Sunday, June 1, 2008

Foraging For Inspiration, Part Deux

Roots and Leaves Themselves Alone

Roots and leaves themselves alone are these,
Scents brought to men and women from the wild woods and pond-side,
Breast-sorrel and pinks of love,
fingers that wind around tighter than vines,

Gushes from the throats of birds hid in the foliage of trees as the sun is risen,
Breezes of land and love set from living shores to you on the living sea, to you O sailors!
Frost-mellow'd berries and Third-month twigs offer'd fresh to young persons wandering out in the fields when the winter breaks up,
Love-buds put before you and within you whoever you are,
Buds to be unfolded on the old terms,
If you bring the warmth of the sun to them they will open and bring form, color, perfume, to you,
If you become the aliment and the wet they will become flowers, fruits, tall branches and trees.

-walt whitman

In the previous post, we drew the background for a trip to Seward Park, repository of an old-growth forest that serves as microcosm for the flora of the Pacific Northwest, and shared our photos and descriptions of Evergreen Huckleberries, Salal Berries, Thimbleberries, and Oregon Grape.

Today we'll continue with the other ingredients - excusez-moi - native plants whose essence we diminish by photographing and analyzing.


Red-Flowering Currants are Ribes, and we care not whether this statement offends anyone. The blueish-black berries it will put forth are edible, but hardly delicious.Some might say insipid, some bitter. Many Native American tribes ate them, but begrudgingly so. It is believed that, amongst the Saanich Tribe, eating Red-Flowering Currants was a hazing ritual which needed to be done in order to gain admission to a sorority. Certainly there must be room for the Red-Flowering Currant in a bitter or aperitif?


Indian Plum trees are quite common in the area, but the female species is much harder to come by, and it is only the female who is gracious enough to produce these lovely little plums, or osoberries, that you see pictured above. The plums will eventually turn purple, not unlike a store-bought plum, but would surprise your typical plum-eater with their bitterness and astringency. "Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast" desribes the scent of the tree itself as "something between watermelon rind and cat urine." Le Mixeur is not one to cast aspersions, but we imagine that description might also apply to this:


Red Huckleberry is the most common form of Huckleberry in the Northwest. The berries are bright red when ripe and palatable but too sour for some. The juice of the berries was traditionally drank as an appetite stimulant, the leaves and bark used for soothing sore throats and inflamed gums. The Sechelt people would smoke the berries over a fire made of the branches of the Red Huckleberry plant.


People in the cocktail world love a good ritual, be it the Absinthe ritual, the creation of a Blue Blazer, the acknowledgment of the traditional cocktail hour, or simply raising a glass in toast. Any cocktails created using Trailing Blackberries will come inherent with their own ritual, one passed down from the Coast Salish people, who would scrub their bodies with the stems of the plant prior to Spirit Dancing. True, this might be slow to catch on in the suburbs, but we here in the city are ready, I think.

Trailing Blackberry is the native form of blackberry, producing smaller and somewhat more sour berries than the invasive Himalayan Blackberry that currently is growing into the windows of T.Mixeur's house. Without having attempted it before, it is nonetheless easy to imagine these little berries producing some interesting twists on various Brambles.


Licorice Fern, or Western Polypody, was used by Native tribes to sweeten bitter medicines. And as we all know, liquor is one bitter medicine. The rhizomes of the ferns are medicines themselves, used to treat colds and sore throats. Licorice Fern enjoys growing off the sides of Big Leaf Maple trees, as seen in the photograph above. The leaves have been enjoyed as a snack for many centuries my a number of Northwest peoples (and for those who either are not paying close attention or mistrust labels, the flavor of the leaves is in fact licorice).


Yes, that is correct. If you work for St. Germain, be afraid. Be very afraid. For the Elderflower plant grows in abundance in Le Mixeur's back yard. We need only to figure out how to get a fleet of bicycles with baskets on them into the old-growth forest to cart out the blossoms so we have a charming anecdote to put in the booklet of our Elderflower Liqueur!

In actuality, Sambucus grows in much greater abundance on the east side of the Cascades, where reportedly it is considered something of a weed. Also in actuality, we haven't the faintest idea how St. Germain could make such a delicious liqueur out of the Sambucus plant, as the flowers are known to have a strong, unpleasant odor, and no less an authority than John Cleese once famously told King Arthur that his father was a hamster, and his mother reeked of elderberries.

The stems, barks, leaves, and roots are toxic with cyanide, and the berries must be cooked before being eaten to avoid nausea. Hmmm. A challenge.


Ahhh, Honeysuckle, specifically Western Trumpet Honeysuckle, aka Orange Honeysuckle. Honeysuckle's aroma and beauty have inspired countless artists, from William Faulkner to Fats Waller to August Strindberg to, well, Jimmy Buffet.

Just don't eat the berries. You'll probably die.

But for centuries Saanich children have sucked the sugary nectaries at the base of the flower. Would these tiny nectaries ever be practically incorporated into a cocktail, liqueur, or spirit? It is difficult to say. Perhaps Honeysuckle's role should instead be that of a hanging branch near the mixologist or distiller, continuing to provide the same artistic inspiration that has served so many so well before.


To give the reader an idea of the enormity of this old growth Douglas Fir, please realize that Lela is a woman who stands close to six and a half feet tall.

Merci, Lela, pour votre sagesse et connaissance!

We hope to report on more, once time permits repeated trips to the forest, batteries permit more photos, and seasons permit more tastings.


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