Western skunk cabbage is an ancient prehistoric plant with giant green leaves when mature. One of many large plants that grow along the Oregon Coast. Coastal plants have a long history of use by Indigenous Peoples who utilized many native plants for foods, medicines, and material use. From the majestic Red Cedar to the nutritious edible Stinging Nettle. There is much to discover with Oregon's coastal wild plants. large leaf plants of the Oregon coast.
Wild plants of coastal Oregon are important to survival
Oregon Coastal Plants include trees, shrubs, herbs, and grasses. Native plants are sought after for foods, medicines, tools, and more. Our lives are interwoven with wild plants. And without them we and all wild creatures could not survive.
Western skunk cabbage - Lysichiton americanum
The second week of one wet February as I was driving along HWY 101 heading north towards Reedsport. I noticed off to my right and down in a swamp, hundreds of beautiful small green leaves poking out of the muck.
Western Skunk Cabbage contains calcium oxalate, which is toxic to humans if eaten raw. Skunk Cabbage has accounts of use by First Peoples as a famine food. But because of the painful reaction of ingestion. I do not recommend ingesting this plant.
But seriously do not eat the Skunk Cabbage leaves of our Western variety. The leaves get huge! When you come across a grove of these beauties, they will astound you!
Black bears and skunk cabbage
Bears love to munch on the young plant leaves in early spring. And you will find this plant in low, wet, and swampy locations along the coast or higher elevations in the cascades.
How to use skunk cabbage leaves
Wrapping fresh salmon, steelhead, and clams in Skunk Cabbage leaves and then baking the whole mess underground. That's a northwest feast. Though the leaves have a strong skunky smell. The cooked leaves impart a passable flavor to the cooked foods wrapped in the big leaves.
I have also used the leaves as a quickie rain hat and twisted a temporary drinking cup from the smaller leaves.
Like all wild plants, one needs to be respectful of the power these plants have. Know for sure what you’re handling and before eating any wild plant!
The first berries of spring
One of the first wild berries to bloom each spring along the Oregon coast is the Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis. The flower has five petals, pink to magenta. The lovely flowers glow among the hedges of barren canes before the coarse leaves unfurl.
The berry colors range from yellow, salmon, to reddish, a large bland tasting berry but a fine trail snack. Though consuming to many at once can cause mild diarrhea. But they are fine to eat. First People's rarely dried the Rubus as its mostly water and difficult to dry for long term.
Edible and Medicinal Plants
Look what I found today as I was walking along a thick, dark, trail to the beach, Trillium Ovatum, also known as the Wake Robin, of the Lily family, is one of the first spring blooms. Not an edible plant, but we welcome the delicate blossoms that grace the forest and bring promise of fairer weather ahead.
Manzanita, Arctostaphylos columbiana, is bearing blossoms on the Oregon coast as of late January.
This comely shrubs blossoms are important food for Anna's Hummingbirds, which winter here on the Oregon coast and interior northern California.
The ripe little apples, or fruit, make a wonderful refreshing drink. Or, Cider. When ripe and sticky place the fruit in a sieve basket, or in a colander lined with Cheese Cloth. Pour boiling hot water over the sticky berries. Allow to cool. Then enjoy. Excellent on a sweltering hot summer day!
Wild Ginger, Asarum caudstum, blooms late March to mid-April. A unique bloom. The roots or rhizomes grow just under the dark loose soil. Wild ginger root is edible raw or cooked and has a pleasant to strong spicy flavor. Cook with wild ginger root just like you would with commercial ginger. Make a tea from the root and several cups will cause a you to sweat.
Chickweed, Stellaria media, long known for its skin cooling properties and food benefit. Is a common wild plant and is found growing in our garden plot each spring.
A member of the Carrot family, (Apiaceae). Cow Parsnip is a spring beauty that graces forest roads and trails each spring. I find it often along the trails near ocean beaches and headlands. Heracleum lanatum grows along stream banks, marshes, moist meadows, and roadsides. Common from sea level to subalpine elevations.
The Carrot family also contains some of the most toxic of plants to humans. Don't confuse Cow Parsnip with the deadly water hemlock.
Pojar-Mackinnon Pg. 213.
Common Dandelions in flower. Dandelions ( Taraxacum officinaleare), are common and edible, and a medicinal tonic used in spring. Though originally from Europe, this plant is widespread and has made it's home all over the United States. As a culture, we spend excessively to much time, poison, and money, to rid this valuable, edible, and medicinal plant, from our lawns. A spring delight!