The Methow Valley in north central Washington is a paradise of plants that explodes with color during the short period between the bitter cold winters and the dry dusty summers. For the last several years on mother’s day weekend, Katrina and I have traveled over the Cascade Crest to explore eastside edibles, hunt for morels, and participate in the Sunflower Run. The snowpack on Highway 20 was so deep this year that it took crews until May 8th to clear the road. Similarly, the wildflowers were delayed in their phenology. I had the pleasure of catching the Yellow Bells (Fritillaria pudica) in bloom for the first time in the Methow Valley, and got my first taste of this delicate but filling root vegetable.
|Immature seed capsule|
|Yellow Bell bulb with bulblets|
Yellow Bells are probably a traditional food among all the Native American tribes that share the plant's range. The Nlaka’pamux (Thompson), Shuswap, Syilx (Okanogan), Spokan, Paiute, Blackfoot, and Ute ate the bulbs fresh, steamed, or boiled (Moerman). The Nlaka’pamux and Sylix welcomed the flowers as an early sign of spring, and immediately collected the bulbs (Teit 1930) along with those of Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum); these roots were often steamed in an earthen pit for 15 minutes and then sun dried on mats for use throughout the rest of the year (Turner et al. 1980; Turner et al. 1990).
|Mt. Potato (left) and Yellow Bell (right)|
|A lineup of Yellow Bell bulbs, the one on the left still has the basal disc attached|
Yellow Bells have a similar nutrient profile to a potato but have 50 percent more protein, six times as much calcium, and nearly 30 times more iron (Norton et al. 1984). At 64 calories per 100g fresh weight, Yellow Bell bulbs have more caloric value than Common Camas (61 cal/100g) but less than Northern Riceroot (98 cal/100g). Yellow Bells are slightly higher in fat and much higher in calcium but lower in carbohydrates than both Common Camas and Northern Riceroot (Kuhnlein and Turner 1991).
Biota of North America Program, North American Vascular Flora, North American Plant Atlas, Fritillaria pudica distribution
Calflora, Taxon Report 3641, Fritillaria pudica
Consortium of Pacific Northwest Herbaria, Fritillaria pudica
Kuhnlein, Harriet V. and Nancy J. Turner 1991. “Traditional Plant Foods of Canadian Indigenous Peoples, Nutrition, Botany, and Use.” Food and Nutrition in History and Anthropology, Volume 8, Gordon and Breach Publishers.
Moerman, Dan. “Native American Ethnobotany” University of Michigan Herbarium.
Norton, Helen H., Eugen S. Hunn, C. S. Martinsen, and P. B. Keely 1984. “Vegetable Food Products of the Foraging Economies of the Pacific Northwest.” Ecology of Food and Nutrition, Volume 14, pages 219-228.
Teit, James 1930. “Ethnobotany of the Thompson Indians of British Columbia.” Annual report of the Bureau of American Ethnology to the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, US Government Printing Office, Washington DC.
Turner, Nancy J. Randy Bouchard, and Dorothy Kennedy 1980. “Ethnobotany of the Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington.” Occasional Paper Series No. 21, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria BC.
Turner, Nancy J., Laurence C. Thompson, M. Terry Thompson, and Annie Z. York 1990. “Thompson Ethnobotany, Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia.” Royal British Columbia Museum Memoir No. 3. Victoria, BC.