Wasžúšteča Wanáȟča: Strawberry Flower

When you see the first strawberry flowers of the year, you know the berries aren’t too far behind! This picture is from early spring.

Wild Strawberries, Fragaria spp., wažúšteča, are one of my favorites. They are indigenous to boreal forests around the same latitude all over the northern hemisphere. In addition to indigenous North American wild strawberries, I have also worked with wild strawberry plants from England and Germany. There are also indigenous strawberries in the Southern Hemisphere. (This link will take you to a fascinating story about an indigenous Chilean strawberry.)

From these humble flowers, so simple they look like a child’s drawing of a flower, the best strawberries will eventually emerge. I’ll leave the descriptions of the resulting berry for another post, but I will say that these wild strawberries are the world’s best strawberries. As Robin Wall Kimmerer observes in the wild-strawberry chapter of her book Braiding Sweetgrass, the wait sometimes makes it all the more worthwhile.

Ground Plum/ Ptétȟawote

A few people have asked me about this plant recently. It’s called a ground plum in English. Ptétȟawote, or Astragalus crassicarpus.

I believe that the fruit is technically edible, though it was pretty bitter and woody when I tried a ripe one about 4 summers ago at the site of Sacred Stone Camp. The fruit has a cucumber-like texture, but isn’t sweet. I wouldn’t recommend eating it. We seem to be having a bumper crop this year.

I don’t know much about traditional uses of this plant, but the name translates to “buffalo food.”

Juneberries in June

All the fruits got a late start this year, due to the freezing spring. Here’s a Juneberry bush (wipážukȟa hú) that I photographed today, June 19. Still awhile off from being ripe.

When I see how far off the richly descriptive English and Lakota plant names are from the seasons they connect to, the reality of climate change becomes obvious. I have previously written about how the chokecherry ripening cycle is over a month off from the month that is named at the time that they ripen.

I’m not sure how the crazy weather will impact the harvest, but this is one of my favorites, so I hope we’ll have a good one this year!

Pȟežíȟota Tȟáŋka: Mosquito Sage

It’s mosquito season here, and the spring floodwaters have given them the ideal habitat for a really prolific year… Not such great news for us warm-blooded mammals. And appropriately enough, the Čhapȟúŋka Oyáte really went after me while I was harvesting this plant.

Pȟežíȟota Tȟáŋka, or Artemisia tridentata, is locally called sagebrush, in contrast to Pȟežíȟota (ceremonial sage). This one grows in a brushy short perennial bush, unlike ceremonial sage, which annually grows up from a single stem (but has a perennial root system). It grows on the dryer parts of the reservation.

Artemisia tridentata grows all around the Great Basin of North America, but the one we have here is a less fragrant variant. The individual leaves lack the district three “teeth” (tri+dentata) that I’ve seen on A. tridentata plants in British Columbia and Nevada, and doesn’t have as strong of a smell — but botanically, they are the same species.

Locally, another name for this one is mosquito sage. The reason, in case it isn’t obvious, is that you can burn this to keep mosquitoes at bay. It dries fairly quickly on a car dashboard — but the rain chased the mosquitoes away before I got a chance to see if this year’s plant is especially effective against this year’s mosquitoes. I’ll update this blog once I get a chance to use it.

Hupȟéstola — Edible Yucca Flowers!

Did you know that the flowers of Hupȟéstola (Yucca glauca) are edible? They taste kind of like broccoli, but a bit more mild, and with a slight nectar sweetness.

I’ve heard of people cooking with them, but I usually just eat them when I’m out on the prairie. I have never managed to refrain from eating them long enough to bring them home and experiment in the kitchen, so you’ll have to consult other sources for information on that.

Pšíŋ Šičámna — Wild Onion harvest

April and May are wild onion season on Standing Rock! These native onions may be strong, but they are powerful! Hence their Lakota name — Psiŋ = onion; šičámna = stink/strong (bad) smell. They are one of the early spring plants that come up, abs are recognizable by their stems that are a bit thicker and more rubbery than a blade of grass.

If you dig them up, they have a delicate brown netting the surrounds a small bulb:

If you peel aware the netting, there is a small white, extremely strong pearl onion underneath.

I’ve been told that they are traditionally eaten cooked in soups, but I’ve only eaten them raw — so far, ever time I’ve gotten them, I’ve given away my whole harvest to other people. But if their raw taste is anything to go on, it probably wouldn’t take too many of these to flavor a whole pot of soup. And if I ever realize my dream of making a fire cider with 100% Standing Rock local ingredients, this plant will be at the top of my list.

Pšíŋ — domestic onions grown from seed

Some shots from the day I transplanted my onions grown from seed out into the garden.

These are onion varieties developed by agricultural scientist Frank Kutka, specifically to meet the needs of the North Dakota climate and storage needs. He calls them Noeth Dakota Red and Yellow Storage Onion, respectively.

Due to the onions’ long growing season, if you want to grow them from seed here, it’s necessary to start them indoors in February. Start them any later than that, and you’ll be harvesting golf ball sized onions in the fall (as I can attest from personal experience).

Many people don’t see the value in growing onions, since they can be obtained so cheaply from the store and require a lot of effort and time to grow at home. I can see both sides — and growing onions from seed has allowed me to get to know the plant and its growth cycle better, which I believe is valuable knowledge.

Cover Crop: Buckwheat

This was last spring’s cover crop, buckwheat. I didn’t have a whole lot to start, and the seeds didn’t germinate evenly, so I got pretty sparse coverage. But hopefully it still did a bit to increase the nitrogen available in the soil, which was my goal in planting a cover crop.

I planted it in April, the day before a minor snowstorm, but when the snow melted, it watered my seeds. This low-maintenance crop just came up all on its own when the weather conditions were right.

This picture is from mid-June, before I turned them back into the soil and planted the rest of my garden. My understanding is that if you turn a cover crop back into the soil while it’s flowering, your garden will get the maximum nutritional benefits. This will definitely avoid getting unwanted seeds into your soil if you’re planting a cover crop like alfalfa that has weedy tendencies.

It was a bit hard to say goodbye to these plants after a couple months of growing them, but they seem to have helped my garden — the tomatoes I planted in spots where alfalfa had grown were my most productive and healthy plants.