8. Cooking

Edible Plants
Poisonous Plants



Camp cooking is not a difficult art to learn, and it should not be made one. If you select only those foods you know how to prepare you should have no difficulties. If you are completely inexperienced, spend some time at home, practicing on the kitchen stove. Learning to cook in camp wastes both food and money. Keep your fire small and with a good bottom of glowing coals. Don’t try to cook over a heap of blazing sticks, you will scorch both your food and yourself if you do. Clear all duffle out of the way and arrange everything necessary for the meal on the table or on a poncho alongside the fire. Things usually go more smoothly if only one person does the cooking.

Remember that water boils at one degree less for each five hundred feet of altitude. At sea level it boils at 212° F., at 7000 feet, at 198° F. About one-half teaspoon less shortening per cup than that called for should be used above 2000 feet. About one-quarter less double-action baking powder per cup, and about one-eighth less tartrate should be used for each 2500 feet of elevation. The amount of sugar used in baking should be decreased slightly, about one-eighth less for each 2500 feet. Liquid should be increased in about the same proportion.





1 cup flapjack flour 
      (or 1 cup plain flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon dried milk,
      1 teaspoonful baking powder) (or as directed on can)
1 tablespoon oil or butter
water to make a soft but not liquid dough
1 teaspoon sugar may be added if desired.

Mix the dry ingredients, add the oil or butter and rub in thoroughly. Rub out all lumps. Add the water, mixing rapidly. Put a little grease in the frying pan and allow it to melt over the surface. Lift out the dough. Dust it lightly with flour, shape it with your hands and put it in the pan. Put it over the fire, which should be of medium intensity, preferably a bed of coals, until it has stiffened sufficiently to stand up in the tipped pan. Prop the pan up before the fire on the downwind side, far enough away so that the bannock will not burn, and allow it to brown. It can be turned around in the pan by lifting it and imparting a sort of twisting jerk to the handle. When nicely browned, lift from the pan and prop up with a stick with the bottom side towards the fire. When it is done, break it up, do not cut it, and allow it to dry out slightly. This is the standard camp bread of stockmen and rangers, and particularly with prepared flour, by far the easiest to make. It may be varied by adding cornmeal, up to one-half the flour, and a third more water; by adding spices, raisins and sugar; by the addition of one fresh egg or one tablespoonful of thoroughly soaked dried egg; or in a number of other ways easily discoverable by experiment.

BISCUITS. The recipe for biscuits is the same as that for bannock; if drop biscuits are desired, a little more water should be added. Do not roll them or cut them. Mold them with the hands, taking care to work the dough as little as possible, or make them soft enough to drop from a spoon. Have the Dutch oven or the reflector hot and the pan well greased. For the Dutch oven, brush the coals off the top, put the biscuits in (in a separate pan), restore the cover and bank coals around the side and on top. The biscuits should be done in about 15 minutes. A reflector usually takes from 5 to 10 minutes longer.

SOURDOUGH. Ten or twelve hours before using, mix two cups of plain flour, a half cake of dried yeast crumbled in a little warm water, a tablespoon of sugar, a handful of raisins, and enough water to form a thick batter (about 1½ cups). Stir thoroughly and put in a can or pot at least three times the size of the resulting batter (a two-pound coffee can is good). Cover with a clean cloth and put in a warm place, in the sun in the daytime, back of the fireplace at night. For best results the batter should stay at a temperature of around 70° F. In about ten hours, or in the morning, the batter should be ready to use, hissing and rumbling at a great rate. For biscuits or bread a cup of flour, a teaspoonful of sugar, a half teaspoonful of salt and a tablespoon of oil or shortening should be added to a cup of the fermented mixture. The dough should be mixed thoroughly and kneaded slightly in the hands, the biscuits or loaf shaped, dusted with flour and allowed to rise for ten minutes. They should not be kneaded down again, but put immediately in the oven. Sourdough biscuits should be done in about twenty minutes in a Dutch oven.

For pancakes a thinner dough is required, about 1½ cups of water to two cups of dry flour. Some schools of thought add a quarter teaspoonful of baking soda to the batter. This is unnecessary, there is quite enough levitation in the yeast. Real sourdoughs make flapjacks of the mixture just as it comes from the souring can. Always leave a half cup of ferment in the can, add a cup of flour and enough warm water to make a batter, and let it set again. I have no idea how long a sourdough can be kept going. There is probably some kind of record in Alaska. Use sourdough if you possibly can, it is much better for you than baking powder, and it is a lot of fun. The souring can will stand transportation in a kyack if it is kept covered with cloth and packed carefully.

FLAPJACKS. Get a good prepared flapjack flour and follow the directions on the package, making the proper allowance for altitude. The fire should be hot and the pan greased just enough to keep them from sticking. Cook them quickly and turn them lightly when the uncooked side has become covered with bubbles. Turn them only once. The more you wrassle with them, the tougher they get. Small flapjacks, several in a pan, are easier to handle than one big one if you use a knife or turner to turn them; one to a pan, of course, if you flip them in the air.

The recipe for biscuits, including the sugar, will do for pancakes made from plain flour if it is diluted to a batter of molasses consistency. The addition of corn meal will improve it greatly.

CORNBREAD. Pancakes and dodgers of cornmeal can be made following the recipes of plain flour, but substituting up to two-thirds dry cornmeal. The cornmeal should be mixed first with enough cold water to make a thick batter, rubbed smooth and then the dry ingredients added. This is the only way you can keep it from getting lumpy.

POTATO CAKES. The secret of making potato pancakes with potato flour is the use of as little water as possible. This can best be found by experimentation. Put a half cup of water in a pan, add potato flour until the dough will take up no more. Add the flour slowly and rub well with a tablespoon. Dust your hands and a board or pie tin with wheat flour, shape the cakes and press them very flat (1¼ inch), salt and pepper them as you would potatoes and fry in a hot pan with plenty of grease. Proceed this way, one-half cup of water at a time, until you have enough. Potato flour dough is very sticky and the hands and board should be kept well floured. Chopped onion, egg, corn beef, etc., may be added to taste.

OATMEAL MUSH. Get quick-cooking (the quicker the better) “toasted” oatmeal and follow the directions on the package. These are usually: one cup of oatmeal, one scant teaspoon salt, added slowly to two cups of vigorously boiling water. This will serve three normal men or two very hungry ones. Cook about three times as long as directed above 5000 feet and add one-third more water. Old-fashioned rolled or steel-cut oats are almost impossible to make edible at high altitudes.

CORNMEAL MUSH. Mix two-thirds of a cup of cornmeal with one cup of cold water, rub out all the lumps, add to two cups of boiling, salted water. Add a spoonful at a time and stir constantly. Cook till thick, about ten minutes, stirring betimes. If more water is used and the meal is cooked longer its digestibility will be improved.

WHEAT HEARTS, WHEAT GERM, ROMAN MEAL, ETC. With all prepared cereals, follow the directions on the package, making allowance for altitude. Wheat germ requires about the same amount of water as oatmeal, but should be cooked for at least 15 minutes.

HOMINY. Soak a cup of hominy overnight in a quart of salted water. Boil for an hour. It may then be fried or eaten with cream and sugar. Some like it, I for one loathe the stuff.

RICE. Wash a cup of rice thoroughly in cold water, drain the water off and put the rice near the fire to get warm. Add it slowly to four cups or more of vigorously boiling salted water. If the water is kept boiling, the rice, as the Chinaman says, will jump around so much it won’t stick. With four cups of water the rice will be done just before it boils dry. Otherwise test it by tasting. It should be light and flaky and soft throughout. If more water is used, drain before proceeding. If weight is an important consideration don’t drain the rice, you will throw away nourishment; let it boil down.

For breakfast, plain boiled rice may be eaten with milk, butter and sugar. For supper, add a level teaspoon of tomato paste (not sauce) for each cup of cooked rice, one tablespoon of oil or butter, paprika to taste. If you use garlic, it may either be added to the boiling rice, or chopped fine and fried in the oil. Onions, salami, dried beef, improve the dish greatly. Just before serving add grated or finely chopped cheese, about an ounce to a cup, and stir in. This is the bulwark of the camp dietary.

MACARONI. Use salad or elbow macaroni; longer varieties break and stick more easily. Be sure to get the best semolina paste; flour paste is not as tasty and burns easily. Follow the recipe for rice. Macaroni usually cooks in less time.

POTATOES. Boiled. Pare them, cut them in two- or three-inch pieces, put them in cold water, bring to a boil and boil for one-half hour, drain. They may then be eaten as is or mashed with a little milk and butter. Small potatoes may be boiled in their jackets.

Fried. Peel the potatoes, slice them very thin and fry in plenty of hot fat. Season while frying. Cold boiled potatoes may be sliced and fried, but they are not as tasty. Drain all surplus fat before serving.

Baked. Wash thoroughly and bake in the Dutch oven, usually about forty minutes.

Roasted. Wrap the unpeeled potatoes in mud or wet sods and put them in the coals. Watch that they don’t burn up. After thirty minutes, puncture them with a sharp splinter, if done they will be soft.

LEGUMES. At high altitudes, beans, dried peas, lentils, etc., can only be cooked in a pressure cooker or a Dutch oven. Allow five or six cups of water, a teaspoon of salt, and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda to a cup of beans. Put them in cold water, bring to a boil and keep boiling. If necessary to add water, have it boiling first. Cold water added while they are cooking will toughen them. Be sure the valve of the pressure cooker is adjusted for altitude, otherwise it is likely to explode and scald you severely.

SOUPS FROM BEAN, SOY BEAN, PEA AND POTATO FLOURS. Get a tablespoonful of oil or butter smoking hot in the frying pan. Add a teaspoonful of flour, stir it well and cook until it browns. Onions, garlic, or chopped bacon or salami may be added at the same time. When the flour is uniformly a light brown, add a cup of hot water, a few tablespoonfuls at a time, and cook until thick. Season to taste. This serves one, increase the proportions as needed. If Vegex or similar bouillons are used, they should be added just before serving; boiling destroys their flavor and vitamin content. Brown gravy is made of plain flour in the same way, except that less water is used.

FRESH VEGETABLES. Wash your fresh vegetables, usually beets, carrots, turnips, etc., before leaving home and remove all waste and bad spots. Wash them again before cooking, slice them and put them in a covered pot with just enough cold, salted water to cover them. The root vegetables will cook in about forty-five minutes, or less, if you prefer them slightly firm.

GREENS (see chapter on “Edible Plants”).

EGGS. Boiled. Put the eggs in vigorously boiling water, cover the pot and set it on the back of the fireplace. They will be done, medium soft, in about fine minutes. Do not allow the heat of the fire to reach the bottom of the pot.

Fried. Use just enough grease to prevent the eggs from sticking and have it hot, but not smoking. Crack the eggs into the pan, cover it and cook on a low fire until done to taste. Eggs so fried do not need to be turned.

Scrambled. Use a tablespoonful of water or milk to each egg. Beat them well and then pour them into a well-greased pan and cook on a low fire. They may either be stirred continuously with a fork or cooked in a covered pan. Season while cooking. If beaten very well and then cooked in a covered pan they are a fair substitute for an omelet. Add the dressing, onions, cheese, chopped meat or fish, before covering. When done on the bottom, turn, or flip in the air if you are an expert flipper.

Poached. Fill the frying pan half full of milk or salted water. Add a teaspoonful of butter. Bring to a boil. Slip the eggs in carefully, cover the pan and cook on a low fire.

BACON. Always cook bacon on a low fire, turning it often. Whatever your preferences in the city, if you are wise you will take your bacon medium-rare in camp. Crisp bacon has most of the grease fried out of it and is much less nourishing and digestible. If you can’t eat bacon that way, at least save the grease and use it in other foods. Except butter, it is the most concentrated food you carry.

MEAT. Stewed. Cut the meat in two-inch cubes. Get the frying pan hot and sear the meat on all sides. Drop it in boiling, unsalted water. Add onions, carrots, turnips, potatoes, etc., to suit. Cook for at least two hours, or until done. Allow the stew to simmer; vigorous boiling will spoil it. When done, salt and season to taste, thicken with a tablespoon of flour which has first been well mixed with a half cup of cold water, return to the fire and allow to cook until thick. Many persons prefer to cook the potatoes separately and add them to the stew at the last.

Roast. Bind the piece of meat well with string, and then either place it on a stick or hang it on a wire in front of, not over, the fire. Put a pan under it to catch the drippings, baste it occasionally with these, and turn it regularly. A light wire, if well twisted, will keep the meat spinning for a long while, when it runs down, twist it again. Salt when done.

Pan broiling. Grease the frying pan or the Dutch oven slightly with some of the suet or fat of the meat, get it very hot and put the meat in. (Leave the cover off the Dutch oven.) Sear the meat well on both sides, and turn it to keep it from sticking. Salt when done.

Baking. Put the meat in a pan, tying it up if necessary, and put it in the hot Dutch oven, bank and cover with coals. Salt when done.

Frying. Meat should never be fried in grease. It should never be salted before or during cooking.

VENISON. Cook venison like other meat. It should be wrapped in salted or alumed burlap and hung to cool for 36 hours before using. “Well-hung” venison is spoiled meat. The taste for it is a relic of medieval, pre-ice box, English hunting.

FISH. In the western mountains these are pretty sure to be trout. Kill your fish as you catch them by cutting through the spine just back of the head. Never leave them in water. Clean them as soon as possible and burn the offal. Most trout do not need to be scaled. If they have been caught in a muddy or log-filled lake, they should however be skinned. Slice through the backbone in a few places to keep them from curling up, and they are ready for cooking.

Steamed. Put the fish in a frying pan with two tablespoons of water, season to taste. Cover and cook on a medium-fast fire. This is the method preferred by old-timers and sourdoughs. The flavor of the fish is interfered with as little as possible and it is quick and easy. If the fish are large, save the milt, roe and livers and cook with the gravy.

Fried. Dredge the fish in flour or cornmeal and cook in deep, hot fat. The fat should brown a bread crumb in about sixty seconds. When brown, remove to a piece of paper and allow to drain. Salt and serve.

Boiled. Large fish may be cut into pieces and boiled. They will usually be done in about twenty minutes. Fish heads make excellent soup stock.

Baked. Prepare as for frying. Cut large fish down the back to the spine. Rub a little salt and seasoning into the flesh along the spine, put in a pan, pour a little oil inside and over the fish and put him in the Dutch oven to bake.

If skinning will not remove the mossy flavor from lake fish, it can usually be expelled by soaking for several hours in strong salt solution, washing and wiping dry.

Fish may be kept for some time by cleaning them well, removing the heads and gills, wiping them thoroughly dry, splitting the back along the backbone and rubbing salt into the flesh, both in the abdomen and along the open back. They should then be wrapped in oiled, or still better, parchment cooking paper, packed in several thicknesses of newspaper, folded securely around them and tied tight, and covered over all with wet burlap. Keep them in a cool, dry place, out of the sun, and keep the burlap wet.

For transportation over considerable distances, for instance, back to the city, they should be “smothered” in salt. Soaking for a short time in two or three waters will remove most of the salt. Leaves, particularly bracken leaves, or even clean grass or hay can be substituted for newspapers. Do not put the fish next to the newspaper or they will acquire a taste of ink.

DRIED FRUIT. Use dried fruit liberally, at every meal if possible. It can be eaten raw for lunches, but for breakfast its flavor and texture will be considerably improved by soaking overnight. Cook in the pressure cooker, or in a covered pot with just enough water to cover the pre-soaked fruit.

TAPIOCA. This is a most innocuous food, popular with orphanages and jails. However, it goes a long ways. Get the minute kind. (The word apparently means “mine ute,” it takes much longer than a minute to cook.) Soak for several hours or overnight if possible. Follow the directions on the package, usually a heaping teaspoonful to a cup of slightly salted, boiling water. Cook until all the granules have become transparent. Add a thin paste of dried milk, sugar to taste, and cooked dried fruit. The addition of an egg, or an equivalent amount of soaked dried egg, to each cup will make tapioca custard. Restore to a low fire and cook for a minute or two. Tapioca can either be eaten warm or allowed to chill.

GELATIN DESSERTS. Follow the directions on the package.

JAM. Add a cup of sugar to each cup of berries (manzanita require the addition of a tablespoon of water), cook until soft on a low fire.

CANNED GOODS. For canned soups, stews, etc., follow the directions on the can. Canned vegetables should be cooked just long enough to bring them to a boil and the liquid should be drunk as broth or saved for soups and stews. Peas and string beans are improved by the addition of butter and a little milk. Beets are good fried in butter. Canned corn may be varied by the addition of butter, egg and grated cheese. Canned corn beef should be cooked in boiling water for about 45 minutes, in the can.

COFFEE. Good coffee is the most important item of the camp diet and it is the easiest thing to spoil. If possible, it should be prepared in an enamelware pot. Make a little bag of flannel, wash it thoroughly before you leave home to remove the sizing and let it soak in some leftover coffee for several hours. Dry it out and keep it very clean. Have the water boiling violently. Measure one rounded tablespoon of coffee for each cup of water. Put it in the bag, tie it up and drop it in the pot. Remove the pot immediately from the fire, cover it and let it set for a few minutes. This is about the only foolproof way to make satisfactory coffee in camp. Never boil coffee.

TEA. Use a teaspoonful of tea to a cup of boiling water. At high elevations allow the tea to boil for about half a minute. Remove from the fire and let settle. Before serving add a couple of tablespoons of cold water. The use of tea bags overcomes any difficulty with grounds; the tea may be purchased already bagged, or a bit of cheesecloth can be carried for the purpose.

COCOA. For each cup of cocoa, mix one rounded teaspoonful of cocoa, one tablespoonful of dried milk and one teaspoonful of sugar with a little cold water. Rub out all the lumps and work into a smooth paste. Add slowly to boiling water. Put on a low fire and simmer for two or three minutes. Add a pinch of salt and a small piece of butter, beat thoroughly with a fork, serve.


One of the great problems of camp life is the lack of fresh vegetables. Promiscuous experimentation with wild plants is unwise, too many are poisonous, or at least sickening. Some are deadly. However there are a few common edible plants, easily distinguishable, fairly palatable, and perfectly safe. The western United States is particularly rich in edible roots and bulbs. Their prominence in the diet of the California Indians is responsible for the colloquial name of Diggers applied to these tribes. Most of them are best eaten before the flower or much of the leaf has appeared, and at such times they are very difficult for the amateur to distinguish from some of their closely similar and extremely virulent relatives. Also, of course, the gathering of roots and bulbs destroys the plants. For these reasons none of these plants will be described. They are unnecessary anyway, it is not starchy tubers that the camp diet lacks, there is always lots of rice and flour, but fresh, leafy vegetables for roughage, minerals and vitamins.

Early in the summer the tender curled shoots of the common bracken can be found in many meadows and river bottoms. They can be distinguished from other ferns by their branching stems and relative freedom from hair or scales. They should be snapped off, if they won’t snap they are too tough, and cooked like asparagus. The water in which they have been cooked is strong and bitter and cannot be used. Sometimes this strong flavor is quite pronounced, it can be overcome by changing the water twice while cooking.

The common dandelion is not very prevalent in the mountains; where it occurs it can be used for greens. The water should be changed in cooking and a little bacon or butter added before serving.

Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), which can be identified by its broad, pale bluish-green, wooly leaves, is another good potherb when very young. This plant contains a poisonous principle which is harmful to stock; boiling in two or three waters seems to expel it, as I have never suffered from eating it. The matured plant is tough and fibrous and probably poisonous.

The docks, particularly curly dock (Rumex oripus) and wild rhubarb (Rumex humenosepalus), with long narrow leaves with prominent midribs, arranged in a rosette, and panicles of greenish red inconspicuous blossoms, are both good potherbs.

Alpine sorrel (Oxyria digyna), similar to the docks, but much smaller and with kidney-shaped leaves, usually of a pronounced reddish hue, is common at high elevations. The succulent leaves have a pleasant acid flavor and can be eaten raw.

All plants of the mustard family are edible, some raw, others cooked. The “wild cabbages” are best. They can be distinguished by their small four-pedaled flowers, clustered on a loose spike and usually bright yellow or orange, and their “lyrate” lower leaves. This botanical term refers to the one to four pairs of small leaf segments along the stem, terminated by a large oval segment.

Miner’s lettuce, a low pale green herb, usually growing in large clumps, is probably the best western salad vegetable. It is easily identified by the peculiar double leaves which unite around the stem like flattened bowls. Each stem is surmounted by a loose raceme of small white flowers. When young and tender it is very delicious and can be used in any way that lettuce can. Older plants can be cooked as a potherb.

The young shoots of false hellebore which fill mountain meadows in the early summer, and are known locally as “skunks’ cabbage,” have a very edible look. They are supposed to be poisonous, however, and should be left alone.

Wild raspberries and blackberries are common on burnt-over land, particularly in the Northwest, where they sometimes cover hundreds of acres. They have a better flavor than most domestic varieties. Best use leather gloves when gathering them.

Related to the raspberry are the broad, rough-leaved thimble and salmon berries. They have a rather insipid flavor, but they are easy to gather and often grow in great profusion in shady creek bottoms.

Wild gooseberries, easily identified by the thorns which protrude from the skin of the berry, are very good in jam after they have been strained. Eating them raw is a rather tedious process. If covered with little dusty spots they are infected with rust, may be toxic, and should not be eaten.

There are several species of wild currants in the western mountains, all are reputedly edible, though I have been sickened or rather mildly poisoned by eating them, when they were infected with rust which was still invisible.

The berries of the black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) are edible when perfectly ripe, usually in mid-August. They belong to the family of potato, tomato and egg plant. The fruits look rather like small purple-black tomatoes. When ripe they have a rich, mildly sweet flavor; when immature (even though the berry is black) the flavor is flat, slightly astringent, and unpleasant. The unripe berries are poisonous, so it is best to use great caution.

The service berry or shad bush, a red-twigged shrub with toothed leaves something like an apple leaf and pulpy, blackish, round fruits about ¼ inch in diameter, was a favorite with the Indians. The flavor is sickly and insipid to most tastes.

Manzanita, one of the most beautiful and conspicuous shrubs of the western mountains, produces a tiny apple-shaped berry which has a pleasant acid flavor. Raw, the berries are rather dry and mealy, but they make fine jam or they can be made into “lemonade.” There are many species of manzanita, but they all have red or chocolate brown, smooth and shining limbs, and pale green, round or oval leaves, usually brighter on one side than the other. The contorted and twisted branches form dense, practically impenetrable thickets everywhere in the mountains.

Huckleberries are common in some mountain meadows, but they are seldom ripe before the hunting season. Look for them under the [illegible word].

Wild cherries and wild plums are probably harmless, but they are very bitter and unpleasant.

In desert regions, the fruit of several cacti, particularly the “prickly pears” which grow on the opuntias, are edible. They should be picked with gloves or knocked off with a stick and then thoroughly singed in the open fire. They can then be peeled safely, or cut open and eaten with a spoon. Do not eat the skin.

There are few species of nut-bearing deciduous trees in the western mountains. All pines bear edible nuts, those of the Digger pine and the one-leaved pinon are particularly delicious. The unopened cones should be gathered in the fall and roasted in the ashes. This will force them open and the nuts can be easily removed.

The wild hazel, a loose spreading shrub, 6 to 10 feet tall, with thin, roundish toothed leaves, 1½ to 4 inches across and covered with hairs, can be found occasionally in the mountains. The nuts are borne in a hairy capsule about 1 inch long. Another shrub, Simmondsia californica, common in the mountains along the desert, is also called wild hazel. It is an evergreen, with narrow, ovoid, grayish-green leaves. When ripe the seeds are expelled from the capsule and drop to the ground. Squirrels usually get there before you do.

The acorn was the principal staple of the California Indians. Unfortunately all western acorns contain too much tannin to be eaten raw. This can be removed by shelling the nuts, grinding or crushing them as fine as possible, and then putting the meal in a cloth bag and leaving it in running water overnight. The resulting dough can be boiled into mush or baked in cakes. The flat taste is improved by a little salt, sugar and spice.

The fruit of the California buckeye is naturally very poisonous. The poison can be removed by breaking the nuts up, leaching them, cooking them, and then leaching them again. The result hardly repays the trouble. The buckeye is one of the most conspicuous shrubs of the chaparral. The leaves drop early, and the nuts, which are held in a fleshy capsule shaped like a small pear, hang to the bare tree until late fall.

The best beverage plant in the western mountains is Labrador tea, a low shrub with thickly clustered narrow leaves, pale brown on the underside, which grows about most high mountains lakes. It is an excellent substitute for tea and was popular with early settlers wherever it was found. The leaves should be crushed and about three teaspoonfuls used to a cup. It is toxic to stock and the use of large quantities or strong infusions is probably harmful to humans.

The blossoms of various species of ceanothus, called wild lilac, deer brush or snow brush, found throughout the chaparral, are a good substitute for soap. The leaves are small, toothed, more or less of an oval, and often leathery. The flowers are very conspicuous, minute, but borne in loose, showy clusters. They have a penetrating perfume which somewhat resembles certain cheap soaps.



Avoid all members of the parsley family, the umbelliferae. Not all of them are poisonous, but some of them, for instance the hemlock of Socrates, are fatal. They can be identified by the flattened clusters of flowers and seeds (umbels), and the large, deeply divided or compound leaves. Let all bulbs alone, several are deadly. Don’t eat the “beans” of lupines, a very few are edible, the rest are poisonous. Don’t experiment with mushrooms. With the exception of raspberries, thimble berries and manzanita, eat no berries excessively. (Never more than a cup.) Gather only those potherbs you can identify. The practice of making “a mess of greens” out of any succulent-looking herbage is exceedingly dangerous. Don’t try to “inoculate” yourself against poison oak by chewing the leaves or making tea of them. This is a legend started by some vicious practical prankster. Theoretically it should work, but you might be too sick to care.


Chapter 8 of Kenneth Rexroth’s Camping in the Western Mountains (unpublished manuscript, ca. 1939). Copyright 2003. Reproduced by permission of the Kenneth Rexroth Trust.