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Jami McBride
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Thank Paul, I just realized I have camas (Indian camas) growing in my yard!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camassia
 
paul wheaton
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Tyler Ludens
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I am planting some Quamash in my garden this fall. 

 
tel jetson
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I planted some camas a few years back, and it seems to be doing well.  haven't harvested any yet.

anybody know much about harvest?  my understanding is that traditional harvest involved huge meadows with roughly inexhaustible supplies of bulbs, so harvesting too much wasn't really an issue.  what about on a smaller scale?  how much is reasonable to take form a less-than-immense patch?
 
Tyler Ludens
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From what I've read they grow rather slowly, so harvests should probably be small unless you have a ton of them like in Ye Olde Days. 

Folks say  you should harvest them when they're blooming so you know exactly what kind of bulb you're eating.

 
tel jetson
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that would seem to limit its usefulness as a wild food, unfortunately.

the stuff I planted is a few years old now, and hasn't spread yet.  the plants are really beautiful from flowering to fat seed pods.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Yeah, I'm gong to try to grow it more as a curiousity than from any plan to have it be a major part of my diet.  There are probably more productive perennial bulbs/tubers we can grow.  But Quamash is one of those legendary foods, it seems like more should be growing it just for historical reasons. 

 
Jami McBride
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For my own experience with camas - I found that digging up and/or moving the plants around, even accidentally cased more to pop up the following year.
 
tel jetson
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Jami McBride wrote:
For my own experience with camas - I found that digging up and/or moving the plants around, even accidentally cased more to pop up the following year.


that's encouraging.  do bits of the bulbs break off and form new plants?
 
Jami McBride
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The bulbs appeared to stay intact and I don't remember seeing any baby bulbs like you get with garlic.  So maybe it's something as simple as turning the soil, or giving them more room. 

They are pretty.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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The Wikipedia article is interesting. It seems they're not too closely related to lily, but are much closer to agave. No surprise, then, that they can be so sweet.
 
Erica Wisner
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Ludi Ludi wrote:
From what I've read they grow rather slowly, so harvests should probably be small unless you have a ton of them like in Ye Olde Days. 

Folks say  you should harvest them when they're blooming so you know exactly what kind of bulb you're eating.



I think that rule applies mostly to wild-harvesting. 
If you are planting them in the garden, and you know that you don't have any toxic bulbs in the bed with them, it should be fine to harvest.
They are not likely to suddenly metamorphose into a look-alike toxic plant.

I think cultivating them to some extent is likely to be the path forward to edible food.  Great to hear that they respond well to thinning - I've heard the same thing about wapato, and I suspect that most of our native perennial foodstuffs respond well to some thinning and maybe other forms of cultivation (like burning or pruning for berries).

tel jetson wrote:
that would seem to limit its usefulness as a wild food, unfortunately.

the stuff I planted is a few years old now, and hasn't spread yet.  the plants are really beautiful from flowering to fat seed pods.


If they're growing fat with good seeds, can't you plant the seeds and harvest as many as you like?

I think they grew plentifully in the Roseburg area, and maybe in other relatively dry valley lands.  Our landscape is mostly forest, and we use the upland meadow areas for gardens - so camas would have to be a garden plant to survive in a modern suburb, I suspect.
 
solomon martin
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Jami McBride wrote:
For my own experience with camas - I found that digging up and/or moving the plants around, even accidentally cased more to pop up the following year.


I have read Salish ethnography that said excess roots were planted in the early spring in different locations from where they were harvested, and that native folks consciously spread them to promising new locations for better/more foraging opportunities. It has been suggested (don't have a reference here sorry) that the vast camas fields described in the literature were actually a product of human ecology born of this practice.  The most highly prized camas roots were said to be harvested by the Nez Pierce in central Idaho, they were considered to have better flavor and larger bulbs. 

Camas is fairly easily propagated from seed, but I have had poor luck getting any sizable yield from a garden plot, they seem to thrive best in their natural meadow habitat.   
 
Ernie Wisner
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we saw some thriving camas patches near Roseburg last spring, and there was a good meadow east of Portland under Parks replanting efforts.
 
Lana White
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The wild camas I have seen here have grown in the sun in fairly moist soil, even a flood plain, until it dries out in the summer. In a garden, it should be watered so it doesn't dry out until the seed pods have developed, then it should be allowed to dry out after that point.

If you have it in your own garden, you could leave them until after you harvest the seeds, and then plant the seeds in a wild area where they will have ideal conditions. If you harvest them in the wild, you should harvest them when you know they are blue camas and not white death camas. They do not bloom from seed until three years after being planted, so you can't get impatient. They also arn't very competitive with more aggressive plants, so the natives often burned the fields so the camas could survive.

Instead of harvesting wild plants (probably illegal for non tribal members here in Idaho, besides which most existing camas fields are family owned), I ordered some camas bulbs. Here are two nurseries that have them:
http://www.mrcamas.com/Planting-Camas.htm
http://www.hollandbulbfarms.com/search.asp?keywords=camas
I ordered them from Holland Bulb Farms. The native plants are Camassia quamash.
They need to be planted in the fall because they need the cold weather in order to bloom in the following spring.

Plant them in easy to dig in soil, for your own sake! They arn't too fussy when it comes to soil, as long as they remain continually moist through flowering and seed production. Hot weather will kill them until they are established (by summer time), but they are cold hardy. I understand they can tolerate semi-shade. They are easy to grow if their conditions are met and well worth it. I think they are awesomely beautiful flowers!

The Nez Perce do transplant some of them to new fields, and I think that is a good idea for anyone who grows or harvests them. Most of the traditional camas fields were obliterated by non-native farmers who preferred their own crops, so it's true that present camas fields are mainly intentionally planted on Indian-owned land.
 
Lana White
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BTW, Lewis and Clark had serious gastrointestinal complaints from camas. The problem is the inulin, which has a way of creating a real case of gas for many people. But, with longer cooking, the inulin turns into sugar, and what you end up with when that happens is a sweet root tasting a little like candied yams. Jerusalem artichoke has the same problem with inulin, even though it is suggested for diabetics! (Not a very charitable suggestion).

The favorite way of cooking camas roots by the Nez Perce was in underground pits where they were left for 36 hours or more, in the same manner as clambakes in New England or luaus in Hawaii. Today, you can probably use a slow cooker or pressure cooker, or just set it on the back of a wood-burning stove and steam it for a day. You can also simmer the sliced camas roots in a little water and have a natural molasses.
 
John Eickert
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Great video Paul. Here in Montana, camas harvested in the spring is especially tasty. How about a video about syrup made from larch sap? I have tapped into larch and have come up with a great syrup just like the local Salish once did. Give it a try!?
 
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