A large leaf plant called Skunk Cabbage blooms on the Oregon coast. Western Skunk Cabbage is an ancient prehistoric plant with giant green leaves when mature, and one of many large plants that grow along the Oregon Coast by indigenous people who utilized many coastal plants for food, medicine, and material purposes for many centuries. It's all here, from the majestic Red Cedar to the nutritious edible Stinging Nettle, there is much to discover about Oregon's coastal wild plants.
Wild plants in coastal Oregon are key to survival
Oregon Coastal Plants include trees, shrubs, herbs, and grasses. Native plants are sought after for food, medicines, tools, and more. Our lives are interwoven with wild plants, and without them we, and all wild creatures, could not survive.
Western Skunk Cabbage - Lysichiton americanum
The second week of one wet February as I was driving along HWY 101 north towards Reedsport, I noticed hundreds of beautiful small shiny green leaves poking out of the muck in a swamp.
Western Skunk Cabbage contains calcium oxalate, which is toxic to humans if eaten raw. Skunk Cabbage has been used historically by First Peoples as a famine food. But because of the painful reaction, I do not recommend ingesting this plant.
The leaves get huge! When you come across a grove of these beauties, they will astound you!
Black Bears and Skunk Cabbage
Bears love to munch on the young plant leaves in early spring. You will find this plant in low, wet, and swampy locations along the coast or at higher elevations in the Cascades mountains.
Uses of Skunk Cabbage Leaves
Wrapping fresh salmon, steelhead, and clams in Skunk Cabbage leaves and then baking the whole mess underground. That's a northwest feast! Despite the strong skunky smell of the leaves. The cooked leaves impart a mild flavor to the cooked foods wrapped in the thick leaves.
The waxy leaves are used as a table cloth and even a rain hat and can be twisted into a temporary drinking cup using the smaller leaves. Like all wild plants, one needs to understand the power these plants have. Know for sure what you’re handling before eating any wild plant!
The first berries of spring
One of the first wild berries to bloom each spring along the Oregon coast is the Salmonberry, Rubus spectabilis. The flower has five petals, pink to magenta. The lovely flowers glow among the hedges of barren brownish canes before the coarse leaves unfurl.
The bright colors of the berries range from yellow, salmon, to reddish. Though a large, bland tasting berry, it makes a fine trail snack. Even though eating too many at once can cause mild diarrhea, they are fine to eat. First People rarely dry the Rubus as it’s berries are mostly made up of water and difficult to dry.
Edible and Medicinal Plants
Look what I discovered today as I strolled along the dark trail to the beach: Trillium Ovatum! They are also known as the Wake Robin of the Lily family. These are one of the Oregon coast's first spring blooms. Though not an edible plant, but we welcome the delicate bright blossoms that grace the forest and bring the promise of fair weather ahead.
Manzanita, Arctostaphylos columbiana, Black Bears often eat the white delicate blossoms and ripe fruit of this handsome shrub. The flowers provide essential food to Anna's Hummingbirds, who winter on the Oregon coast.
A refreshing cider can be made from the ripe fruit. When ripe and sticky, place the fruit in a sieve basket-or in a colander lined with cheesecloth. Pour boiling water over the sticky berries. And allow it to cool. Then enjoy, as the flavor is excellent on a sweltering hot summer day!
Asarum caudstum, blooms from late March to mid-April. It is a unique plant as the roots, or rhizomes, grow just under rich loose soil. Wild ginger root is edible raw or cooked and has a pleasant to strong spicy flavor. Cook with wild ginger root just like you would with store bought ginger. Make a hot tea from the root and several cups of this pungent root will cause you to sweat.
Chickweed, Tellaria media, has long been known for its cooling properties and health benefits. In our garden plot each spring, we find it growing as a common wild plant.
A member of the carrot family (Apiaceae), Cow Parsnip is a spring beauty that graces our forest roads and trails. It is often found along walking trails near ocean beaches and headlands. Heracleum lanatum, grows along stream banks, marshes, moist meadows, and roadsides. Common at sea level to subalpine elevations.
The carrot family plant is toxic to the skin and can cause terrible rashes. And don't confuse it with its cow parsnip with its relative, the deadly Water Hemlock, one of the most toxic plants to humans. It is best to avoid both plants.
Dandelion. A spring delight!
Common Dandelions in flower. Dandelions ( Taraxacum officinaleare), are common and edible, and a medicinal tonic used in spring. Though originally from Europe, this plant is widespread and has made its home all over the United States. As a culture, we spend too much time, poison, and money to rid suburban lawns of this useful plant.
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