Monday, June 18, 2018

The Wild Cherry

Native Americans processed and ate the pits
of this widespread and tasty summer fruit

Nyerges has been leading Wild Food Outings since 1974.  He is the author of Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,  Foraging California, Extreme Simplicity, and other books. For a schedule of his classes, and information about his books, contact School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or on-line at

Wild cherry is a common, widespread plant throughout North America.  Where I live in Southern California, there are five native species of wild cherry found throughout the Pacific Coast region.  People are surprised because they do not think of this semi-desert area which rarely gets frosts as being able to support cherries. Yet, these varieties are well adapted to this climate, with deep roots, and thick -- almost waxy -- leaves so it can survive periods of drought.

Wild cherries are believed to be the most widespread wild shrub throughout all of  North America.  The Prunus genus not only includes all wild and domestic cherries, but also nectarines, peaches, plums, and almonds. 

One of the first historical accounts of the local indigenous people eating wild cherries comes to us from Father Junipero Serra, who passed through the San Gabriel Valley area of Southern California in July of 1769.  He noted that the local Indians (the “Gabrielinos”) used various fruits, grass seeds and other wild seeds, etc.

Most of the year, the evergreen cherry bushes or trees will resemble holly, and people will often guess that they are looking at holly bush.  I tell my students to take a leaf and crush it and wait a few seconds to get a whiff of that characteristic odor.  Most agree that the odor resembles bitter almond extract used in cakes.  In fact, this sweet odor is from the presence of hydrocyanic acid (“cyanide”).  This is why you do not make tea from the leaves.

If we are hiking around the cherries in late summer, there will invariably be fruit on the bush.  Some will be ripe enough for us to taste.  Most people can look at this fruit, and guess that it is edible. (However, I strongly urge you to never assume any wild berry or plant is edible simply because you subjectively think “it looks edible.”  That can be a quick way to get sick, or die.  Never eat any wild plant if  you haven’t positively identified it as an edible species.)  I typically will sample a wild cherry and let my students taste one before I tell them what it is.  The taste is not identical to commercial farm-grown cherries.  There isn’t quite as much sugar in the wild cherries, and they have a bitter underflavor and a tartness that makes them uniquely enjoyable, especially when you’re in the back country with meager food rations.  After a few bites, someone will guess that they are eating a cherry. 

In wet years, there is a thicker, sweeter layer of pulp around the large seed.  In dryer years, the pulp layer is thin -- even paper-thin in drought years. 

And though the Indian population certainly enjoyed the pulp of these cherries in the past, they considered the seed as the more important food source.  Seeds were saved, and their thin shells removed.  There is a solid pulp inside the pit, just the same as there is with the store-bought cherry pits.  When you chew on the pulp, you’ll find a pleasant combination of that almondy-bitterness and sweetness.  Though it might be OK to nibble on a few, these seeds were always shelled and leached if substantial amounts were going to be consumed. 

The process of removing the hydrocyanic acid is essentially the same as for acorns. You shell the seeds, and boil the pulp for about half an hour, changing the water a few times.  Generally, you will not need to process cherry seeds as long as acorns. In fact, three boilings of cherry seeds are sufficient to render them safe to eat (whereas, acorns might require a much longer leaching time). The final product is then ground into flour, and mixed into breads, pancakes, soups, or other mush-type dishes.  It is good, and is a sweet flour. 

Shelling cherry seeds

Vickie showing the whole seed in bag and shelled seed in bowl

3x boiled seed, ready to eat

The Cahuilla people of the desert in the vicinity of Palm Springs called this plant cha-mish, and today refer to it as a chokecherry.  They did not typically use the leached seed for breads, but almost exclusively for soups or mush.  Sometimes they made the meal into little cakes.  When dried, they were quite hard and black.  They could then be stored a long time, and would be reconstituted in water before eating.   One form of pemmican was also made by adding the fruit of these chokecherries with deer or elk meat. 

There is a great photo essay on making cherry seed atole (and other cherry seed foods) in “Ethnobotany Project: Contemporary Uses of Native Plants” by Ramirez and Small, and published by

Dr. James Adams, co-author of “Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West,” adds applesauce to a cherry seed mush that he makes, and he reports that all his students enjoy it.

The inner bark of the wild cherries was also used for its medicinal value. A tea from the bark was used for diarrhea, stomach inflammations, and -- among the Cherokee -- the tea was said to help relieve the pain of labor during childbirth.  This medicine was also listed in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia in 1820 as a sedative. 

People of the 1800s and earlier would make syrup and soup from the cherries and use it as a medicine for whooping cough. The Miwok Indians of Northern California believed that eating the raw fruit was good for the voice. The bark of the cherries has been used extensively in cough medicines.  The use of cherry fruit or bark in cough medicines was not just for flavor.  But like with so many old fashioned medicinal remedies of the past, the modern counterparts that are now sold in stores are typically all sugar and artificial flavors.  Thus, horehound candy rarely has horehound in it, marshmallows have no marshmallow extract, and even the “cherry” cough medicines do not always have real cherry in it.  The price we have paid for our “advanced culture” is using more sugar, and concomitant health problems -- but that is another topic.

Due to the presence of anthocyanins in cherries, eating about 20 cherries provides the same anti-inflammatory effects as two aspirin, according to Alternatives.

Long, straight branches of the various wild cherries are often used for making archery bows, backrests, baby cradles, and various other crafts. 

The cherry is an attractive plant, somewhat conspicuous in the hillsides because of its somewhat shiny leaves.  The leaf shape of the common holly-leaf cherry (P. Ilicifolia) is very much like a camelia leaf, a simple ovate to round leaf with fine teeth along the margin.  In the spring, many white flowers develop, and as the summer progresses, you will see many small green cherries as they develop.  The fruits turn pink, then red, and then nearly black when they are ripe and at their best. 

Though great as a trail nibble, there are many recipes that you can make from the seeds’ pulp, and the deseeded fruit.  Uses for the fruit include jams and jellies, fruit pemmican, juices, and even ice cream. 

I recall taking a late August hike in the Angeles National Forest up a trail I’d never been on before.  There was no water along the four mile, uphill road that eventually led to one of the old, now-abandoned fire-lookout stations.  Though I foolishly neglected to bring along a canteen, I collected many of the ripe and very sweet wild cherries along the trail, and I ate them sparingly along the way.  I ate them sparingly, because if you consume a lot of the fruits raw, they can have a laxative effect.  I ate about three dozen fruits over the course of about three hours, and suffered no laxative results.

Keep in mind when you are collecting your wild cherries that bears enjoy this fruit also.  We’ve often observed abundant cherries in bear scat.  So be mindful and alert when you’re in wilderness areas during cherry season.

The seed readily sprouts, and I have occasionally kept the wild seeds which had particularly large or tasty fruits, and planted them in my yard or in pots.  I have several that sprouted and are now taller that I am, though I have not yet had fruit crops from these.      

Thursday, June 14, 2018

"Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City"


EXTREME SIMPLICITY: Homesteading in the City

[Nyerges is the author of over 20 books, and leads classes through the School of Self-reliance. He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or]

When Dolores and I purchased a run-down house in Highland Park in 1986, we  worked towards our goal of "living lightly on the earth," even though we had a small budget and lived in a small suburban Los Angeles home.

We were doing what our Appalachian friend used to describe as "living country in the city."  We pursued all aspects of self-reliance, and wrote about it. Starting as soon as we moved in to our new home in 1986, we began task by task with limited income.  We were never fans of a front lawn, so one of our first tasks was to invite a tree pruner to dump a load of woodchips in the front lawn area. We used our front lawn  to grow food and fruit trees. We recycled our wash water into the yard, using the simplest of technologies.  We collected rain water, had chickens, a duck, bees, and a pig.  Eventually, we installed solar water heating, and enough solar panels and inverter to power at least part of our home. We installed a wood stove, fueled mostly by “scrap wood,”  and we planted fruit trees and food everywhere.

One of the problems we found with our home was that it was very hot indoors during the summer. So we installed metal security doors at the front and rear, and were able to leave the doors open all night for the breeze. We also painted the roof with a white elastomeric product which reflected sunlight, and produced an indoor temperature of about 15 to 20 degrees cooler in the summer.

At that time, I was writing articles for Mother Earth News, Wilderness Way, American Survival Guide, and various other magazines and newspapers.  Sometime in 1999, I got a call from an editor at Mother Earth News. They wanted to know if I could write an overview article about the methods of “alternate health” that Dolores and I practiced.  I said yes.  They then said, good, and we’d like to come out there from New York and take pictures of you in your home and put you on the cover.  We said yes.  The article came out, all about herbs and healthful living, and the ancient healing methods of Hippocrates.  We got a lot of attention about what we considered very normal, something that everyone should be doing.

Shortly after that issue of Mother Earth News was published, we got a call from a book publisher who asked if we could turn that health article into a book. Of course, we said yes. But when we eventually submitted the manuscript to the publisher, they said, hmmm, not exactly what we were looking for.  [That book, “Integral Health,” is still unpublished, though I use it frequently as the basis for lectures]. They wanted a complete summary of all sorts of “alternative health” methods, though they had not told us that in the beginning.  So we talked about it, and they asked us if we could just write about how we live our life in Los Angeles, which we did, and it became “Extreme Simplicity: Homesteading in the City.”

We described our efforts to do "integral gardening" on every bit of usable land, to produce food (for people and wildlife), medicines, fragrance, shade, and useful tools. We described how we worked to use as little electricity as possible (for heating, cooling, everything), how to recycle everything, and how to waste very little.

Though the book has a lot of "how to," it’s also full of personal stories and rich reading of the learning we experienced along the way. There is a section on recycling, and a unique section about the economics of self-reliance, my favorite chapter.

“Extreme Simplicity” is still in print, and still prompting conversations.  It’s available wherever books are sold, from Amazon, and from the store at School of Self-Reliance, Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041; or






Many people today believe that they're spending all their time working, yet with very little in return. Unfortunately, such realizations may come too late to be remedied.

We think that the Amish people have the right idea when they keep their schools and work close to home. They don't have to go a long way to a job, thereby avoiding wasted time and energy, unnecessary expenses, and disconnection from their community. They can protect their families from undesirable influence, and there is the added bonus of having youngsters nearby where they can learn a trade from an early age. The Amish are firmly committed to valuing "quality of life" over all the stuff that our modern society deems important or indispensable - car, home entertainment system, fancy clothes, foods bought for "convenience" and prestige rather than fresh garden flavor and nutritional value.



Once, during a period of homelessness before we were married, Christopher was engulfed in thoughts of "poor me" and "I'm destitute," and he could scarcely see a way out of the darkness. Dolores provided him with a simple set of practical tools that anyone can use if only they choose to do so. Here are four "magic" ways to improve your financial situation:

    1. Never waste anything.

    2. Continually improve your personal honesty.

    3. Leave every situation or circumstance better than you found it.

    4. Tithe to the church (or organization) of your choice.

We know that these are genuine practical solutions. We have heard people say that they cannot make these efforts - such as tithing, or improving an environment - because "we are poor." Our perspective is that they have their reasoning backwards. They are poor because they do not engage themselves in the world in these ways. Logical thinking leads to erroneous conclusions when the premise is false.



1. You can do without some electrical devices.

This will probably involve changing your behavior, for instance, thinking twice before switching on an electrical tool or appliance when a non-electric alternative will work just as well or better.

2. You can learn to use your existing devices more efficiently.

 This step, too, requires changes in habit, but once you've understood the extra expenses caused by inefficiency and waste, you'll feel good about it - plus you'll save money by practicing efficiency.

3. You can purchase new appliances that render your household inherently more energy efficient.

 This step requires initial outlays of money, and in some cases higher short-term expenses, but with certain especially wasteful appliances, the best way to save energy and money is to immediately replace the old, wasteful model.



Our freestanding fireplace has completely transformed our home. We would strongly encourage anyone without one already to seriously consider installing one. On very cold nights, we had been using those small electric heaters that really drive up your electric bill. The fireplace made the house really feel like a home, and we now are uncertain how we got along without it.

In our case, the transition to wood heating was fairly easy, because we had plenty of firewood readily available. We were actually doing a neighbor a favor by cleaning up and carting off large amounts of dead and fallen wood from his property. Our first season of firewood came entirely from our weekly cleaning of his yard, just for the cost of our labor. How's that for a win-win situation?

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Decline of Western Civilization: Why I wrote my books


“Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills”, et al.

Christopher Nyerges

I am often asked why I teach and write about the topics of self-reliance and survival.  Here is part of my answer.

“The city” developed organically from the earliest times of human history, presumably for the mutual survival and upliftment of all those who became a part of it.   The city because the locus for heightened social interaction, where farmers could barter and sell their goods to the far reaches of the domain, where the brightest and the best could answer your questions and resolved your needs, whether about technical, medical, or other issue.  It’s obvious why cities developed, though it has not always so altruistic.

We know, for example, that the great Mayan cities most likely had theocratic rulers whose orders were law, and sometimes that worked out well for the people.  But it could also spell the demise for the city if deluded self-important religious leaders saw themselves as more important than “the people.”  Right here in North America, there was the great city of Cahokia in what is now Illinois, which emerged, dominated, changed and improved the lives of everyone it touched, and then, for various reasons, it disappeared.

Cities and civilizations arise out of the common interests of those it serves, and they seem to follow a pattern of growth, peaking, declining, disappearing (that’s the 25 cent version of what usually takes a full semester anthropology course).

Every school child has heard about the great Roman empire, and how it “fell.”  We read the great details and shake our heads at the Roman stupidity that allowed such greatness to fall, and secretly, we believe it can never happen to us.  Really?  Well, we don’t want it to happen to us, of course, but consider that a “civilization” is a living, dynamic entity.  It’s essence and character and health are all determined by the collective mindset and collective actions of all the participants, whether you recognize that or not.  And it does seem to more and more of us that the collective mindset is too often about short-term gains, and not about the health and survival and vitality of the city, and the culture, and our civilization.

We aren’t sure exactly where we are as a people in the curve of the decline of a civilization, or whether or not we can affect that decline.  However, there is always something that the individual can do – always. 

To gain a higher perspective of what you can do, in your own life, in your own family and in your own town, I strongly encourage you to read Morris Berman’s “The Twilight of American Culture.” There are lots of good ideas there. Also, continue to read the publications that describe and promote the positive actions you can take every day in  your own life to improve your survival quotient, in the city, and in the wilderness.

Everyone wants to make the wisest choices  when our modern structures break down, either from the ravages of nature, or from man (war, terrorism, disease, etc.). 

Sometimes we can feel like we are just a drop of water in the ocean, but as we network and work with like-minded others, we can move in the direction of living solutions.

When I began teaching about wild foods and survival skills when I was still a teenager, I did so to encourage others to think likewise, but mostly I did so to clarify my own thinking on the subject.  You could call it enlightened self-interest.  Plus, by teaching and writing, I was able to meet others along the same path, people that I would have never met if I were hiding out somewhere in a cave.

I taught field trips, and I taught in the classroom. When I taught in the classroom, I found it useful to organize each subject by topic, and to teach by constantly asking questions of the students.  Those refined and edited questions became the basis for my “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” textbook, which is still used by many today.  (It’s available on Amazon, or from the store at 

Though I still use that “Testing” textbook, I have also written “How to Survive Anywhere,” which embodies most of the ideas in “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills.” 

In “How to Survive Anywhere,” I mention Jane Jacobs, who is the author of “Dark Ages Ahead,” who attempts to offer solutions to anyone worried about the decline of western civilization.  Her book is worth reading; at least read page 258 of “How to Survive Anywhere,” where I summarize her thinking.  She explains some of the obvious causes of our decline, especially the idea of community.  But she does not see “dark ages” as inevitable. Rather, she says that since culture is a living dynamic entity, we need to all become living examples of the best in society, and we need to think, we need to model solutions, and we need to teach, lecture, and write! 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

"Urban Wilderness: An Urban Survival Guide"


URBAN WILDERNESS: An Urban Survival Guide
[cover of first edition]
[current cover]

“Urban Wilderness” is the third book I wrote, published in 1979.  A  few years earlier, I had started writing outdoor columns for the Pasadena Star News and other papers, and I thought the collected columns could make a good book.  But I wanted to create a book that was also relevant to the average city dweller, back then, trying to live a more self-reliant life. 

So my proposal to the publisher included a collection of articles, loosely held together by the themes of household ecology, city gardening, wild city plants, pollution issues, and city survival.  It all seemed very cohesive at the time, but in fact, that third book was a hodge podge of great ideas that only loosely held together.  But since Peace Press of Culver City wanted to publish the book, I went ahead and produced a manuscript.  
[Look at that! Larry Dean Olsen wrote us a cover quote!]

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the publishing world, think of the search for a publisher as men or women exploring a dating service.  Finally you find an interesting publisher and the courting begins.  Finally, you sign a contract, and you’re married! You no longer get exactly what you want.  It’s a pretty good analogy of what happens when you and a publisher hammer out an idea for a book.

Though I wanted a well-organized right-to-the-point book about what it takes to live a self-reliant life, the publisher had their own ideas of what it would take to make the book “popular.”  At the time, I didn’t think much of the fact that they also published books by Timothy Leary, and notes from prison, but their ideology watered down the content and arrangement of my well-intended book.  That book is still available on ebay and elsewhere, and you really might find it entertaining.  I still look into that book for the details of how to process olives, and for my carob recipes. 

In fact, if you get a copy of the old Peace Press version of “Urban Wilderness,” just think of it as a series of newspaper articles and it will make a lot more sense.  There is a great chart on common herbs and their uses, and some unique information about the medical value of garlic, and the dangers of aluminum.  And the book contains a lot of my tests that I use in my survival skills courses.  By the way, my complete set of tests and answers and supportive data I use in my classes is compiled into my “Testing Your Outdoor Survival Skills” book, still available. That testing book was partly the basis for my later “How to Survival Anywhere” book, published by Stackpole.

Eventually, Peace Press closed its doors, and the book never went into a reprint.

Many years after that, in the early 1990s,  there was a resurgence of  survival shows, and I started going to some of these shows and selling my books and giving survival and wild food lectures. Some of you may remember this as the time of militias, when everyone started wearing camos and paintball games were big.  I entirely revised my “Urban Wilderness” book to make it a bare-bones essential guide to the key areas everyone should be concerned about with urban survival.  This was a spiral-bound version that I produced myself, and I sold hundreds of copies.  As Y2K approached, survival and preparedness expositions were popping up all over the country like toadstools.  I made a few tweaks to my “Urban Wilderness” book and also called it “A Y2K preparation manual.”  If you think about it, Y2K planning was not much different than earthquake planning, except your house would still be standing.   I sold thousands of copies of this textbook.  I was very busy in December of 1999,  and then in January of 2000 when the world didn’t slip into the dark ages, and my book continued to sell, I immediately removed all Y2K references for my “Urban Wilderness” book.

The revised book was simple and terse.  It included only what I considered the most essential information about shelter, water (storage and purification), food (storage, cooking, etc.), cooking without gas or electricity, hygiene issues (toilet, etc.), dealing with utilities and using manual tools, communication systems, wise use of resources (making compost, dealing with waste, recycling anything you have to make needed products, and a few other topics. 

If you’re already very knowledgeable in survival skills and planning, this book will seem very basic to you, and you should get one of my later books. If, however, you’re still trying to navigate the waters of prepping, this is an excellent way to begin.

The original “Urban Wilderness” can still occasionally be found for sale on Amazon or ebay.  The revised “Urban Wilderness” book is still available as a hard copy from the store at, or from Kindle (at the cost of less than a tip at any restaurant).

Friday, June 08, 2018

"Tunnel 16" -- a Pasadena-based science fiction novel


“Tunnel 16” [part one of the Tunnel series]

By Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of many, including “Tunnel 16,” “Sinkhole 102,” “Enter the Forest,” “Extreme Simplicity,” and others.  He has also been teaching ethnobotany for many years, in the field and classroom.  Information about his books and classes is available from 

I’ve always wanted to try writing a novel.  I’ve even tried a few times, but I either didn’t have the patience to take it all the way to the end, or I didn’t have the imagination for a cogent story.

Then one night I had a dream.  I was visiting a friend of mine up at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) complex in the foothills of Altadena.  Something was happening, and we were being chased by some unseen threatening entities.  We ran through what seemed to be underground parking structures, and after a while, the tunnels opened up into a green wilderness area where there were grassy plains and lots of trees.  In the dream, I knew I could run there and be safe. As I exited the JPL tunnel, I looked up and saw the number “16” embossed on the cement wall.  I don’t recall what happened next in the dream.

Later that day, I called my friend who works at JPL and asked, “Is there a tunnel 16 at your work site?”  “Hmmm?” my friend responded. “I don’t think so.”

Eventually, I was taken on a tour of JPL, and got to look at the Mars yard, and the entrances to various corridors and tunnels, but nothing like I saw in my dream.  Regardless, little by little, I created a young character, Rick, and told the tale of how Rick accidentally discovered the hidden and secretive tunnels of Altadena.

I used my knowledge of the physical terrain of Pasadena and Altadena to tell the story, so most of the locations actually exist.  Rick falls into the tunnel and the youth-focused science fiction story begins.

I attempted to incorporate nearly every myth and mystery of Pasadena that I’d ever heard into the novel.  In the tunnel, Rick encounters the holographic image of Jack Parsons in a side cave,  and Parsons gives Rick instructions for helping to resolve a civil war among an invisible race who live in the tunnel system.

Jack Parsons figures large as part of local lore  -- he was one of the early developers of JPL, who had a dark side.  As a follower of Aleister Crowley, Parsons was known to hold satanic rituals in his South Orange Grove home. Additionally, Parson’s most famous roommate was one L.Ron Hubbard, who ran away with Parson’s girlfriend, and eventually founded Scientology. 

Other local lore includes the Angeles Forest as the so-called “forest of disappearing children,” and the shaman’s cave found by Dorothy Poole in Descanso Gardens. 

Rick begins to interact with a JPL security worker, Frank Landry, partly based on a real person, and Landry tries to unravel the mystery of the tunnel before having to report it to his superiors. 

Actual names and places are used throughout the book, which local residents will recognize.   Even famous skeptic Michael Shermer appears in this book, and also appears in the  “Sinkhole 102” sequel.

I enjoyed writing the book, and I was partly inspired by the fast-moving Hardy Boys novels, which I always enjoyed.

“Tunnel 16” is currently available from Amazon’s Kindle, for far less than you’d leave for a tip at a restaurant.  Downloads and hard copies will be available from

"Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America"


“Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America”

By Christopher Nyerges

[Nyerges is the author of many foraging books, including “Foraging Wild Edible Plants of North America,” “Guide to Wild Foods,” and others.  He has also been teaching ethnobotany for many years, in the field and classroom.  Information about his books and classes is available from 

After the release of my first book (“Guide to Wild Foods”) in 1978, I was contacted by Stackpole Press in Pennsylvania who wanted to know if I could write a cookbook for them, based upon “Guide to Wild Foods.”  Of course, I said yes. 

So I took the plants from my book that are most common over most of North America, and began compiling all my recipes, as well as testing new ones.  In addition, I added various stories about cooking on the trail, and the types of gear and condiments you should always carry if you want a good meal.  Then I spent considerable time trying to come up with catchy names for the various recipes.  The result a year later was “Wild Greens and Salads.”  The book sold a few thousand copies a year and was never re-printed after the first edition.

Nearly 30 years later, I’d started writing foraging books for the Falcon Guides.  They were aware of my previous cook book, and wondered if I could revise it with full color photos and lots of new information.  Of course, I said yes.

I worked for another year to update the text, to delete some plants and to add new ones.  Also, I once again spent considerable time coming up with catchy names to the recipes, usually recalling the first time I tried the recipe.  This is somewhat ironic too, coming from a guy who hardly uses recipes, and generally just follows the basics of cooking that was taught to me by mother.  For those who wonder if there is actually any food value to plants found in the wild, there is a chart at the end of the book detailed the nutritional analysis of many of the wild foods in the book, based upon the USDA’s “Analysis of Foods.”  You’ll be amazed that wild foods are generally more nutritious than much of what you buy at the supermarket.

This revised book is called “Foraging Edible Wild Plants of North America,” focusing primarily on leafy greens for salads, soups, and other dishes.  (I could eventually do a sequel to this, about all the wild nuts and berries that are found widely in North America, not just in a given locale.)

I was really happy with the result, and the way the color photos turned out.  It’s 211 pages full of wild recipes, and various ways to use wild foods, their nutritional value, and the ways to process the plants, with full color photos of every plant. 

The books has lots of interesting recipes.  Those of you who have come to my wild food classes know the ways I prepared wild foods, so many of the recipes in this book will seem familiar.

Some of the recipes’ names incorporate some memory of when I first came up with that recipe: Chardon Crepes (from when I lived in Chardon, Ohio), Big Bend Breakfast (a cattail dish my brother and I cooked up in Texas), the David Ashley Special (a salad of wild greens devised by David, and I wonder if David even remembers this?), Crisptado Fantastico (my unique chickweed tostada), Chicory Hicory Dock (everyone’s favorite), Point Reyes Sunset (a curly dock and clam soup that we first made at Point Reyes Seashore), Altadena Meadows Casserole (a nettle dish that I’d make when I lived in the Meadows), Hahamongna Swamp Salad (that’s self-explanatory, right?), and Tongva Memories (a watercress soup).

Perhaps my favorite recipes are the Lamb’s Quarter recipes, because I use that plant nearly every day, both the leaf and seed. It’s a relative of the now-popular quinoa. 

Lamb’s quarter can be made into salads, soups, stews, and even bread when you use the seed.  You might like my Earth Bread made from the seeds. From the reviews of those who have tasted it, some like it, some do not.

According to the book, “I’ve served this Earth Bread to many foragers and have had mixed responses. A few people did not like it and said it tasted like dirt. There have also been ecstatic responses from people who found the bread ‘virile,’ ‘deliciously wholesome and amazing,’ and ‘primitive.’”  You’ll have to try it for yourself and see what you think. 

Here is the recipe:
1 cup lamb’s quarter seed
1 cup acorn flour
3 tsp. Baking powder
3 Tablespoons honey
1 egg
1 cup raw milk
3 tablespoons oil
You blend everything and bake it until done. You can also water this down and use the batter for pancakes.

This book also has an introductory section which includes photos of Dude McLean cooking a broth in a cut-out yucca bowl, and Pascal Baudar making a wild mustard, and Gary Gonzales showing a miner’s lettuce leaf. 

The cheapest way to get a copy is through Amazon. The retail is $22.95, and you can also get an autographed copy at 

"Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants"


Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants

[Nyerges’ “Guide to Wild Foods” book, originally published in 1978, was published in full color as of 2014.  The book, now titled “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,” is available at bookstores, Amazon, and at  It has been adopted for use as a college textbook in one college.]

My earliest interest in wild food began around 1967 as I began my awareness of the the Native Americans who lived in Los Angeles County in the pre-Spanish era who gathered and hunted all their food.  I wanted to learn how to do that too, because I thought I would be a good survival skill, and mostly because I thought it was one of the most essential things a person could do, anywhere, at any time.

I studied all I could from the local library, and by enrolling in botany classes in high school and then college. I made the effort to study with whomever I could, when the opportunities arose: Native Americans, Amish, gardeners, botanists, bums -- whoever knew about plants and was willing to share their knowledge with me.

By 1974, I was asked to lead Wild Food Outings with the Los Angeles-based non-profit, WTI, whose focus was to educate in all aspects of survival. I fit in well, and not only led the walks (and continued to this day) but started work on a book about local wild foods.  It took the next four years of typing and researching and asking questions and compiling notes, but finally my stacks of seemingly-random notes were taking shape into a book.

My notes consisted of various piles of paperwork that I stacked around my bedroom, and which I finally began to order when I started a typesetting job at the Altadena Chronicle.  The editor, Sue Redman, allowed me to write a column each week which I called “The Emergency Plant Survival Guide,” which was eventually assembled into a photocopied 8 ½ x 11 format.   In many ways, I wrote the book for myself, as a way to assemble my own diverse notes and experiences about using plants for food, and other uses.

By then, I’d met and began studying with botanist Dr. Leonid Enari, who really opened my eyes to the vast botanical world “out there.” Dr. Enari – who I call the greatest botanist that no one knows -- was instrumental in shaping that very crude first edition of what we then called “A Southern California’s Guide to Wild Foods.”

The second edition, completely revised, came out within another two years or so, and then soon another revised edition with more plants being added each time.

At the time, there was no other book like this one which appealed to the common useful plants in the Southern California area.  There were a few academic books, though they didn’t appeal to the person who wanted to actually try these plants. And there was no internet then, so all my research was done in libraries or with first-person interviews, or spending all day to get somewhere just so I could learn one new fact about one plant.

The fourth edition was released in 1995, and in many ways this was my favorite version since all the plants drawings were painstakingly done in my own hand.  But today, everyone wants color photos. 

Finally, in the spring of 2014, the book was released in full color, which is perhaps the ultimate format we’d dreamed about in the mid-1970s when the idea for this book was formulated.

One of my greatest surprises came one morning while listening to the old American Indian hour on Pasadena City College Radio. Dorothy Poole, aka Chaparral Granny, was talking about the uses of certain local wild plants.  As I listened, it sounded vaguely familiar.  I quickly pulled out my copy of “Guide to Wild Foods” and opened to the plant she was talking about.  Imagine my surprise to see that she was reading directly from my book!  I felt honored that she felt my compilation and personal commentary was worthy of sharing on the American Indian hour.

The book helps the beginner understand the basic botanical terminology, and quickly shows the reader how to best utilize many of the common wild plants for food, medicine, soap, etc. 

Many of the plants listed in the book are not  native, and are considered invasive weeds. They are the plants that gardeners love to pull up and toss in the trash, or worse, to spray Roundup on them so they don’t come back.

It turns out that some of the wild foods are more nutritious than much of what we find in the supermarket. And they taste good too, if you simply take the time to learn how to prepare them.

In “Guide to Wild Foods,” you learn that the brown pod from the carob trees planted all over Southern California are edible, and are an excellent source of calcium and B vitamins.

You also learn that dandelion is the richest source of beta carotene (not carrots), and that purslane is the richest plant source of Omega 3 fatty acids, and that the common lambs quarter is like nature’s mineral tablet.

The book includes many of the Native American uses of plants, such as the yucca plant which was a valuble soap and fibre source, as well as three types of food. And you learn about many of the natural cures to poison oak, including the seemingly unusual treatment that I’ve done for the past 30 years.

Now titled “Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants,”  it is available at Amazon, at bookstores, and at

Monday, June 04, 2018

Growing Oyster Mushrooms

Matt Heidrich with some of his home-grown oyster mushrooms 

Matt Heidrich is a man who loves oyster mushrooms.  He enjoys them so much that he has learned the intricate art of home cultivation.  I didn’t know what to expect when I visited him in his Highland Park home, but I certainly got a full tutorial.
Oyster mushrooms are a variety of mushroom that grows on old and dying trees throughout the nation.  They grow from the sides of trees with their gills that slope down to meet the stem.  The caps range from cream to dark brown. They are one of the simplest mushrooms to cultivate, and enjoyed by mushroom enthusiasts and foodies alike.  I always assumed they were called oyster mushrooms because the flavor (to me) is very much like oysters, though some say the name derived from the shape of the mushroom’s cap being similar to an oyster shell.
A child of Army parents, Heidrich spent his childhood in Indiana, and it was there that he first found and harvested some of another wild mushroom in the woods – the popular and colorful chicken-of-the-woods. 
In 2015 at Los Angeles’ eclectic EcoVillage, he attended a workshop led by Peter McCoy where he was introduced to the lifestyle of fungi. The workshop included the details for cultivating the oyster mushroom, and Heidrich was hooked.  Over the last several years, he has refined and perfected his technique for producing oyster mushrooms in his home. 
When I first visited Heidrich, I was given a tour of his small backyard, where he grows numerous herbs and vegetables in small upraised beds.  In one corner was a small compost pile covered with black plastic, which he uses mostly for the old medium of which his mushrooms grow.  He pulled up a corner to show me that oyster mushrooms abundantly grew from his little compost pile, the unexpected result from the leftovers of his cultivation.  He picked a few of the good ones for his meal later in the day.
Next, we went indoors for the tutorial.  It was quickly evident that growing oyster mushrooms were important to Heidrich, because it appeared that major portions of at least two rooms in his home were devoted to the various stages of oyster mushroom cultivation. 
We began by looking at some of the good textbooks that are available on the subject. Two of the best current books on mushroom cultivation are “Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms” by Paul Stamets, and “The Mushroom Cultivator” by Stamets and Chilton.   "Radical Mycology" by Peter McCoy and "Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation" by Trad Cotter are also very useful.  And for those who want to buy starter kits, Stamets' company, called FungiPerfecti, provides supplies for beginner and expert alike.
There are many ways to cultivate mushrooms.   Understanding the difference between "spores" and "spawn" is key.  Spores are genetically diverse "seeds" that rain down from the gills of the mushroom.  The novice grower will not use spores, but spawn, which is genetically identical to the parent mushroom.  Most home growers use liquid culture spawn and grain spawn.  Liquid culture is simply mushrooms grown in sugar water.  Grain spawn is mushrooms grown on grain.  Heidrich cultivates his liquid culture using simple sugars purchased from the local homebrew shop.  (In fact, homebrewing and mushroom growing go hand in hand.)  For grain spawn, he uses organic wheat berries bought in bulk on Amazon.  The goals of these methods is to give the mycelium (the mushroom body) the nutrients it needs to form robust fruiting bodies (“fruiting bodies” are what most of us simply call mushrooms).  Liquid culture and grain spawn are readily available on Ebay or from mushroom websites.  The simplest way to begin cultivating is to buy liquid culture online and expand it at home in modified Mason jars.  But cleanliness is key.  
Heidrich created his own sterile environment with a 5 gallon clear Rubbermaid tub, onto which he has added two hole where his hands can enter with gloves.  Into this box, after has disinfected it with alcohol, he adds the starter medium, and several Mason jars of wheat berries which will be inoculated with the liquid starter medium. 

He carefully closes the lid of the box, and once everything needed is inside the box, he dons his gloves and his hands enter the box.  The lid of each jar has had two holes drill into it: one hole is stuffed with cotton for aeration, and the other is filled with high temperature RTV engine silicone.  With a hypodermic needle, he first sucks a measured amount of the liquid out of the starter medium, by pushing the needle through the silicone cover, and then he injects a measured amount into each jar of the wheat berries, again, by pushing the needle through the silicon layer.
This is all done very carefully, almost like a careful dance as Heidrich maneuvers into the limited space. But all this is necessary, otherwise the invisible contaminants in the air and environment which will infect the batch of mushrooms.
When done, Heidrich places these inoculated bottles of wheat berries onto a rack with an LED light to assist in stimulating the grown of the spawn. Temperature requirements vary depending on the oyster variety.  For example, there are blue oysters which prefer a cooler temperature, while the pink and phoenix oysters enjoy temperatures up into the 80s and 90s.

After a few weeks, if all went well, the bottles of wheat berries are covered in a white cob-webby material, which is the mycelium which will produce the mushrooms.
Heidrich took such a bottle to show me how he sets up the final stage of cultivation, which can take place in a plastic bag or bucket.  Today he demonstrated in a plastic bag.
Into the approximately gallon-sized plastic bag, he placed a layer of soaked cardboard.  (I had noted earlier that he had a few containers of old cardboard in his back yard, and this is what he uses to grow his mushrooms.). 
“Remember, these mushrooms like to grow on wood, and isn’t that what the cardboard came from?” smiles Heidrich.  He presses a layer of cardboard into the bag, and then adds a layer of used coffee grounds, a free recyclable material from a local coffee house.  Then he added about 5 tablespoons of the wheat berries covered in spawn. Then he added more cardboard, coffee grounds, and more spawn. He continues this way for several layers until the bag is full.  On his last, upper-most layer, he adds only spawn, then cardboard, then spawn.  Heidrich explains that the coffee grounds are most susceptible to infection, and by having no coffee grounds at the top where it is exposed, there is less chance of infection.
Once this is sealed, Heidrich punches a few holes into the bag so that each hole enters the bag at the cardboard.  Once the mushrooms get growing, they will grow out of the holes where they can be easily harvested.  This bag is again put on the shelf with the LED light, and allowed to sit until the mushrooms start to grow.
It all seems like a very mysterious process, but Heidrich is merely controlling in a scientific manner that which occurs naturally in the forest.
Heidrich’s favorite method of preparation is to sautee the mushrooms with his meals.
“How do you preserve the surplus?” I asked him, innocently enough.
“I eat them as quickly as I grow them,” he said smiling.  “There’s never a surplus!” 
Wow! He loves his mushrooms.  Nevertheless, if growers have a surplus, they can be frozen or dehydrated, and dehydration seems to be the preferable choice.
Heidrich has done some wild mushroom hunting on his own, but found that it was less than fruitful.  After all, wild mushrooms arise based on many factors, such as rain, weather, time of year, association of certain trees, humidity, and other factors.  Heidrich did find some turkey tail mushrooms, but generally prefers to grow his own oyster mushrooms. 
He’s not a vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic enthusiast, or a food faddist of any sort. “Yes, I eat meat,” with a smile that barely concealed a bit a guilt.  He’s a man who loves one of nature’s finest foods, and he’s found a way to have a constantly supply at home.
Heidrich does offer occasional workshops where he takes participants through the various steps involved.  His workshop participants walk home with an instruction sheet, and a bag of spawn to grow at home. For more information, he can be reached at

 [Nyerges continues to teach classes in self-reliance and survival. Go to for the Schedule]