Monday, January 28, 2013

Discovering Epazote

Adrian Gaytan with Epazote he sells at the Glendale and Highland Park farmers markets
An aromatic Central American spice, said to prevent gas and indigestion

Anyone who uses beans as a significant part of their diet should know about epazote.
I first learned of the remarkable gas-relieving effects of epazote in 1975 while studying Mexican and Central American herbalism. Once my instructor had introduced me to this herb, I immediately recognized it as the common plant of so many of the streams I'd hiked along in the hills above my Pasadena home.
My Costa Rican instructor shared with me his family secrets: Add a few leaves of epazote to a pot of beans for a delicious flavor and to render the beans gas-free.
As the years progressed, I was astounded that virtually no Americans I'd talked with were familiar with this herb, let alone its anti-gas effects. Yet, this common, inconspicuous herb had been known and used in Southern Mexico and Central America for centuries! 

In the recorded literature of Europe and North American, epazote (formerly Chenopodium ambrosiodes, now called Dysphania ambrosiodes by botanists) is known for it efficacy in expelling intestinal worms. For dogs and cats, add one teaspoon of the seed (or herb) to their meals `til the worms clear up. The herb is said to be less effective against tapeworms. The Natchez Indians used epazote to expel worms in children. The Chinese used the herb as a diaphoretic (promotes sweating). The anthelmintic/vermifuge qualities of epazote are well recognized, and the herb is cultivated in parts of the Soviet Union for this use.  Herbalists believe that epazote was also used by the ancient Mayans both as a spice and medicine.
            It is believed that epazote's effectiveness in removing the "gassiness" of beans is due to the presence of oil of chenopodium, which is found in concentrations of 10% in the seed, and one percent in the leaf.
Remember that excess flatulence is a symptom, and that epazote only deals with that symptom. The gas problem will continue if the cause is not eliminated. Some methods to eliminate the cause of gas are eating slowly, proper food combination, and others.

I first began to collect the spicy leaves of epazote during my spring hikes into my local foothills.  But like most gardeners and herb-lovers, I eventually wanted to have my own patch of epazote growing near my kitchen door. 
In late summer, I collect the wild seed on the dried plants.  I plant these seeds in my yard, in an environment which somewhat replicates the plant's ideal wild environment.  Epazote prefers semi-shaded river beds where the soil is sandy and well-drained, and where it's usually moist.  Thus, I plant the seeds on the north side of my house where there's the most shade, in well-drained soil.  Epazote seeds may take up to a month to sprout, a fact which leads many gardeners to suspect their crop failed.  To help, the seeds should be soaked in water for 24 hours and then planted.  Additionally, you can sow the seeds in a pot or garden bed where other plants are growing.  This way, you won't get frustrated as you water a bare spot of soil.
Sprouted epazote has a bright green appearance, and even when very young you can detect the characteristic epazote aroma.  Sometimes you'll see a few blotches of red on the young sprouts.
Harvesting the mid-sized epazote plants is easy.  Just pinch off the top new growth.  Pinch off just what you need at the time, or pinch back a lot if you plan to dry some of the herb for storage.  The leaf production of each epazote plant is greatly increased by this pinching.  Although epazote is a perennial, the entire above-ground plant will die back each year.  Providing the soil hasn't dried out, the roots will continue to produce year after year.  Also, the regular pinching-back of the leaves during the growing season will significantly extend the growing season for your plants.
Epazote leaves are best dried in the dark (I dry mine in an attic).  I spread the leaves thinly on newspaper or brown paper bags.  The dried herb is best stored in an opaque jar.
The seeds (for growing) and packets of the dried herb can be purchased from Survival Seeds, P.O. Box 41834, Los Angeles, CA 90041.  Seeds are $3; herb is $4.50 a packet.  There is also a unique booklet entitled What Causes Gas? ($6), which describes the many dietary and non-dietary causes of gas, as well as practical solutions.
This aromatic herb is a native of Mexico, Central and South America. It has now naturalized in many parts of the world. Epazote is found in many parts of the U.S., particularly in the southern states.

Cooking with epazote is easy! Add approx. one tablespoon of the herb -- both the chopped stems and the leaves -- to a pot of beans. You can use it fresh or dried.  The epazote herb can also be added to soups, stews, and made into tea. The powdered leaves can be added to salads, such as potato and bean salads. 
Here are some simple recipes I've developed for using epazote.
1 cup lentils                                         
1 bay leaf
5-6 cups water                                    
2 tsp. dried epazote
1 diced red onion                           
3 cloves of garlic
2 diced carrots
Wash the lentils, and then simmer for an hour and a half. Add the other ingredients when the beans are nearly soft. Simmer `til the vegetables are soft. (Add salt or kelp to taste, if desired.)

1 cup cooked/sliced green beans     
1 cup cooked kidney beans
1 cup cooked garbanzos
equal parts olive oil and apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. dried/powdered epazote
2 diced cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp. dill                                          
Salt and pepper, to taste, if desired
Marinate the beans in the dressing, preferably at least eight hours, but no less than 30 minutes.

1 cup black beans                          
sage, pinch
oregano, pinch
3 onions                                              
epazote, two tsp.
3 small potatoes                                  
salt and pepper, to taste
Cook the beans with the onions and potatoes. When the beans are tender, add the seasonings. Let simmer on low temperature for 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 25, 2013

"To Sleep With Anger"

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere,” “Self-Sufficient Home,” and other books. He leads self-sufficiency classes, and does a weekly podcast at Preparedness Radio Network. He can be reached at School of Self-reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041 or]

On Martin Luther King Day day at the annual WTI (a local non-profit) gathering, we watched “To Sleep in Anger,” a 1990 film directed by Charles Burnett.  The film is about a black family residing in South-Central Los Angeles.  One day, an old acquaintance (Harry, played by Danny Glover) came to visit the Gideon and his wife Suzie.  Harry seems to be a good old friend, but always seems to stir up trouble.  The family already had some conflicts but they seemed to get worse when Harry was there.

Eventually, Gideon has a stroke, and Babe Brother, the younger son, is heavily influenced by Harry.  Babe Brother is about to leave his wife.  The older brother, Junior, confronts Babe Brother before he departs and a fight erupts – with a knife.  The mother tries to break it up and her hand gets cut, and they rush her to the hospital. 

The incident brings many of the family’s conflicts to the forefront, and seems to unite them in a positive way once all recognize the negative influence of Harry, and Harry is asked to go.

To me,  “To Sleep With Anger” is a classic film, full of the issues that any family faces.  Indeed, much of this reminded me of my semi-dysfunctional family with our many failures and some successes. 

Sometime in the mid-1990s, I went to a viewing of this film at CalTech where filmmaker Burnett was there to talk to the crowd and answer questions.  It was a wonderful event.  I’d already seen the movie but was compelled to see it where I could talk to the writer and director.

I asked him about some of the little details, like the young boy trying to play the horn, and the boy who fed the pigeons.  These were little details that added a depth to the movie, though they had nothing to do with  the plot.  Mr. Burnett told me that that boy represented him, which made me smile.  Watch the movie, and see how the boy and his horn practice somewhat frames the movie.

And Harry – who does he represent?  You have to see it and figure it out for yourself.

The movie won several awards, but I had never heard of it before a friend pointed it out to myself and Dolores back in the mid-90s. 

“I think this is a great movie,” I told Mr. Burnett. “So why do you think it’s gotten so little attention?”  Burnett’s answer was quick, and initially surprised me.

“Because there are all black actors,” he said matter of factly.  “Really?” I said.  Well, in fact, there were a few token whites in the movie, like one of the paramedics. Still, the movie was so good, capturing “family-ness” so well, that I just naturally assumed people would be color-blind and go see it and benefit from it.

If you haven’t seen it, it can be rented or purchased at video places.  I hope you view it and enjoy it like I did.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Forgiving Our Parents

[On the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I somehow began thinking back about my parents, and the need to forgive....]
We might think that who we are
Is product from backseat car
Or lusty night from smokey bar
And not the son of distant star
We are the product of mom and dad
Their mingled traits both good and bad
We want to think we’re so unique
And so we are, but let us speak
How our child minds did set the stage
For adult us who learned to rage
With pain within we could not gauge
And fears and deficiencies
From hidden fears from early age
We found we could not turn the page
To cure, we had to find a sage
Who maybe helped us, maybe not
Our solution, had to be sought
By choice within, or happened not
And even then, inside we fought
Our inner demons, night and day
Until we got to bright new day
Until we find that we could say
I accept my father who he was
I accept my mother who she was
They lived their life, they did their buzz
They were who they were, just because
I did what I did, I always does
Above my parents did I rise?
Or were their limits born in me
Should I blame them for my own lies
They were my parents, not 2 gods
They made no pretense, they weren’t frauds
I must forgive them, on my own
And for their soul, let cease that moan
They did their best, I am quite sure
No pain intend, from him or her
They lived their life, they tried their best
During Depression, dad came west
Challenge had in time of war
Enough to make their bodies sore
I was not center of their life
Though tried their best in time of strife
The center I’d have liked to been
That I wasn’t, was not sin
Child rarely in parents’ shoes
Sees from parents eyes what they dos
Day in and out, sun rise to set
Bills to pay and job to get
Responsibility, oh boy
My parents sometimes had no joy
I forgive them now in my heart
Though both gone now, I have to start
To have new life, must do my part
To see anew, and wipe eyes clean
Parents forgive, no more mean
Within my mind, internal clean
Release I do bad pictures seen
It’s finally time to let it go
And see instead divine rainbow
Challenges many we all have
Some we fail and some we meet
Time it is for spiritual salve
To lighten mind and stop the heat
To finally learn from our past
Forgive our parents at long last
And with optimistic heart and mind
Seek the truth that is there to find
Not dark webs that would keep us bind
But bright truth light most rad’ant kind
And on that path our answers find
That kingdom within, in our mind
A place real, where we’re no more last
Truly, we can be free at last


Friday, January 18, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: The Glass Castle

[Reviewed by Christopher Nyerges,]

I was recently given a copy of “The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls and told “Just read it. You’ll like it. It’s about self-reliance, sort of, and homelessness, sort of, but I think you’ll find it fascinating.”

I took the book and began reading it little by little. It’s Jeanette Walls’ true story of growing up with her siblings, and their life constantly on the move. It was gritty and unpleasant to read about a father who was very skillful and knowledgeable, but exaggerated and drank too much. And the mother was always trying to make the best of a bad situation, and seemed too willing to do too little to resolve a bad situation. As usual, the children get the short end of the stick.

We read how the children figured out how to feed, clothe, and protect themselves under these difficult conditions.

The father, though very talented and skilled, couldn’t seem to hold a job. Due to the father’s fear of authorities, and lack of bill-paying, the family would frequently pack up in the middle of the night and “skedaddle” to a new home. When they had to do the skedaddle, they’d just bring the essentials: a big black cast-iron skillet, the Dutch oven, some Army surplus tin plates, a few knives, the father’s pistol, and the mother’s archery set.

At age four, Jeanette asked her sister, “How many places have we lived?”
“That depends on what you mean by ‘lived.’ If you spend one night in some town, did you live there?” responded her sister Lori. “What about two nights? Or a whole week?”
They determined that they lived somewhere if they unpacked, and though they lost count of how may places they lived after eleven.

And along they way they learned plenty of survival skills. They could go days without eating, and they learned to find food: foraging for cactus and wild plants, in trash cans, gleaning in fields. They learned to deal with extreme heat and cold since their homes never had cooling or heating. They learned how to fight and face down a threat, how to do without when necessary, how to cook, how to build things from scratch. They learned how to sew, but realized it was cheaper to just buy clothes at a thrift store.

In the pages of “The Glass Castle,” we begin to despise a very predictable father, but Jeanette still loves him.  It’s her father, after all.

Eventually, Jeanette Walls realizes that her best escape from that world was to go to school, which she did, and to get a job, which she did.  She discovered that the “real world” was very different from the isolationist world of fear and alcohol that her father had described to her.

“The Glass Castle” was on the New York Times bestseller list.  It made me count my blessings.  If I ever thought that I had it rough growing up in suburban Pasadena, this book convinced me that I emphatically did not.  Plus, the book is worth reading for the occasional, practical, hard-earned survival tips, in the context of a family’s daily struggle for sheer survival.

Walls explains that her mother taught them to get by on next to nothing.  How to use wild edible plants. How to find water where there seemed to be none. How to get by on very little water. How to clean up with just a cup of water.  The mother “said it was good for you to drink unpurified water, even ditch water, as long as animals were drinking from it. Chlorinated city water was for namby-pambies, she said.  Water from the wild helped build up your antibodies.  She also thought toothpaste was for namby-pambies,” teaching the children to use baking soda instead.

The book will make you laugh in parts, but mostly it will make you cry, and appreciate whatever it is that you have in life. I highly recommend this book. [“The Glass Castle” is published by Scribner, 2005]

Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Birthday Run, 2013

It had rained the day before my birthday, and the rain clouds blew away with the strong winds. Everything was  new and wet, cold and fresh. In the morning, I went to my special spot in the Arroyo Seco to do my annual birthday run – dressed in running shoes, regular pants and sweatshirt, I carried my little notebook and pen in my pocket. Simple. Just run, I told myself.  Get to the point of remembering.

The birthday run is all about remembering, turning back the clock to year one and running a lap for each year, and letting the memories flow.

I felt a tingle of anticipation as I drove to the arroyo, and walked to the run site. No one else was there, which was better, because it allowed me to focus on my inner mind and inner seeing.

As I began my first year, a new memory emerged that wasn’t there in previous years (I’ve done this annual run for about the last 30 years). I became aware that a process exists whereby I was being “fitted” for a life, with a particular family, at that particular time, in that particular town. I’d presumed that this would be the life that I earned for myself, and I recall at the earliest age, expecting greatness.  I was born expecting complete honesty and honorability from those others around me, and I remember that I expected this absolute honesty to be a very normal and natural thing in this world into which I was born. I assumed that everyone would work hard to aspire to greatness, that it was just the way this world flowed.

This memory helped me explain why I cried so much as an infant, and why my parents thought I was autistic.  It was as if I knew of a world where greatness, and beauty, and grandeur, and cooperation, and goodness for the sake of goodness were normal.

But something was very wrong.  I was obviously not in the world which I expected for myself.

These insights came quickly as I ran – it took me much longer to write this explanation that it took to run the half-lap in which this memory flowed.

So my insights and memories were of the big picture, not the little daily details that I’ve reviewed during most of my past 30+ years of doing the birthday run.

I realized that I was born expecting greatness, and sadness enshrouded me by kindergarten when I sensed that no one Knows, and that schooling was boxing my mind into neat categories. As the years of school moved forward, my ideal of living life for higher goals was wiped away, as it became painfully clear that nearly everyone makes all their life decisions based upon money and monetary considerations. I felt pain, and learned to be quiet, as I was taught in school how to think small.

And though it was never stated explicitly, I was taught that the only activities worth pursuing in life were those which had a monetary pay-off.

I once asked my father, “He does that all day long?” referring to a man who did the same job over and over, every day, every week, year after year, and never seemed to rebel.

“Of course,” my father told me. “He has a family to support.  Any job has its ups and downs. He may not like it every day, but he has to do it. Anyway, you’ll understand when you get older.”

I did find a few exceptional teachers and mentors, but I could still not help but note that even the best of them who helped me to “break free” in my thinking were still very much imprisoned in the world of money.  It isn’t that I don’t understand the role and function of money.  It’s just that I could never understand that anything  is OK and justifiable because it pays the bills.  What about growth? Or fulfillment?  What about finding one’s purpose in life? What about spiritual evolution? I saw that art and truly artistic endeavors were one form of salvation in the prison-world in which I found myself.

As I ran on my birthday morning, lap by lap through the memories, it was clear that we are all already “lost” by first grade.  I once had the acute awareness of the fact that I was a spiritual entity who was simply occupying this particular body.

But then, my society and peers taught me to worry about everything in life that conspires against us, things like sickness, accidents, disease, homelessness, divorce, bankruptcy, etc.  And all of life was then a mad rush to overcome all those things, but we all die anyway.  I’d seen way too many who died wealthy but no further along their spiritual path.

During my run, I saw that I succeeded and failed at my various attempts to do things that are fulfilling and uplifting, which could also support me. Additionally, I saw that there is no dishonor in 8 to 5 jobs, working for someone else. Everything is how  we do it, and how we uplift others while living our lives.

I reviewed my many projects and endeavors, and at the end of my run, I came back to the very knowledge that I instinctively knew as a baby – we are spirit beings, here temporarily in bodies, to learn and to evolve. Everything else is fluff and time waste.

I walked back to my car, ready to continue with a busy day. I laughed at the beauty and newness of the day, and I gave thanks to my parents and teachers.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Huell Howser -- GOODBYE!

[Nyerges appeared on Howser’s show in 2000, in an episode called “Survival Foods.”  Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” who teaches classes on plant uses through the School of Self-Reliance.]
I was saddened today (1/7/13) by the news that came over the radio that long-time TV host Huell Howser had died. Many California residents have enjoyed his series of shows seen locally on KCET -- California Gold, Visiting, and others – for over 20 years. 

Though sometimes criticized for his low-key Southern style and his “soft” subject matter, Huell created a very popular program because he avoided unnecessary controversy and showed us the people of our State. 

With Huell, we went to all the natural sites that we never had the chance to go to – places where you see freshwater shrimp, or turtle, or Indian grinding stones.  He took us into businesses and we got to see how guitars were made, how tofu is packed, and how patrons enjoy their donuts.

He introduced us to all the colorful people that make California what it is.  I was one of those people.  Huell’s producer called me over 10  years ago, and we decided to take Huell on a walk in an urban setting and show him that food is everywhere. We went into an empty lot one spring, with the bustling early-morning traffic of the freeway just behind us.  While my wife Dolores beat her Taos drum and told Huell about the traditional way to pick plants, I showed Huell and photographer Luis Fuerte some of the common edibles in that very uncommon place.

We looked at mallow and lambs quarter and willow and nasturtium.  And even though we were in downtown Los Angeles, we were a stone’s throw from where the original inhabitants of that Yangna village once lived.  We weren’t far from the Los Angeles River – now a cement ditch – where those original Tongva inhabitants would have fished, hunted, washed, and collected the same wild foods that we showed to Huell that morning.

When we met before the shooting, Huell wouldn’t let me explain any of what I had planned for the day.  “No, don’t tell me any of that,” he responded. “I want it all to be fresh for the first time,” and he was really sincere.  “My only rule is that when I began to walk, I want you to move with me.” OK, so simple.

So as Dolores and I moved from plant to plant, picking leaves for what would be a wild Los Angeles salad, Huell would respond with amazement that he was actually eating wild plants from a vacant lot simply because I said they were edible. His photographer Fuerte moved around us rapidly and gracefully, as if dancing.

“You know, that’s really good,” Huell would say with all his Southern sincerity, as he chewed on a leaf.

That show, which was part of his Visiting series, and which he called “Survival foods,” aired at least 20 times on television.   We had a great day with Huell, and very much enjoyed our wild-salad “toast” that we made at the end of the show “to the Old Ways.”

Though he had called me to do another segment in the mountain wilderness, it appears we won’t be able to do that.

I am sure many, many people have similar stories of this brilliant man with a simple formula.  He knew that everyone had a story, and he took the time to bring those stories to each of us.  I will miss him a lot! He became a legend, and is now a part of the California Gold of which he so often spoke.

[Note: “Survival Foods” DVD is available from California Gold, or from the Store at] 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Richard Toyon, Teaching the Old Ways

[Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books.  His weekly podcast can be heard at Preparedness Radio Network.  He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

Richard Toyon is a 14th generation Californian, according to the official records of the Mission San Juan Capistrano.  He is descended from the Parra clan of the Acjachemem nation (pronounced “A-HA-Sha-mem), formerly known as the Mission Band of the Juaneno Indians.  His family originates in what is now the city of San Juan Capistrano.   He is a descendant of Alejo Parra, and the area was once called Rancho de los Toyones.  Richard Toyon’s grandfather’s name was Ortiz de los Toyones, and after him the family name was shortened to just “Toyon.”

Toyon lives in La Crescenta and is active in Boy Scouts, local politics, and in representing the Tongva Tribe for various environmental and public issues.
Of course, when we first spoke, I could not wait to ask him about the native toyon tree, the tree from which his family name comes.

“When I give my walks and lectures a few times a year, I talk about the native uses of plants,” he explains.  “The ethnobotanical uses of plants, not necessarily just the food uses.”

Toyon, who works in the film industry as a production designer, then went on to tell me about the first real estate venture just south of Griffith Park.  “These guys looked up in the hills and they saw all the toyon trees with their brilliant red fruit, and they called the place ‘Hollywood Land.’  They should have called it ‘Toyonwood,” he laughs.

The toyon tree produces its fruit in the winter, which made it a bit unique among the native plants, most of which produced their fruit in summer and fall.   “And the toyon fruit played a significant role in the Acjachemem diet.”

Though there are probably a dozen common ways of preparing the fruit – ground into meal, made into a drink, made into a dessert – Toyon says that in Acjachemem get-togethers today,  the fruit is cooked in a wok, fried and lightly seasoned, and served 50/50 with rice. 

He has also seen the toyon berries mashed up and served on top of potatoes, with butter.

“I also take dried toyon berries on my Scout trips and sometimes mix them into the regular trail mix to see if the Scouts even notice it.  Toyon studied biology in college, and has been a forest fire fighter, a ranger, and now also is the leader of Boy Scout Troop 317 in  Montrose.  “I always try to educate the Scouts about the natural foods.  For one of their merit  badges, they need to know native plants, but most of them genuinely like the wild plants that I let them taste,” he explains.  “We had a Scout trip to Buckhorn in the Angeles National Forest when the native rose hips were fruiting.  They were the bluest rose hips I’ve ever seen.  We gathered a few cups of the fruit, mashed them up, and the boys put them on their pancakes like jam.  They loved it! The boys were amazed that it tasted so good.”

He often gets asked about acorns, which was perhaps the most widely used plant food among all Southern California Indians. 

“The old-fashioned way of getting out the tannic acid, and then grinding them into a mush or flour is a lot of work,” Toyon explains. “I tell people who want to try acorns to just go to a Korean store and buy some.  Acorn flour is a common commodity at most Korean stores.”

At home, Toyon makes a simple non-leavened bread from the acorn flour, which he compares to the nan bread from East Indian restaurants.  “We cook it in a pan like tortillas,” he explains.

“One elder once told me that the seedheads of the wild California buckwheat was one of the flours that the elder people ate because it didn’t require grinding and the seed were very small.  Since it required no grinding, there would not be tiny bits of stone in the meal that would hurt the elder people’s teeth.”  California buckwheat seed heads are round and dark brown in color, and can be simply gathered, rubbed between the hands, and used in various recipes. It can be simply gathered, rubbed between the hands, and used in various recipes.

Before we were done, we spoke about many medicinal plants, and issues relating to native people today.

Toyon is often outspoken against  various local real estate developments, and was named Crescenta Valley Volunteer of the year in 2007.  He acts as a field representative for the Tongva Nation, and has spoken on their behalf on various environmental and cultural issues.  Toyon also successfully lobbied to the U.S. Geological Survey to have a prominent peak in the Verdugo Mountains named Tongva Peak, in honor of the first people of the L.A. basin.  (The other prominent peak in the Verdugos is called Verdugo Peak.)  You can see Tongva Peak if you go to the intersection of Briggs and Foothill in La Crescenta and look south right at the peak.

Readers who are interested in contacting Richard Toyon can do so via Christopher Nyerges, through this paper or through his web-site,


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

A Mushroom Foray

Last Sunday, December 30, I conducted a mushroom walk, something I haven’t done in a long while.  In the early 1970s, I got involved with the L.A. Mycological Association, and learned how to identify wild mushrooms, and use the edible ones for food.  I had some great mentors, such as Robert Tally, and Bill Breen, who taught me how to find and cook wild mushrooms.

When I was fixated on mycology for several years, I spent all my spare time and all my spare money seeking out mushrooms and photographing them.  Still, though my weekend students didn’t know it, I am far from an expert.   

Though I learned most of what I needed to know during my intensive study of mycology in the 70s, I began to wake up to the fact that there was more to life than mushrooms.  Duh!  That is, I knew all the common poisonous mushrooms, and I knew far more edible ones than I’d ever eat.  To spend a significant amount of my life to pursue it even further would have had no practical value except if I were to pursue being a professional mycologist.

During the 70s, I would eat mushrooms that others in the association found or brought to meeting that they declared were edible. I would study them, take note and photos, and try them when I got home.  I recall a phrase, “this mushroom is know to disagree with some people.”  That translates as, “you will be vomiting violently at 2 a.m.” which happened a little too often. So I lost my desire to try every  wild mushroom.  Plus, beyond the common mushrooms, most of them began to get categorized as the “LBMs,” the “little brown mushrooms, which were never identified to genus because it would have taken more time than I cared to give to the task.
Sunday’s walk was organized by a member of the current Los Angeles Mushroom Society, David Kahn.  I featured a section about David Kahn in my book “Self-Sufficient Home,” where Kahn talked about his interest in permaculture and how he practices those principles of food production at his Los Angeles home.
The problem with scheduling mushroom walks is that scheduling generally takes place weeks, if not months, ahead of the event, and mushrooms are very particular about when they pop up. Conditions all  need to be just so for the mushrooms to arise, such as the season, under the correct trees, amount of moisture, temperature, and other variations.  Though we had adequate rain in late December, I knew that moisture alone would not guarantee a good mushroom hunt.
As it turned out, we had a very successful walk in the Arroyo Seco. We walked under oaks mostly, where layers of wood chips had been laid down, and in other areas too. 

We repeatedly found specimens of at least three very common mushrooms.  The first was the Lepiota rhacodes (sometimes called the parasol mushroom). This one appears as a white gilled mushroom, with brown patches on the cap, a ring on the stem, a bulbous base, and a hollow stem. It stains orange when cut or bruised. It’s an excellent mild-tasting mushroom when sautéed in butter. We also found many specimens of the Agaricus campestris and related species, which is basically the wild variety of the common store-bought mushroom. This one has pink gills which turn a chocolate color as the spores mature, a ring on the stout stem, and a stem that breaks freely from the cap.

The third common one we found was the blewitt, so called because the entire mushroom is an unmistakable violet color. The Latin name for this one has changed periodically.  I first learned it as Tricholoma nuda, then it was Lepista nuda, now the mycologists appear to have settled on Clitocybe nuda. It has a stout stem with free gills. We all found enough of these three that many of the participants got to take some home to cook.

We also found one young and beautiful bolete, a Boletus chrysenteron.  This one has a light brown cap, and a yellowish and somewhat swollen stalk. There are no gills, but pores.  The boletes are a very safe group of fungi, though you still  need to know each mushroom you eat.  These are sliced and sautéed, with a flavor and texture like eggplants.

We found a few of the inky caps, including Coprinus atramentarius, which causes vomiting if consumed with alcohol.  The inky caps must be collected and cooked when they are young and white, because as they get old, they decompose into a blank ink.

Towards the end, we found a beautiful young Volvaria speciosa, which is edible but looks too much like the deadly Amanitas, so I always advise beginners to not eat it.  This one has a cup, like Amanitas, but lacks the ring on the stem that is characteristic of Amanitas.

We also found many LBMs, and also identified several wild greens along the way.  Everyone had a good introductory experience to mushroom hunting, but realized that a lot of time should be spent in learning how to identify before you ever eat any wild mushrooms on your own. I spent at least two years in the field before feeling confident enough to consume wild mushrooms by myself.  It may not take everyone that long – after all, once you learn one wild mushroom, you can always pick that one and use it.  But you should never eat any wild mushroom that you have not positively identified. 

To learn more, you could research on-line, get a good mycology book at a local bookstore, and you are also welcome to email images to me. If I can identify them, I will do so.