

1 tsp hot water

1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together butter and honey. Beat in egg. Dissolve baking soda in hot water and add to batter along with salt. Stir in flours and manzanita berries. Drop large spoonfuls onto ungreased sheets. Bake 10-12 mins in the preheated oven. Enjoy!

Thanks to Jill Miller from Olompali State Historic Park for the inspirational recipe she cooked us with acorn flour!


On our foray, I also collected a number of California buckeye (or horse chesnut, Aesculus californica) seeds. These are highly toxic raw, but the Indians would cook these to eat. I’ve not done this and I don’t recommend you do without further research but here is their method:

Methods for processing varied, but basically consisted of roasting, then washing out the toxin (Chesnut 1902). The seeds were first cooked in a earth oven (Chesnut 1902). A pit was lined with rocks which were heated by a fire burning inside the pit (Chesnut 1902). Once it burned down, the pit was lined with willow leaves, the seeds placed over these, more willow leaves covered the seeds, and the pit was covered with hot ashes and dirt, cooking for 1 to 8 or 10 hours (Chesnut 1902). When done cooking, the seeds have the consistency of boiled potatoes, and were thinly sliced, put in a basket, and soaked in running water from 2 to 4 or 5 days (Chesnut 1902). Alternatively, the (less thin) slices were mashed into a paste with water, while the red-brown skins floated to the surface where they were removed (Chesnut 1902). The paste was then placed to soak from 1 to 10 hours in a basin of sand (as was done for leaching acorns). After either such soaking process, the resulting food, which had the consistency of gravy, was ready to eat (Chesnut 1902). It was often eaten cold without salt (Chesnut 1902). The seeds were not preserved for long times (as in the case of acorns), since they decay or sprout rapidly, and after sprouting, the taste is bad (Chesnut 1902).

Once I collect more buckeye seeds I’m going to try this method… carefully eating the first bits and waiting a while…

The Indians would sometimes use buckeye seeds crushed up to poison fish in pools or sluggish streams, but this didn’t work near as well as other plants they used preferentially for this purpose such as soaproot or turkey mullein (Chesnut 1902).

Buckeye wood is soft and sticks of this species were preferred for the spindle stick for friction fire starting (Chesnut 1902).

The Indians also used mistletoe growing on buckeye as an abortifacient (Chesnut 1902).


On our foray, we collected soaproot (Clorogalum pomeridium) from a large patch. We 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). We taught the other foray members about this harvesting method when they wanted to collect some soaproots too.

Soaproot had lots of uses for the Indians. They 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, like most of their Indian potatoes were cooked I found the following recipe, a comment by “Julie” on this webpage: http://www.tulipsinthewoods.com/wild-plants/soaproot-chlorogalum-pomeridianum/

“Soap root Recipe.


1. Choose young and tender soap roots.
2. Peel the outer husk till you reach the white meaty part.
3. Snip stems off.
4. Wash thoroughly.


1. You can either boil or bake them, but in our experience, boiling is better.

To boil:

1. Set a boiling pot of water on the stove, drop soap root shoots in.
2. Boil for 45 minutes – to an hour.

To bake:

1. Wrap in foil.
2. Set in baking pan.
3. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Bake for an hour and 10 minutes.


1. Peel down sides of root.
2. With a butter knife, scrape the meat off the inner side of peel.


1. In a bowl, mix thyme, nutmeg, baking powder, cornstarch, flour. (5 tsp of each)
2. Bake at 400 for 20 min.


Has very strong flavor. Sprinkle brown sugar on top before baking.”

I’m going to try this. I’ll update when I do. Thanks Julie!

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.

The name soaproot comes from the fact that when the bulb is crushed and rubbed into any fabric with water, it froths up and is an effective soap (Chesnut 1902). 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). That’s mainly what I collected it for.

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.


Also on our foray, we collected a few species of mint leaves. These are great for tea. Various species have various medicinal uses, but an important trait of them all is relaxing the smooth muscles, especially the gastrointestinal tract, making them great for upset stomach, digestion, or bowel problems. The tea tastes great just plain for no reason.


We got a few mushrooms, which I haven’t ID’d yet.

Another thing we got was a gall. It’s from Quercus lobata, and is the biggest one I’ve ever seen, and perhaps this kind is the biggest of all types. Fresh green galls make a great black dye if you mix it with a bit of rusty metal, and you can make a permanent black ink from it (Chesnut 1902). In fact, if you poke an old steel pen into the gall, you can dip out a permanent ink that works great to write with (Chesnut 1902)! The one pictured is old, and I just picked it up for a curious decoration.

Lastly, I made a walking stick from madrone, which has finely close-grained wood, so makes for a smooth handle and strong wood. I’ll harden the pointed end with fire to make a traditional digging stick.

So don’t think just because it’s winter, or there’s not been enough rain, there’s no foraging to be had. There’s always many different plant parts ready for use at any season! The Indians might take a trip looking to collect one particular species or taxon like mushrooms, but they’d always end up getting other stuff available at the time that they happened upon. That’s optimal foraging!


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

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

Parker, J.F. and Ortiz, B.R. 1991. It will live forever: traditional Yosemite Indian acorn preparation. Heyday Books, Berkeley, CA.

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.

Oyster Mushroom Gathering

The rains have finally begun here in the east SF bay area, and you know what all they promise?…. Mushrooms!!! That’s right, from the toxic to tasty, they’re a-springing up everywhere in the dank woods.

Now being from a highly fungophobic culture, no one has ever personally showed me what wild mushrooms are good to eat. Although Chris Hobbs once ID’d some pics I’d taken of a Boletus sp. for me back when we were co-gsi’s for intro bio:

Boletus rubripes

Boletus rubripes – bitter bolete

Boletus rubripes - bitter bolete

Boletus rubripes – bitter bolete

But with All That the Rain Promises and More, plus Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora, perhaps the best field guides ever written on any subjects, I’ve finally gone and collected huge bunches of wild edible oyster mushrooms, and feasted on their tasty flesh!

I was also able to identify some toxic and artistic mushrooms on the same foray!

I love eating mushrooms, and a local market (Monterey Market) sells wild-picked chanterelles, oyster mushrooms, and more, but they cost about an arm a dozen. I splurged a few times, mainly to familiarize myself with these species in hopes of encountering them in the wild.

I also have spent over a year absorbing what I’ve read in the above books by Arora (1986, 1991). All That the Rain Promises and more is pocket-sized and covers mainly bay area and California species, while Mushrooms Demystified covers most of North American mushrooms, excepting mostly southeastern species. Both are also laced with hilarious anectdotes, witticisms, and clever turns of phrase; the author really puts the fun in fungi (see, I stole that from him)!

And no, this doesn’t hinge on magical mushrooms… which are still fully described and appreciated by the book, though he doesn’t have much appreciation of those who only care about such types of mushrooms.

So about my foray yesterday….

I first gathered my ‘shroomin outfit: wet-weather boots and jacket, knife (for digging out mushroom bases for ID and for scraping them clean with the back of the blade), camera and field notebook for recording field observations, collecting bag with a stiff sheet of cardboard to prevent the mushrooms from being crushed, waxpaper and aluminum foil for wrapping my collected specimens (don’t use paper or plastic bags due to moisture issues he says), and don’t forget a cheese sandwich (since I’m always hungry like the author apparently is, who has a little bit more than a fondness for these).

I set out, with a gleam in my eye and spring in my step, but not yet a song in my heart…

At first, I was a little disappointed the woods weren’t exactly burgeoning with mushrooms… but maybe I was a little early. It has been super dry here; I don’t think it’s rained all fall. But the last two days it had dumped and poured and finally just sprinkled the night before last, when I decided it was time to gather.

The first mushrooms I found were small and bright yellow, growing on a dead (unidentifiable, severely decomposed) log in a little ditch leading toward and just near Strawberry Creek. I was pretty excited. I collected some and took pictures. Just next to it, also on a dead log, was an artist’s conk.

Hypholoma fasciculare Naematoloma fasciculare clustered woodlover

Sulfur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) growing on a rotten log

Hypholoma fasciculare Naematoloma fasciculare clustered woodlover

Sulfur tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) growing on a rotten log

Hypholoma fasciculare Naematoloma fasciculare clustered woodlover

Sulfer tufts (Hypholoma fasciculare) growing on a rotten log

My intuition told me the little yellow guys were toxic, but anyway there weren’t really enough to eat. But I collected a few to take home and ID. It turned out my intuition was correct (bright colors usually equal toxic); these guys were Hypholoma fasciculare  (Naematoloma fasciculare is a synonym), common name sulfer tufts, aka the clustered woodlover, which are poisonous.

The sulfer tufts can be used to make dye though; I’ll try this sometime since they’re so abundant and vibrantly colored.

I wandered around more and soon got occupied collecting California Bay Laurel nuts, which were just overflowing in this one spot under a grand tree (see my post below about this tree species and eating their nuts, and their many other uses).

I kept wandering around, examining dead logs, and under trees looking for “mushrumps” or what Arora (1991) calls humps of leaf litter indicating a newly popping out mushroom. Not much luck.

I found some toyon (Heteromeles arbutifolia) berries, which I gladly gathered.

Then, while stopping to… ahem “water a tree,” there they were: two huge clumps of oyster mushrooms!

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on dead coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) log

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on dead coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) log

Something like eep-yaaah!! came out along with a little skip-hop. I knew exactly what they were the second I saw those! But my fungophobic heritage made me double-check my field guide right on the spot and later back home I also consulted Mushroms Demystified and both these guides fit the description of what I found perfectly. The most similar appearing and toxic mushrooms to oyster mushrooms were the jack-o-lantern and Clitocybe. So I checked these descriptions and made sure it wasn’t those.

After finding this first two clumps (I only collected the fresher one, leaving the second,larger clump for animals), I kept wandering around, hoping for a feast.

And persistance paid off, because soon enough, I found another huge clump of oysters!

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on standing dead branch of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on standing dead branch of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oyster mushrooms

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing on standing dead branch of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

I gathered less than half of these, just the fresher ones from which I still had to shoo off some pleasing fungus beetles (actually their common family name), and one big black beetle, (which was not so pleasant-looking), leaving most behind for the animals, or perhaps a more cavalier mushroom hunter than me. Before and after gathering all these mushrooms, I made sure to say a short prayer of thanks to the oyster mushroom, oak tree, and forest spirits, something like: Yes! Thank you mushroom! Thanks Oak! Thanks Forest!

I immediately found another huge clump, but it was under a log and behind some shrubs and looked older (can you find it in the below photo?), so I just left it, feeling satisfied with my haul.

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing under dead  log of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) growing under dead log of coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia)

Oh yeah. Now I had that song in my heart. Inspiration struck! I began my ditty: “(high voice) how big is your fungus, say is it humongous? (low voice) Yes my fungus is humongous; there’s enough to share among us!” Some vivacious, Mozart-esque whistling was the refrain. Kept that going with an even springier step and gleamier eye til I cavorted out of the forest, my mushroom bag heavy with delight!

Along the way I found some more artist’s conks, and left a little drawing of the oyster mushrooms on a well-displayed one.

Artist's conk (Ganoderma applanatum) on a CA bay laurel log with drawing of oyster mushrooms

Artist’s conk (Ganoderma applanatum) on a CA bay laurel log with drawing of oyster mushrooms

Back home, I excitedly displayed the day’s (3 hours…) haul to Emily:

Wild plants and mushrooms gathered in a few hours: three large clumps of oyster mushrooms, sulfer tufts (poisonous), toyon berries, peppernuts, bay leaves (for flea repellant)

Wild plants and mushrooms gathered in a few hours: three large clumps of oyster mushrooms, sulfer tufts (poisonous), toyon berries, peppernuts, bay leaves (for flea repellant)

Fungophobic paranoia made me first cook up a few caps from each clump to eat a small amount with Emily to make sure we didn’t have some allergic reaction. We only waited an hour or so, then I decided to cook up all of one of my three large clumps.

I followed the recommendation of Arora (1991, 1986) to cook them. First I cut off the tough, short stalk part, then washed them, allowing them to drip dry a few minutes. Then I dry-pan-fried them on high, finally adding a little butter and olive oil at the end. A pinch of salt… and done!

dry pan frying oyster mushrooms

dry pan frying oyster mushrooms

Dry pan fried oyster mushrooms with a pat of butter and dash of salt added at the end

Dry pan fried oyster mushrooms with a pat of butter and dash of salt added at the end

One of the clumps seemed to taste a little better and more oystery than the other, which didn’t have all too much taste. But I liked the texture of them both. And the fact I just gathered these from the wild, applying my newfound knowledge made them taste soo much better!

Dinner was good that night.

Dinner with a dish of fried wild oyster mushrooms

I can’t wait to go mushroom gathering again!

Beyond being delicious, mushrooms are nutritious. Quoting from Anderson and Lake (2013):

“Today Central Sierra Me-Wuk elder Phyllis Montgomery says, “the willow [oyster] mushrooms [possibly Pleurotus cornucopiae (Paulet) Rolland formerly P. ostreatus] are like a steak —they’re chewy” (Anderson unpublished field notes 2010). Generally, protein concentrations in mushrooms range from 1 to 4% of fresh weight, or about 10–45% of dry weight, a significant amount (Hobbs 1995:54–55). For the amount of crude protein they provide, mushrooms rank below animal meats but well above most other foods, including milk (Chang 2008). Additionally, mushroom protein contains all of the nine essential amino acids required by the body (Cheung 2008). They are high in fats, phosphorus, copper, iron, various trace elements, and such vitamins as B, D, K, thiamine, riboflavin, ascorbic acid, ergosterol, and niacin (Arora 1986; Barros et al. 2008; Cheung 2008).”

Plus, now that I know where to find the oyster mushrooms I can keep going straight back to the same spot after the next rains, and year after year, since this species (species complex) tends to regrow from the same dead logs (Arora 1991). In fact, you can take home a log from which you collect oyster mushrooms and water it occasionally to make it grow more mushrooms (Arora 1991)!

The California Indians were of course well aware of this fact. Quoting again from Anderson and Lake (2013):

“Many kinds of mushrooms, such as sorog (Neolentinus ponderosus (O.K. Mill.) Redhead & Ginns), appear in the same places year after year, arising from the surfaces of rotting wood, dead stumps, snags, or downed logs during the long process of decomposition. Other mushrooms arise from the ground and have long-term associations with trees, shrubs, and grasses (Douhan et al. 2005; Hynes et al. 2010; Plamboeck et al. 2007). Thus, many California Indians have special areas that they repeatedly visit (Anderson 2009; Richards and Creasy 1996). “These sites are hundreds of years old,” said N. Turner Behill, regarding mushroom gathering areas (Anderson unpublished field notes 2006). Tom Carsoner, Central Sierra Me-Wuk, described his mushroom gathering sites as “a garden” because “you always know where to go” (Anderson unpublished field notes 2010).”

Anderson, M. K. and Lake, F. K. 2013. California Indian ethnomycology and associated forest management. Journal of Ethnobiology 33(1): 33-85.

Arora, D. 1986. Mushrooms demystified. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA.

Arora, D. 1991. All that the rain promises and more… : a hip pocket guide to western mushrooms. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley CA.

Disclaimer: Always be 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.


Historical Human Footprint on Modern Tree Species Composition in the Purus-Madeira Interfluve, Central Amazonia

Just as has/is still being discovered in the US, recent research in the Amazon supports the idea that forests worldwide are the product of mutualist interactions with human inhabitants.

Burning, selective harvest, tillage, seed propagation, etc. were skillfully employed by ancient peoples to make their environment an “edible forest.”

Such cultures were the original affluent societies, working only a few hours per day to harvest the forest burgeoning with ultra-healthy wild foods and resources for tools, usually spending more of their time dancing than working (see Chagnon 1983 and Gowdy 1998).

These findings suggest the idea of “preserving” nature, or cordoning off huge tracts of forest to keep it “wild” is nonsensical, and perpetuates the harmful idea that humans are separate from nature. To restore these ecosystems and have humans and other creatures flourish together, we must rediscover ways of living with the forest, becoming the wise stewards our ancestors once were.

Quoting from the abstract (my italics):


Native Amazonian populations managed forest resources in numerous ways, often creating oligarchic forests dominated by useful trees. The scale and spatial distribution of forest modification beyond pre-Columbian settlements is still unknown, although recent studies propose that human impact away from rivers was minimal. We tested the hypothesis that past human management of the useful tree community decreases with distance from rivers.


These results strongly suggest that past forest manipulation was not limited to the pre-Columbian settlements along major rivers, but extended over interfluvial areas considered to be primary forest today. The sustainable use of Amazonian forests will be most effective if it considers the degree of past landscape domestication, as human-modified landscapes concentrate useful plants for human sustainable use and management today.”

A good post about this: http://anthropogen.com/2013/10/18/is-amazonian-tree-biodiversity-species-distribution-a-product-of-past-landscape-domestication/


Chagnon, N. A. 1983. Yanomamo: the fierce people (3rd ed.). Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York, NY.

Gowdy, J. M. 1998. Limited wants, unlimited means: a reader on hunter-gatherer economics and the environment. Island Press, Washington, DC.

Did the first known humans in the Americas live in Brazil or Central Texas?

Recently, news articles have been suggesting that the earliest archeological finding of human inhabitants in all the Americas is at at Toca da Bastiana rockshelter at Serra da Capivara National Park, Piaui, Brazil. At this sandstone overhang shelter, rock paintings of red ochre symbolizing humans, animals, and designs were found.

These “cave-paintings” were found under a 2 mm thick layer of the mineral calcite, suggesting the antiquity of the paintings. Calcite is formed when water deposits calcium-rich minerals on a rock surface over time, which builds up gradually with successive wettings and dryings of the rock surface. Very similar to how stalactites and stalagmites form in caves. When the calcite crystals first form out of aqueous solution, their radioactive decay first begins, and so they keep the radio-carbon “signature” of the time of their formation.

Watanabe et al. (2003) decided to radio-carbon date the calcite layer, since they supposed all the calcium had formed anew from being dissolved in water. They found the calcite to be 35,000 to 43,000 years old, and inferred the rock paintings were at least this old.

This would predate the second oldest known site by over 20,000 years!

Besides this Brazil study, the oldest known Americans lived some 13,000-15,000 years ago, 40 miles northwest of Austin in Central Texas at the Buttermilk Creek complex (Waters et al. 2011). This site is an extensive dig with tons of artifact with lots of support for the dating. A site in Washington and others nearby correspond to this same time frame (Waters et al. 2011b). These sites predate the Clovis culture by a few thousand years. There is an extensive literature and archeological record from the Clovis culture (13-12 kya) forward.

However, Rowe and Steelman (2003) at Texas A&M performed “direct” radio-carbon dating on the paint itself used at the Serra da Capivara rock painting site and found the various images to date from different times 1200- 3600 years ago. They also dated the calcite layer dated by Watanabe et al. (2003), and found it to date only 2490 +/- 30 years before present.

Rowe and Steelman (2003) suggest Watanabe et al. (2003) did not account for the incorporation of calcite dust from the surrounding riverbed / bedrocks into the nascent aqueous calcite that formed the calcite layer in front of the paintings. The incorporation of this calcite dust, which would date millions of years old by itself since it was precipitated out of aqueous solution at the same time as the surrounding bedrock, severely skewed the dating of the layer of calcite over the paintings (Rowe and Steelman 2003). Watanabe et al. (2003) apparently assumed all the calcite they were dating was all formed at the same time from aqueous mineralization, ignoring the possibility of dust being settling on the wet rock face and becoming part of the calcite layer. Rowe and Steelman (2003) conclude “once again, and most dramatically, these studies point to the necessity of independent studies dating rock art.”

Unfortunately many if not all of the news stories out there make no mention of this rebuttal study, which was published just 6 months after the original one. Even both the official websites of Serra da Capivara National Park and UNESCO World Heritage present the 36,000 + year old date as uncontested fact, making no mention of any disputes in the dating. The same websites complain of a dearth of visitors who should be attracted by the extreme antiquity of the rock paintings.

Lets keep things simple and not confuse people out of greed for ticket sales to a park. Humans may well have inhabited Brazil at this time and before all other places in the Americas. But before I believe this, I will wait for evidence that is even remotely comparable to the evidence brought forth by Waters et al. (2011, 2011b) that the oldest known Americans were here no earlier than 15,000 years ago.

Conflict of interest statement: the author was raised in Austin, very near the oldest known pre-Clovis site. Central Texas has the best flint in the world, known to flintknappers as “Georgetown flint,” after the quarry it is commercially dug from in Georgetown. This flint is harder than obsidian, but flakes and works easier than any other type of flint or chert. This area is also anomalously diverse in flora and fauna compared to surrounding ecosystems of Texas and the USA, being at the confluence of five or more distinct ecoregions of Texas. The area is profusely bubbling with pristine springs, resulting from Central Texas’ Balcones Escarpment Uplift and Edwards Aquifer beneath the Cretaceous limestone bedrock. Jacob’s Well was known to be constantly bursting 100 feet high in the air with a fountain of pure springwater during settlement times (though nowadays there is often negative pressure).

I think the first Americans migrated south after reaching the continent, either from the Bering sea, or as the new book Across Atlantic Ice by Stanford and Bradley claims, by following ice sheets from Europe to North America. When they found Central Texas, they dug in, (it being paradise on earth back then) developed maximum carrying capacity sized populations and left extensive archeological records, with their descendents continually occupying the area until extirpation by colonists.

The rock paintings from the Brazil site are pretty cool. I wonder what they mean… who made them, who was meant to see them, and why? Were they just fun doodles by ancient graffiti artists? Part of some mysterious rituals? Recorded history? Instructional drawings? Maybe it’s more fun not knowing, and just guessing from the photos:



Rowe, M. W. and Steelman, K. L. 2003. Comment on “some evidence of a date of first humans to arrive in Brazil.” Journal of Archaeological Science 30: 1349-1351.

Watanabe, S., W. E. F. Ayta, and H. Hamaguchi. 2003. Some evidence of a date of first humans to arrive in Brazil. Journal of Archaeological Science 20: 351-354.

Waters, M.R., Forman, Jennings, Nordt, Driese, Feinberg, Keene, Hallifan, Lindquist, Pierson, Hallmark, Collins, Wiederhold. 2011. The Buttermilk Creek complex and the origins of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas. Science 331(6064): 1599-1603.

Waters, M.R., Stafford, McDonald, Gustafson, Rasmusse, Cappellini, Olsen, Szlarczyk, Jensen, Gilbert, Willerslev. 2011b. Pre-Clovis Mastodon hunting 13,800 years ago at the Manis site, Washington. Science 334(6054): 351-353.

“…a Etnoecologia tem a singular tarefa de decifrar a “memória de nossa espécie”, isto é, a memória biocultural, reivindicando e revalorizando a quem a mantêm em vez de aprofundar a crítica sobre o mundo moderno e sua racionalidade intelectual.”

“…la Etnoecología tiene la singular tarea de descifrar la “memoria de nuestra especie”, esto es, la memoria biocultural, reivindicando y revalorizando a quienes la mantienen a la vez de profundizar la critica sobre el mundo moderno y su racionalidad intelectual.”

“…ethnoecology has the singular task of deciphering the “memory of our species”, that is the bio-cultural memory, recognizing and re-evaluating those peoples who maintain it while bringing new depth to criticism of the Modern world and its intellectual rationality.”

Toledo, V. M. and N. Barrera-Bassols. 1992. A etnoecologia: uma ciencia pos-normal que estuda as sabedorias tradicionais / Ethnoecology: a post-normal science studying traditional Knowledge and Wisdom. In Etnobiologia e Etnoecologia: pessoas & natureza na América Latina. Edited by Silva VA, Almeida ALS, Albuquerque UP. Recife: Nuppea; 2010:13–36.

Yucatan Ethnogeology

Types of vegetation and ecosystem management methods by traditional cultures corresponding to different soil types in Xocen, Yucatan, Mexico.

Toledo, V. M. and N. Barrera-Bassols. 1992. A etnoecologia: uma ciencia pos-normal que estuda as sabedorias tradicionais / Ethnoecology: a post-normal science studying traditional Knowledge and Wisdom. In Etnobiologia e Etnoecologia: pessoas & natureza na América Latina. Edited by Silva VA, Almeida ALS, Albuquerque UP. Recife: Nuppea; 2010:13–36.