California Hazelnut – by Vivian Mazur

CA Hazelnut photo courtesy Keir Morse

CA Hazelnut photo courtesy Keir Morse

If you have a shade garden, the California hazelnut (Corylus cornuta ssp. Californica) is a natural resident. It is widespread in woodland, particularly in moist or shaded canyons. It can be found along the Coastal Ranges in Northern California, the Siskiyous, and Sierras. If you hike this time of year, you may be rewarded with a crop of nuts unless the squirrels have beaten you to them. The name, Corylus, comes from the Greek ‘coys’, meaning helmet, which refers to the sheath around the nut. The hazelnut is in the birch family (betulaceae), related the alder. It is interesting to notice the similarities between them – from the shape of the leaf to the late winter catkins.

The hazelnut is an attractive addition to the woodland garden. It is a large (12’ – 15’), spreading, deciduous shrub with graceful, arching branches. In late winter the catkins appear. Each plant has separate male and female flowers but it is the males that are most conspicuous as they develop into long, golden tassels, followed by the unfurling of soft, velvety leaves. In late summer or early fall, the nuts ripen, much appreciated by squirrels and birds.

The California hazelnut is an adaptable garden plant. It is drought resistant once established but unlike many native plants, it will accept year-round water. It is a plant that will fend for itself, needing only pruning to keep it looking attractive. Some natural companions are sword ferns, bush monkey flower, and Douglas iris.

Alicia Funk’s book

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Recently, I had a great chat with author Alicia Funk. Her book, “Living Wild: A Taste of California’s Landscape” is a delight. CNPS is blessed to receive a bit of the proceeds, thanks to a generous commitment from Alicia. If you don’t know this book, please check it out. The photos are beautiful, it is well-laid out and graphically pleasing.

A newly released 2nd edition of the popular guidebook is now available and it offers solutions to climate change that actually taste good.

According to the official press release, “More than a simple survival guide explaining what you can eat when lost in the woods, Living Wild is an invitation to celebrate California’s heritage and culture, with advice on cultivating more than 100 native plant species and enjoying this natural abundance for sustainable wild food cuisine and herbal medicine remedies.”

And Alicia herself says, “Making sugar from manzanita berries and substituting gluten-free acorn flour for water-thirsty, pesticide-heavy wheat are steps that move us closer to the land while helping to address climate change. Native plants offer a nutrient-dense source of truly local food.”

Alicia makes some interesting points. One that intrigued me revolves around the issue of foraging. We have seen an amazing increase in the popularity of urban foraging, locavore dining and vegetable gardening. As this happens, foragers may outpace the ability of Mother Nature in the wild to produce!

But if we all gardened with a few local native edibles, we could increase their availability, and take a bit of pressure off the wildland-urban interface where most foraging occurs.

You can buy the book through  CNPS, and when you read it, please let us know your thoughts. I’d be happy to receive any plant information, anecdotes, arguments or discussions about all aspects of this fascinating topic. When we share, debate, study and codify information, we help ourselves, and we put in place aspects of the future.

 

 

 

 

California Native Sage Shortbread

I love shortbread – crumbly and rich – it is perfect for the holidays. Now that most of you have recovered from the Thanksgiving feasts, it’s time to start on making some treats for all the upcoming parties and celebrations.

This recipe is not too sweet and you can use any of several varieties from your garden. I love hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) for this.

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Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated white sugar
  • 1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Five California native salvia leaves, grown organically, washed and dried
  • Extra granulated sugar for sprinkling on top, if desired

Directions

Pick five to seven sage leaves. All California native sages are edible for culinary purposes. Sage is not commonly considered to be a plant that people are allergic to, but be safe. Ensure you (and other consumers of this treat) are not allergic to any herbal materials before using.

Wash the sage leaves under cool tap water and pat dry. Chop into small mince and hold aside.

Preheat the oven to 300 – 325 degrees. I like to use a cooler temperature and cook for longer – easier to avoid burning the bottom or edges that way.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and the two sugars until they are nicely combined. Add the vanilla. Sift together the flour and salt, then add them to the butter-and-sugar mixture. Add chopped sage. Stir in by hand, at first. Once the mixture is lightly combined, mix on low speed until the dough starts to stick to itself in a ball. Scrape out the dough onto your work surface which has been dusted with flour. Shape the dough with your hands into a thick, flat disk. Wrap or store in a container and chill for 30 minutes.

Bring the dough out of the refrigerator and, before it starts to warm up, roll the dough 1/2-inch thick and cut into 3 by 1-inch finger-shaped rectangles. Place the cookies on an un-greased baking sheet and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the edges begin to brown.

Watch carefully to avoid burning, especially if you use the higher temperature. Pull the sheet from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Allow to come to room temperature.

Serve warm from the oven, room-temperature or chilled, whatever is your preference.

Alternatively, you can press the dough into a round pie tin, score the dough with a knife and then break into pie-shaped wedges once they return to room temperature.