Heidi Bohan

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since Feb 14, 2008
Snoqualmie Valley, Western Washington
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Recent posts by Heidi Bohan

Here is a picture of our summer kitchen in northern California in the late 70's at a place which was miles from a road (we used horses to haul in heavy stuff). We made it primarily from redwood left behind from logging 100 years earlier, using froes and wedges, and four of us (three men and me) along with many guests, used it over three years as our primary kitchen. We used the open fire for all forms of cooking, favoring manzanita as a wood source (hot, smokeless, easy to collect) and eventually placed a small metal drum next to the fire (laid down horizontally), banked it with sand to hold the heat and would bake pies, biscuits etc. I personally made the upright pantry on the far right in the image and was quite proud of it as my first real carpentry project. We had one tough cat out there, named Damien for good reason, and had no animal problems though we were often gone for days. We covered the main food prep area with a cloth (seen draped over the back in this image). We stored our cold food in the creek using containers as needed, behind a small dam we had created from rocks. In the winter months we continued to use it as the weather allowed along with open fire pits in our houses, which doubled as a heat source. That stirs up some memories!

I'm not sure how relevant this is to our discussions today, but thought it might be interesting. I don't ever remember feeling limited in our ability to cook and prepare food, though one pot/pan cooking was the norm (scrambles, stews, etc.) We grew most of our food at fifteen acre gardens we tended at a neighboring ranch, which I've heard is now used as research gardens by Jeavons, south of Willits, supplemented by hunting, fishing and commodities!

We constantly marveled at our easy life.
3 years ago
Hi Neil,

I love hearing of your revelation, I had the same one years ago when I realized that it’s all one mountain range, just different sides of it. The Snoqualmie people, whose territory I live in, as with many of the ‘upriver’ tribes in Western Washington had close relationship with the tribes on the other side of pass, with intermarriage, exchange of goods and more. The Snoqualmie spoke the Yakama language (the tribe living on the eastern side of the mountain) as well as their own, and the local trade jargon, and many tribal members descent from Yakama lineage as well, and can remember their family members making the trek over 9,000 year old trails on horseback or by foot taking days to do so as they gathered and hunted along the way. There was definitely a cultural exchange as well, which showed up in the clothing, regalia and foods.

I spent a little time in Phoenix and Sedona, and I remember how exciting it was to discover this new set of plants, some familiar, some very different. To answer your question, one of the first things that came to my mind are the ponderosa pine, with needles which can be used to make the coil pine needle baskets, and the bear grass which tribes in Arizona used in the coil basketry technique to make amazing baskets and trays . I have one which is a treasured item. The coil basketry technique was really major with most of the tribes in Washington, primarily using cedar root, but adaptable to all these other plants. It is such a versatile and forgiving technique I love to teach it to beginners, especially those who think they won't be successful.

Other common plants between regions include chokecherry, which was crushed, seed and all, and dried to use as a form of pemmican, I imagine the use must have been similar there. I would imagine the medicinal uses would have been similar as well. Both regions have acorns which were undoubtedly used in Sedona, and both also had access to a form of pine nut (Pinyon pine in Sedona, Whitebark pine in the Cascades). I would imagine the techniques for processing these would have been similar. I saw many grinding stones up in the rocks outside of Phoenix.

Rabbitbrush, horsetail, scouring rush and cattail are common to both regions. Though different species there are also rose, alder, ash and willow. Their use for medicine, dye, and wood were almost certainly similar.

I've had the privilege of spending time with Warm Springs and Yakama Tribes of Eastern Washington and Oregon over the years , (this year I traveled on Canoe Journey for three weeks with the Warm Springs, Cowlitz and Chinook down the Columbia River through all of those bioregions), and I know that honoring the first harvest of foods, from roots to salmon to berries was an important practice. This practice of gratitude is something we can all keep alive. The use of sewn mats made from tule or cattail was also widespread, these were used to make mat houses which were useful winter and summer, and were lightweight and portable. I'm not sure of the tribal history in Sedona, it may have been more of a resource gathering area? When I think of Sedona I think of colorful red rock, I would be curious about the making and trade of pigment.

Of course you also have yucca and cactus and a bunch of other really cool plants less common here. Actually Prickly Pear is another commonalty between Eastern Washington and Arizona, not sure to what degree it was used here, but it was used for food and material. I made some pretty cool pigment crayons once by mixing prickly pear cactus gel from the leaf, with some powdered pigment, and maybe some oil (it's been a while). I used this directly on leather, which sort of worked with my beginner effort.

So I hope that kind of helps. When I went to Phoenix I went straight to the county history museums there (not the big famous art ones, though I did eventually), and visited a bunch of parks with interpretive trails, plant walks and etc, even the malls had landscapes with interpretive signage, and was amazed how fast it was to pick up on the plants there. I also went to Frank Lloyd Wright's place overlooking Phoenix, and thought that was a pretty amazing bit of design with lots of integration with the environment. There is a lot happening there with seed saving, traditional foods, and more. Great place.

Thanks for the thoughtful question, makes me want to get back down there and visit.

5 years ago
Regarding fermented poi, I’ve only had a brief experience with it so I’m not an authority. However a quick online check confirms that Lactobacillus does play a role in the fermentation of poi, even after being cooked. I have a vague memory of reading about earthen pits being used to store poi for long periods. As I understand it poi sours to the point it is unpleasant to eat long before it would become toxic. Again, I’m not an authority on this, just some tidbits of what I remember.

Regarding fermented fish oils, the fermentation takes place as a process of extracting the oil from the fish, which had the added benefit of being extremely healthy. Here in the Pacific Northwest a species of smelt with a very high oil content (also called ‘candlefish’ because of its combustibility when dried) was harvested in large numbers, then kept near low heat in large containers (canoes, pits, wooden boxes) until the oil separated and floated to the surface where it was ladled off. This oil goes by several names, the most common being Oolichan, Ooligan, or Grease. It was widely traded, with some areas have names such as ‘The Grease Trail’ it was so important. I first encountered Oolichan oil at Haida traditional feasts where jars of it were brought down from Alaska and set on the feast tables where it is poured over the entire plate of food- meat, fish, seafood, potato, vegetables and berries, in the same way as melted butter. I incorporated this oil into our daily diet, as much as possible, as my first real effort towards the use of traditional foods for preventative health in our family. It has a very slightly ‘rotten fish’ smell, but a very butter-like, smooth flavor. I learned to separate my nose from my mouth!

The Romans were famous for Garum, which was also made in a similar manner from fish, I believe cod?, though apparently the fermentation took place over several months but to the same end. Garum with garlic was widely traded as a fish sauce, and highly sought after. I believe nearly every culture with association with fish incorporated fermented fish oils into their diet.
5 years ago
Hi Cassie,

Great question I'm happy to answer.

As a study of how people use plants there are many ways to get into ethnobotany. To learn about the ethnobotany of the land you live in or when visiting new land I recommend seeking out tribal cultural centers, natural history and history museums of all sizes, and to visit natural areas and park interpretive centers. I scour through the book stores in these places to look for the local information. I’ve found some great jewels of information from small print runs for a special exhibit, or written by a local expert in a particular subject such as natural dyes, wild foods, etc. Often these cultural centers and museums offer workshops or special programs about basketry, carving or other traditional skills which are great opportunities to gain hands on skills.

Learning plant identification is key and there are many ways to gain these skills. I seek out native plant display gardens, often at local arboretums or museums, which also often have interpretive signage to help with identification and traditional uses. Look for herbariums or displays identifying plants in these places, and keep them in mind when you are trying to identify a plant. I found a herbarium (collection of pressed and labeled plants) at a local arboretum which let me dig through them to identify some of the very difficult plants to ID in our area, such as our many species of lomatium, which was an invaluable resource for me. Seek out people who offer walks or skills programs related to plants. Also consider joining the Native Plant Society if you have one in the region you are studying, which can be a great way to connect with knowledgeable people, and usually are well worth the membership fee with free plant ID walks, guest speakers, newsletters, access to native plants or seeds and more.

I encourage people to look to their own ancestral knowledge whether you live in your ancestral lands or not. This can be done through research online, in books ore personal interviews, or better yet a visit to those lands if you can pull that off. There are always commonalties between cultures such as the techniques of cordage making from fiber, and sometimes with the plants which are used, as with nettle which is used for fiber in every region it grew in around the world. Finding those commonalties is empowering for getting a sense of ‘place’ in new homelands, and helps build respect towards the culture of the land you are in.

I really encourage people to pick a few plants that stand out in your research and get to know them well, for all of their uses- medicinal, material, fiber, dye, food and more. This helps build on the tradition of using all parts with no waste and creating a relationship with these plants. In the process of learning about those plants, there will be overlap with other plants. There will be new skills necessary to learn such as weaving, drying and preserving herbs, and so much more. And please remember that more is not better, I always start out with just a handful until I know how I’m really going to use something, the next year comes around faster than I can believe, or I just go to a higher elevation to extend the season. I believe one of the greatest things I learned while learning about the plants was learning about time, about celestial events, about the seasonal rounds. I loved doing the seasonal rounds drawings in my book because I think they are so core to cultural knowledge.

And along the way it is the relationship with people that ends up being the greatest teacher. I learned that I had to do a lot of the work first though before I was ‘gifted’ with knowledge. I learned that knowledge is not something to expect, it is something that is earned.

I hope this helps, it’s pretty much the path I went down and continue to use when I visit new lands. Thank you for this great question.
5 years ago
Hi Dennis,
These are great questions, and I love that you have been working with tanning salmon skins I'd love to know more. I've dabbled in brain and bark tanning, but this is not my area of expertise so I can only offer some rather random, general information, but hopefully helpful.

There are lots of references to Western hemlock bark and alder being used to for tanning, as well as to dye fish nets. Recently I've learned that tanning fiber cordage nets helps to preserve them in salt water so I imagine that played as much of a role in the decision to do this as dying them so that fish couldn't see them (which is the reason that is most often given). As for the use of tanned hide for clothing in Western Washington, you are asking a much debated question. However, I live and work with the Snoqualmie Tribe, an upriver people, and by most accounts the use of elk hide clothing was definitely in general use, and is used today in the tribal regalia. I did a fair amount of research on this for my book, and include drawings of clothing with the use of hide and fur for men and women daily wear. The Snoqualmie were major hunters and gatherers traveling up into the mountains and over the mountain passes, so the use of hide clothing for leggings, tunics and moccasins makes sense. Early records give details about the construction of these moccasins specific to the upriver tribes so I believe this was definitely the case. These records also give specifics about where the fringe on tunics was located etc. I also discovered references to the use of strips of tanned hide with fur on being used to create vests and cloaks. Processed skins of smaller animals were cut into strips which naturally twisted, and these were twined into vests and capes worn by women with soft fur inside and outside these garments. Luxurious! I've always wanted to reconstruct one of these. Hunters were known to wear entire hides such as deer, cougar or bear with fur on while hunting, and I see this today sometimes as regalia. Favored children were given garments from hide made from fawns with spots still on, and hats made from raccoon skins and other small animals. I agree that it makes the most sense that these hides were tanned with bark rather than brain. But other protein such as fish egg might have also been employed.

I'm very intrigued by your tanned salmon skins. Early explorer accounts make note of the excellence of the bows in this area (I include some quotes from these journals in the book), and of particular note was the serpent skinned backing used on the bows which apparently helped to make them waterproof. They were affixed with a glue that was not affected by the rain, and all of this contributed to the bows being effective even when it was raining. I've often wondered if the serpent skin wasn't fish skin, though there are plenty of snakes in the area that could certainly have been used.

I'm sure there is more to add, but off the top of my head this is what comes to mind. Thanks for the good questions and I hope to hear more of what you are doing. Sounds fun.

5 years ago
Here in the Pacific Northwest red alder was considered a favored wood for ladles historically because alder does not impart flavor. As noted in this thread I think that all green wood has the potential for cracking and most carvers I know wrap their alder carvings in plastic or a moist towel as they are working on them and make sure not to leave them in warm places (especially cars) while they cure. I've carved many alder ladles from pieces of firewood that is fairly dry and as long as my tools are sharp it goes fairly quickly. I've never had one of my ladles crack after curing so alder seems pretty stable.
5 years ago
Xisca,

Regarding fermented poi... my experience is that poi is sweet when first processed as we did, then slowly begins to ferment, which is still edible but less desired. I believe it just naturally begins to sour. I only had the one experience with it while in Hawaii however, I'm sure there is much more to learn about poi as with all traditional foods. I'm a big believer in fermented foods in the diet so i'm always looking for traditional sources. Here in the Northwest fermented fish oil was a primary fermented food.
5 years ago
Thanks for the welcome and I look forward to doing my best to answer your questions in the next few days.

I can already see there is a lot of diversity in the questions so this should be interesting. Jay, thank you for your question about my drawings. I drew over three hundred drawings during the first three years of developing this book and I thought of Hilary Stewart often during that time, understanding why she chose pen and ink as a medium for her book as well. I still have yet to meet her though I'd love to someday, I am a very early fan of her book Cedar. I drew all of the pen and ink drawings in my book as well as a few of the watercolors, and there are also some historic paintings and photographs as well by others for which I clearly give credit. I hope you enjoy the drawings as I feel they are at the core of the book.

Becky, you are lucky to be living with Oregon White Oak, Quercus garryana, also called Garry Oak up here in Washington, where it also grows. They really are beautiful, special trees. It was a favored food source, perhaps not as much of a staple in other parts of the world, because it is unpredictable for harvest quantities year to year, but certainly an important source of starch. There are varying accounts about how it was processed traditionally, but the most common in Western Washington is that it was boiled in the shell then put in pits in the ground where the winter rains would leach it of bitter tannins. There have been acorn leaching pits found in archeological sites in Western Washington which confirm these accounts. When taken out during the winter it was a delicious snack food. I've also been told that fresh or dried acorns were just chopped and put directly into stews and soups without processing. I look forward to the ‘mast’ years (like this year was) to harvest many acorns to process, using cold water leaching, into acorn flour which I use primarily for baking. Acorns could be an amazing resource for foraging pigs as well. There is a very cute story about how raccoon got his stripes related to stealing acorns from an acorn pit. The wood, especially the burls were also favored for making the bowl for mortar and pestles. Oak galls make a great ink in combination with soot and walnut hull. The bark is very tannic so would be good medicine for healing sunburns, relieving poison oak and other skin conditions. Those are the things that come to mind when I think of Garry Oak, one of my favorite trees, though I have to travel to harvest from ones in our area.

I look forward to more questions and discussions, thank you.
5 years ago
Just came on this thread... A few years ago I figured out that feeding my ducks worms from my outdoor worm bins was the perfect exchange of protein for protein. My ducks lay eggs right through the winter, but the bugs are pretty absent. This year I really beefed up my worm bins for this purpose and each morning I let my ducks out for forage and give them a couple of spade fulls of worms. They are very happy about that. I wonder about maggots for winter feeding, seems like flies are pretty absent, and this is when poultry need bugs the most. The maggot idea makes feeding worms seem pretty tame… I don’t have chickens right now, or I would check out the worms on them.

8 years ago
This is the willow season....
8 years ago