May 6, 1:00 pm.
Today is a glorious day and I am out looking at the flowers that are blooming in the Little Lake Valley. It is the peak of the Blue Camas bloom, Camassia quamash, a perennial with leaves emerging from a persistent bulb in a basal rosette. This is the definition from Wikipedia but there is so much more to this plant than the botanic description!
In many books I have read, this plant is a historically important food source for many tribes of Native Americans such as the Nez Perce Indians. The genus name, Camassia, comes from a Nez Perce word, Qém’es and means “sweet”. After being harvested in the autumn, once the flowers have withered, the bulbs are pit-roasted or boiled. pit-cooked camas bulb looks and tastes something like a bake sweet potato, but sweeter, and with more crystalline fibers due to the presence of inulin in the bulbs. The bulbs can be dried and then pounded into flour.
This wonderful plant was also an important food source for the Lewis and Clark expedition and may have been responsible for the survival of some of its members!
There are still huge fields of Camas in the Great Basin area. and in many other valleys of California where there is a high water table into the late spring, but theses fields were greatly reduced by the farming practices of letting large herds of cows and pigs into the blooming fields too early.
Some areas of our valley, during the Blue Camas bloom were referred to, on maps, as the “Sea of Blue” by the botanists who did the first botanical surveys for the bypass in 1992. Today it continues to look like a “sea of blue” as I watch the Tule elk cavorting in the Camas up to their bellies, and some with only their head and ears above the blooms, I am thoughtful of this marvelous food source above and below ground for them and for us.