- What is a “Native Food” anyway?
- What is a perennial plant?
- Why would I want to plant natives?
- Do these native plants actually taste good?
- Why aren't these native foods grown commercially?
- Do you sell medicinal plants?
- Can't I just go transplant these plants from the wild?
- I want to try these plants, but I have no idea how to grow or prepare them! Can you help?
- I ate a native plant once on a camping trip and felt sick to my stomach. What was that?
- I want to go native, but I really love my lawn. Is there such a thing as a native lawn?
- I don’t have time this year to plant a garden, but I would love to try some of your plants...
- Can I pick up plants at your place to eliminate shipping costs?
- Can I visit the nursery?
What is a “Native Food” anyway?
At its most basic, a native food is an edible plant indigenous to a particular landscape or region. However, by calling it a “food”, (instead of a wild plant that so happens to be edible), it also calls forth the cultural relationships that people create (or have created) around a particular plant over time. In this way, a native food, in it’s full sense, is an edible plant with the potential to reconnect us with our home landscapes, cultural histories, and our personal connection to nature.
What is a perennial plant?
In its broadest sense, a perennial plant is simply a plant that lives for more than two years (as opposed to an annual or biennial). For gardeners, it means a plant that we don’t have to resow every year, but that keeps growing or coming back on it’s own. We emphasize this attribute of the plants we share not just because of its convenience or ease for us - but also because of its resilience and sustainability.
The vast majority of the foods we are accustomed to eating are annual plants, and annual plants require annual tilling of the Earth to replant - a process that creates rapid topsoil loss, declining fertility and nutrition, and contributes greatly to climate change (through carbon released from soil and fossil fuels). In addition, annuals generally require more water, more fertilizer, more pesticides, and more special care and energy. Hence, growing and buying perennial foods is a healthy and smart practice for you and the planet. We think it should be the next new label on the food shelves - not just “natural” or “organic”, but certified “perennial”!
Why would I want to plant natives?
Native plants have adapted with their local environment for thousands of years. This generally means they require less of everything - less water, less fertilizer, and less attention. It also generally means they are much more resilient and self-reliant in the midst of severe weather, droughts, climate change, and deer browse. And they can be tasty and good for you too.
Native plants not only help butterflies, birds, insects and animals by providing food and habitat, they actually rebuild and strengthen the resilience of the entire ecological web they evolved within - building the native seed bank, providing pollination services, moderating climate, sequestering carbon and more.
Last, but not least, native plants can reconnect us with the natural world, deepen our sense of place, and illuminate the rich natural and cultural histories of our home landscapes. Each species has a fascinating story, a unique evolutionary relationship with human culture and its ecology. Knowing this intimately, a stronger sense of care and responsibility can arise to maintain the integrity and beauty of our local environments.
More and more people are catching on to the benefits of native landscapes, even in the home garden. Have you heard of growing trends in “natural landscaping”, "habitat gardening”, “wild gardening”, or “wild-scaping”? Gardeners all across America are beginning to transform their lawns into healthy ecosystems!
Never underestimate the power and grace of a plant!
Do these native plants actually taste good?
Yes, they certainly can. With some plants, however, extra preparation is important. Some native edibles are absolutely delicious raw right off the plant (e.g. berries and greens!), but for many others, some preparation, processing, or cooking is needed to bring out the best flavors and textures. Take Camas Lily for example - it’s terrible raw but with a long, low-heat cook time, it turns into a sweet morsel reminiscent of baked pear and fig. Another example - Pacific Crab Apple - tart when raw, but great as a sweet jelly. We see all this as an opportunity to accent the joy of gardening with creative native cooking! Hopefully, you can too!
Although they can be delicious, most native plants aren’t the "candy bars" of the gardening world (there’s plenty of other outlets for the sweetest hybrid corn varieties). But they do offer something more; they offer themselves as part of a compelling relationship with place. They provide an opportunity for an integrated experience of growing, harvesting, cooking, and connecting with the Earth and ourselves.
With eating native plants, sometimes we need to open our mind to new tastes, textures, and flavors. In mainstream food culture, excess salts or sweeteners are added to virtually everything, masking the authentic taste and decreasing health benefits. Eating native edible plants offers an opportunity to explore new flavors. We find new tastes fascinating. Be adventurous - we think you’ll love them!
While we’ve selected the sweetest and most succulent native plants this land produces, like any crops, taste can depend on a variety of factors, including water, soil type, season of harvest - and especially - the method of preparation. Check out our recipe blog (coming soon), plant pages, and resource list for more information on preparation.
Why aren’t these native foods grown commercially?
Good question! That’s what we keep asking ourselves ; ) In short, they certainly could be, and if we have anything to do with it, will be more and more! We believe these foods have GREAT potential as commercial food crops - especially with a little plant breeding and research.
In fact, some native Western species, like Elderberry, Serviceberry and Blackberry, have already undergone trials and development for taste and fruit-size improvements. Now, we need to move to onto the rest, like creating potato-sized Camas bulbs in just a few years! With a little energy behind it, we can definitely create a sustainable place-based agricultural system and seasonal native food culture. (In fact, famous plant-breeder Luther Burbank worked for many years hybridizing various wild lilies to create specimen with very large bulbs! It’s possible! This is a long-term goal of our plant nursery!)
The full, historical answer to your question is more complex - having political, cultural, biological, and botanical threads that go way back. We’ll boil it down to two historical reasons:
European settlers brought the plants/animals and the gardening/farming styles they knew to the Americas, and didn’t have interest in learning from Native American practices. (Moreover, their arrival accidentally brought widespread disease to Native American cultures, decimating their cultural fabric in a matter of decades - making it harder to learn and share). Unfortunately, however, this reduced interest in Western native plants in agriculture/gardening continues to this day - but we’re working to turn that around!
- The Western North American plants utilized by Native Amercans were not intensively cultivated and bred in the same manner as Indo-European plants (with the exception of tobacco). Instead, they were tended in the wild with less energy and fertility-intensive methods (e.g. wildfire). This was for a variety of socio-cultural/ecological reasons, including the fact that Western North American natives had much more land and less people. Hence, while plants were cared for and tended to, they weren’t intensively bred and modified for taste, size, or other characteristics.
Do you sell medicinal plants?
We focus primarily on native edible plants, but many of them are also medicinal herbs. At the nursery, we like the saying that “food is medicine”. It’s our belief that eating wholesome food is the basis of good health.
In addition, seeing our food as medicine can help us be more appreciative and more attuned to the experience of eating, more connected to the plant/animal we are ingesting, and more sensitive to how it impacts our body. So in that sense, all our native edible plants are medicinal!
Can’t I just go transplant these plants from the wild?
In theory, you could, but we don’t encourage it. These days, many native plants have limited population sizes and ranges, and taking whole plants from these places can be harmful to the plant and/or its ecosystem. In addition, harvesting some plants in some places (like national parks) can be illegal and subject to fine, while others require permits to harvest. Check with your local land authority.
However, we do believe that one can responsibly harvest portions of a plant for the purposes of propagation (i.e. cuttings, seeds, rhizomes), or even consumption (foraging berries, fruits, etc.). Interacting with wild plants is one of the great joys of being human. There are no absolute rights or wrong, but let’s be mindful to minimize impacts on the particular wild plant itself and the plant community at large, including considerations for stand size, stand health, and range restrictions or overall numbers. These are our collective plant partnerships, and we have a commitment to collectively steward them with care. Otherwise, they won’t be there to nourish anyone.
I want to try these plants, but I have no idea how to grow or prepare them! Can you help?
Don’t worry, growing native plants is easy. First, take a look at our plant pages and our resource list. They have a lot of information. Then, you’re welcome to give us a call to discover more! 206-356-0354.
I ate a native plant once on a camping trip and felt sick to my stomach. What was that?
We can’t be sure what you ate. But before eating any wild plant, it’s important to consult with an experienced person who can confirm that it’s edible. Having a field guide and botany experience goes a long way. Our native edible plants have all been crossed checked for edibility from a variety of knowledgeable sources. Read our plant pages to find out more about individual species and preparation. And learn some botany basics before you forage in the wild!
That being said, whenever eating a new food for the first time, start with small amounts first before incorporating it into regular meals. People respond differently to all sorts of foods, from peanut butter to gluten. We encourage adventure, creativity and exploration - just listen to your body, too!
I want to go native, but I really love my lawn. Is there such a thing as a native lawn?
We love beauty and open spaces just as much as the next person. We just don’t think kentucky bluegrass lawns are the ticket. In this country, lawns occupy 30-40 million acres and use 30-60% of urban freshwater resources. They collectively require millions of gallons of fuel to maintain, use 10 times the amount of pesticides of an average conventional farmers, and pollute our air and waters.
However, there ARE alternatives that can give a similar look and feel - like native grasses and sedges - and require less water. We sell several species that may work for your site - contact us for specific recommendations. You can also opt for a grassy, open, natural look that never gets mowed by allowing a patch of native grasses to grow to full size and set seed (and harvest it, too).
I don’t have time this year to plant a garden, but I would love to try some of your plants.
Indeed. We also offer landscape design and install services. Give us a call or send an email on the Contact Us page and we’d be happy to give you a quote! 206-356-0354.
Can I pick up plants at your place to eliminate shipping costs?
Yes, by appointment. Please call first to schedule. 206-356-0354.
Can I visit the nursery?
Yes, by appointment. Please call first to schedule. 206-356-0354.