Adopt a Native Plant

Native plants make good neighbors.

I did not always appreciate the beauty of native plants and how integral they are to the wellbeing of the communities in which they reside, but I do now.

A native plant is a plant or tree that is adapted to live in the soil and climate of a particular region (small or large) and that can co-exist with neighboring plants and animals without being killed off or taking over. Native plants are good for the environment because they do not require extra inputs like water, synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides. They help nourish the soil, prevent erosion, maintain biodiversity, and provide habit and food for local wildlife and people.

It was not as if I woke up one morning thinking “Wow, native plants are beautiful. I need to learn more about them.” The appreciation for native plants just sort of crept up on me after several years of living in the Monterey pine forest of the California Central Coast.

I am originally from Southern California where my spouse and I doggedly defied the hot dry climate by maintaining not one, but two turf grass lawns. We also tended two dozen rose bushes, a few hydrangeas, and a bed of azaleas. The venerable old oak tree in the corner of the backyard might have been the only native plant on the property.

As you can imagine, moving from a manicured yard to a wild one took some getting used to. What you might call a weed, we call grass. Plant and tree seedlings volunteer to live wherever the wind blows their seeds or an animal deposits them. Birds visit daily to avail themselves of our birdbaths and deer cruise through in search of food and sometimes to hang out.

By observing the land surrounding our house and nearby open spaces, I saw that some plants seemed to flourish growing with a variety of different plants, while other plants seemed to be trying to hog a whole area just for themselves. I realized that I did not know much about native and invasive plants and that even our tiny piece of land might need a hand to be at its best.

I set out to educate myself by reading, joining the California Native Plant Society, and participating in events that provide me with opportunities to learn about native plants.

In October, my spouse and I attended the fall session of the Chumash Kitchen series being held at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. The Chumash people have lived in this area for thousands of years so what could be better than learning about native plants from Violet and Jeanette, two Chumash women who live here now. That day it was all about oaks and acorns. I came away informed and inspired to write Thanksgiving – We are All Connected.

We pick up the thread of the Chumash Kitchen story on a cool February morning that quickly turned into a hot day.

The Chumash Kitchen

The winter session of the Chumash Kitchen began with the group gathering outside and forming a rough circle so that Violet could give us a rundown of the morning including a few hints about the native foods we would be enjoying at breakfast and lunch.

I had left my sweater inside and was feeling a bit chilled but there was no way I was going to break the circle to go get it. I forgot I was cold after Violet introduced her father, Fred, and he began telling stories about growing up in this area. Fred is a good storyteller and I think he could have entertained us indefinitely, but Violet gave him a gentle sign that he needed to wrap things up so we could all go eat breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of tasty rice, egg, and mushroom dishes made with locally harvested and foraged ingredients. I bypassed the coffee urn to try some tea made with cedar and Yerba Buena. The tea was both warm and refreshing with a slightly minty taste and a cedar fragrance.

We Meet a Toyon

After breakfast, the group set out across the grass of the adjacent park to a nearby campground to meet a plant commonly known as Toyon and called Qwe’ by the Chumash people. In the midst of winter, this 12-foot tall Toyon was glorious with evergreen leaves and branches laden with tiny ripe red berries.

Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon
Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon at El Chorro Regional Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Easily passing the conversation back and forth, Jeanette and Violet shared information about Toyons, which are native to California and especially enjoy growing with oak trees. Besides being beautiful, we learned that Toyons provide habitat and food for a wide variety of wildlife as well as food, medicine, tools, and fuel for people.

Jeanette talked about how the Chumash and other indigenous people have been tending wild native plants and trees for thousands of years by gathering seeds, planting, weeding, pruning, transplanting, harvesting, and sometimes burning. When pruning a plant or harvesting from it, Chumash people give an offering of some sort, which could be a drink of water, a pinch of tobacco, a prayer, or even a piece of hair.

The Three Yerba Sisters

With the sun now bright and hot, we walked back to a cool shady area on the botanical garden grounds to learn about three California native medicinal plants and then go meet them. As Jeanette and Violet talked about the healing properties of Yerba Buena, Yerba Mansa, and Yerba Santa, they stressed that using plants for medicinal purposes is not like taking pills.

Pharmaceutical pills usually address a narrow range of ailments, have specific dosages, and are uniform in size, color, and ingredients. A plant may have many medicinal uses as well as be a source of food for people and wildlife and it is a living being so each plant in the family will have similar traits but none will be exactly alike. It is important to get to know the plant and to help care for it, after all, it is giving a part of itself for your benefit.

Yerba Santa Plant Growing at San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Santa Growing at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After learning about the Yerba sisters, Lindsey from the botanical garden led us on a joyful walk through the garden to meet the plants.

She also gave us some background about the botanical garden, which showcases plants and trees from five Mediterranean climates like our own.

We headed back to the event center for a sumptuous lunch prepared by Violet and a talented group of volunteers.

Bountiful Lunch

The day before the event, a hardworking group of volunteers had done some of the meal prep work, which included removing two itsy bitsy seeds from each Toyon berry that had previously been picked and dried.

Chumash Kitchen Lunch Plate Full of Delicious Food
Chumash Kitchen Plate Full of Delicious Food – Photo Credit charmainecoimbra.com

After the food was blessed, our plates were filled with delicious looking and smelling food. A creamy gravy with ground bison was poured over rice. This was accompanied by sautéed greens and roasted root vegetables with a Toyon vinaigrette.

Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries
Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

For dessert, we were treated to a chocolate crepe topped with rose hip infused whipped cream and a lovely handcrafted chocolate rosette.

A sweet syrup made with Toyon berries was dotted around the plate and drizzled over the top.

The dessert looked almost too good to eat, but we did eat it and it was scrumptious.

Full of information and replete with delicious food, we were sent off with a tiny Yerba Buena seedling of our own to get to know and tend.

Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Get to Know a Native Plant

Meeting the Toyon was an auspicious occasion for me.

Even though I have seen hundreds of Toyons while living on the Central Coast, I had not met one until last December during my first native plant walk with the California Native Plant Society. Toyon was the very first plant pointed out on the trail. Later in the month, my spouse and I planted two Toyon seedlings in our yard as part of our tradition of planting two trees each year during the Christmas season.

I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to meet a grown-up Toyon that had been living at its location for many years and was obviously thriving. Better yet, was learning about Toyons from two Chumash women whose ancestors have been living with Toyons for centuries.

Over the past couple of months, I have developed a special affinity for Toyons that I cannot explain. When we got home, I filled up a watering can and gave the two small Toyons growing in your yard a drink and a few words of encouragement.

You can help native plants flourish in your community by adopting a native plant or two.

Learn about native plants at your local botanical garden, native plant society, or nursery. Select a native plant that appeals to you. Locate a suitable place for the plant to live in your yard. Get to know your native plant and tend it. Alternately, introduce yourself to a plant or tree living in the wild and adopt it.

Featured Image at Top: Toyon with Ripe Red Berries at El Chorro Regional Park Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA

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Green Twist on 10 Healthy Eating New Year’s Resolutions

A healthy lifestyle requires a healthy Earth.

If you are contemplating a 2018 New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, consider doing it in an environmentally friendly way that helps Earth be healthier, too.

The top New Year’s resolutions usually fall into three categories: health, money, or time. In the health category, popular resolutions include losing weight, exercising more, and living a healthier lifestyle. I believe healthy eating is the foundation for those three goals. First, no matter what advertisers tell you, you will not lose weight unless you eat healthy, too. Second, eating healthy will give you the energy you need to exercise and lastly, a healthy lifestyle includes healthy eating.

In this post, you can explore ten potential healthy eating New Year’s resolutions that are also good for the planet.

10 Planet Friendly Healthy Eating New Year’s Resolutions

These New Year’s resolution suggestions are about actions not specific food and beverage recommendations. Some may seem weird to you, but I hope you will find a least one that makes you think, “Yes, I can and want to do that.”

Abstain from Aluminum

No substance that you need for healthy eating comes in an aluminum can.

Aluminum is a valuable material that has an enormous environmental footprint. You can read about the process of making aluminum and the environmental issues associated with it in the post, Aluminum Beverage Cans – Environmental Impact. It is incredibly wasteful to use aluminum to make a can that you open, drink the contents, and then get rid of, even if you recycle the can, which most people do not do.

New Year’s Resolution: Stop buying anything that comes in aluminum cans, forever.

Composting Can Change Your Choices

You can make good use of the peels and rinds from all the fresh fruits and vegetables you will be consuming as part of your quest to eat healthier.

Instead of tossing produce scraps in your trash or grinding them up in your garbage disposal, consider composting them to create a nutritious treat for the soil in your yard or your neighbor’s.

The act of putting a spoiled potato or banana in your compost pail could change the way you shop for produce and reduce food waste in your household.

If you think composting is something other people should do, read the post, Composting Made Easy – Tips from an Unlikely Composter (that is I) and then see if you are willing to try it.

New Year’s Resolution: Set up a composting bin in your yard or on your patio and put all your fruit and vegetable scraps in it.

Do-it-Yourself Dining

Preparing and Cooking a Meal to Eat at HomeTake control of what goes into and stays out of your food by preparing your own meals.

You select the recipes, choose the ingredients, read the package/jar labels, season to your taste, and decide on your own portion sizes. Plus, chances are you do not have unpronounceable additives in your pantry that may improve the shelf life of processed foods but do nothing for your health.

When you dine at home or take your lunch to school or work, you can choose foods with less packaging, eat on reusable tableware, and reduce food waste.

New Year’s Resolution: Make at least one meal a week yourself. If one meal a week is too easy, then up the difficulty of your resolution. For instance, if you usually eat lunch out during the workweek; bring your own lunch at least three days a week.

Find it at the Farmer’s Market

Imagine buying a head of lettuce or a peach picked at the peak of ripeness and deliciousness the day before you buy it. Fresh fruits and vegetables are the star attractions at the over 8,600 farmers markets in the United States, which makes it easy for you to choose healthy food.

When you buy food directly from the people who grow and produce it, you are saving energy, water, fuel, waste, and supporting farmers in your own community. If you are worried that shopping at the farmers market might be too expensive or time-consuming, read the post 5 Reasons to Shop at the Farmers Market and then decide if you want to give it a whirl.

New Year’s Resolution: At least once a month, shop at a farmers market near where you live or work. Depending on the climate, farmers markets may operate year round or only in warmer months.

Healthy Hydration Habit

You probably already know that drinking water is important to your health. Keeping water within your reach at all times, in a glass or reusable bottle, makes staying hydrated easier and almost automatic.

In most areas in the United States, tap water is inexpensive and safe to drink. If you do not like the “taste” of your tap water, use a filtering pitcher or install an osmosis system. Before you dash out to the store to stock up on cases of bottled water, please consider its environmental and social implications.

New Year’s Resolution: Stay hydrated without buying water in a disposable container (a recyclable container is still disposable).

Look for Local

The next time you are shopping for groceries, make a point of looking for and buying produce grown locally.

Grocery Market Locally Grown Produce SectionThis makes it easy for you to select fruits and vegetables that are in season, freshly picked and did not travel on an airplane in route to your market. Local meat, eggs, dairy, bread, and processed foods (like spaghetti sauce) are also good choices.

If you cannot find locally sourced produce at your regular grocery store, try shopping at a co-op, natural food store, or family-owned market.

New Year’s Resolution: Once a month, buy only fruits and vegetables that were grown locally or switch from a national brand of a packaged food to a locally or regionally made product.

Make Some Meals Meatless

I think most people know that eating vegetables, beans, fruits, nuts, and whole grains are part of a healthy eating plan, yet Americans do not seem to eat enough of these foods. One simple (but not necessarily easy) way to eat more plants is to devote less space on your plate to meat or to push it completely off the plate. This does not mean you have to start eating tofu or kale, unless you want to, which I do not.

Nowadays, most Americans are far removed from where our food comes from so you may not realize that eating meat has a ginormous and far-reaching environmental impact. Out of the ten suggested resolutions in this post, eating less meat is probably the best thing you can do for your own health and Earth’s.

New Year’s Resolution: At least once a week, for one meal, fill your plate with plants and no meat.

Opt for Organic

For most of human history, farmers grew food organically meaning without pesticides, genetically modified organisms, or sewage sludge and they did not need to wear hazmat suits at work.

Nowadays, thanks to organic food fans demanding and buying organic food for several decades, it is now widely available and reasonably affordable. Farmers markets, co-ops, and CSA shares are good sources of organic food and even national grocery market chains and big box stores are stocking at least some organic food, especially produce.

New Year’s Resolution: Switch to buying the organic version of one type of fruit, vegetable or other food product each month of the year.

Sign Up for a CSA Share

Envision yourself picking up or having delivered to you a box of freshly picked seasonal produce each week during the growing season where you live.

Fresh winter produce from weekly CSA share.If this appeals to you, then consider signing up for a CSA (community supported agriculture) share from a local farm in your area. Some CSAs will include fish, dairy, meat, or other local food products.

New Year’s Resolution: Locate a local farm that has a CSA program and then sign up for one year.

Ugly is Undervalued

American farmers do not even harvest over 10 million tons of food a year because it does not meet USDA voluntary standards for size, shape, and color, which wastes all the energy, water, and people power that went into growing it.

The fledgling ugly food movement is trying to change our perception of what constitutes edible food. This could lead to more food being harvested and made available to feed more people.

New Year’s Resolution: Join the ugly food movement. At least once a month, make a point of seeking out and buying weird and ugly looking produce like three-legged carrots or weirdly shaped apples.

I hope this post gave you some ideas about how you can put a green twist on your healthy eating New Year’s resolution for 2018. You can learn how to make a specific and measurable resolution and get tips on healthy eating by reading the posts New Year’s Resolution – Make it SMARTER and The Secret to Making Healthy Eating Easy.

What is my New Year’s resolution for this year? I am pondering a resolution involving sugar, something along the lines of learning about the environmental impact of the sugar industry or trying to figure out what constitutes a reasonable daily amount of sugar and then eating only that amount. Clearly, this is too broad and undefined for a New Year’s resolution so perhaps I need to reread the SMARTER post myself.

Happy New Year!

Featured Image at Top: Healthy Eating Vegetable Stir-Fry Dish – Photo Credit iStock/Mizina

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