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Wild Water, Food and Flowers

Posted Mar 26 2010 6:15pm

Spring has come a little late to the Gila but is now emerging full force, right in step with the tumultuous pace of the San Francisco River flooding its muddy banks. Thanks to snowmelt and significant rains, southwest New Mexico is remarkably well watered at the moment which most likely means a wildflower rich Spring! While there are already many flowers blooming at lower elevations in the Gila, here at about 6,000 feet we’re still at the beginning of our season.

Every year, this diminutive but beautiful little flower commonly known as Mountain Candytuft (Noccaea fendleri subsp. glauca) is one of the very first noticeable wildflowers to bloom in the Canyon.

It’s colors range from bright white to lavender to purple, depending on exactly where it’s growing. It prefers middle mountain coniferous forest and is mostly found in this area growing at the feet of towering Ponderosa Pines among the leaf litter, pine needles and fallen tufts of Usnea lichen.

Candytuft is a Brassicaceae, a member of the ubiquitous Mustard Family. And like many other mustards, it is both edible and quite tasty. Sweet and spicy, somewhat reminiscent of a cross between Mustard greens and Broccoli, these abundant flowers make excellent additions to all sorts of salads and are also wonderful and beautiful garnishes for many soups and similar dishes.


Another tiny but gorgeous wildflower is the above Lomatium nevadense, sometimes called Desert Biscuitroot. The flowers are incredibly complex and lovely in a way that my camera is unable to capture without a stronger macro lens, but you can get a hint of its delicacy from the two pictures I’ve included here.

This small plant usually grows in lower elevations, primarily in rocky areas. It is uncommon in the Canyon and as of yet, I’ve only seen this single plant growing up here on the mesa along a rocky trail. It returns each year, tenaciously persisting in flowering among the rocks and sand.


Snow comes and goes in the Canyon and mountains just above us, feeding the already flooded river and adding to the drama and beauty of the flowers and green things as they emerge from the ground.


The Piñon Pines (Pinus edulis) are vibrant with new growth and their enticing, resiny scent is easily smelled each time I brush against their branches while climbing or hiking.

This slowly passing cold season has been one rich with hot tea brewed from the leaves and barks of evergreen trees, including the Piñon Pine, Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii var glauca), White Fir (Abies concolor) as well as the nutty goodness of our local Acorns.


Even on stormy days, Rhiannon and I venture out to discover new lichens, watch the rambunctious javelina playing by the river and enjoy the wild land we live on.


Last year’s Penstemon flower stalks retains its beauty and grace, especially with the vivid colors unfurling all around them.


These are the leaves of some freshly gathered Oregon Grape Root (Mahonia repens), tucked in a basket also containing an abundance of White Fir (Abies concolor) branch tips.

Mahonia is a favorite medicinal of mine, and one that I use frequently in my practice. I’ve written about this plant previously, and you can read my monograph on it right here.


With the arrival of Spring, many exciting shifts are still happening here, and the newest offerings and opportunities here from the Anima Lifeways & Herbal School will soon be unveiled, especially my extensive 5 course distance program entitled From the Ground Up: Grassroots Training in Traditional Western Herbalism. Thanks so much to all of you who have written with your enthusiastic support and interest! It will be ready soon and I will announce it here and on the Anima School blog the moment it’s available.


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