City Creek Nature Notes – Salt Lake City

October 19, 2016

October 19th

Watercress Foraging

1:00 p.m. During a post-storm cold but sunny day, four insects are on the road: a Praying mantis, immature Eastern Boxelder bugs, a Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, and an unidentified bee. The bee was possibly a domesticated honey bee with equal spaced black-dirty-yellow bands on its abdomen. While all trees have turned color, about fifteen percent of the trees along the road are now completely leafless.

Below picnic site 6, watercress beds line the north side of the road where a water seep runs year round. Watercress is also found there on the south side of the road in beds in the stream itself. The beds look mangy, but not because it is Fall and cold. Their tops are still uneven and chopped. In June, an extended family from one of the Southeast Asian countries came to the canyon over three weeks and harvested watercress in great leaf bags. It was a great family affair involving several generations – grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and young, playful, smiling grandchildren. Some of the elders were in traditional dress, and the children wore heavy metal tee shirts. It was unclear whether they were gleaning out of economic necessity or as cultural practice as they all piled into a large luxury SUV at the end of their gathering. But they took too much; the watercress beds have never fully recovered; and this is a metaphor for non-sustainable consumption that undercuts our confidence in modern post-industrial lifestyles.

According to local experts, and I am not one, there are many edible wild plants in the canyon in addition to the fruit tree cultivars. Pine needles and wild mint (Mentha arvensis) from the upper canyon can be used to make tea. Wild onion (Allum acuminatum Hook) and wild carrot (Lomatium dissectum) can be found in the spring. Blue elder berry bushes can be found along the upper canyon trail (Sept. 8th). With much labor, the bitterness of Gambel’s oak acorns can be leeched out, and the flour turned into pancakes. Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) and thistles can be boiled and then used as greens. Mountain dandelion (Agoseris glauca Raf.) greens can be added to salads. Some say even oak and maple leaves are edible. Barnes notes that the Ute indians ate these and also the root of arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) that grows profusely on the ridge between City Creek and the Avenues and on the west side of the ridge between City Creek and Ensign Peak (“Four Seasons”, Sept. 1st). The bulb of the state flower, the Sego Lily (Calochortus nuttalli) is edible, and the Sego can commonly be found on the high-slopes and ridges of either side of canyon during spring. But not being skilled in plant identification and since some edibles are easily confused with look-alike poisonous plants, I have not tried any of these.

With next spring’s growth, the watercress beds should become even thick mats again.

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