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Stalking the wily Lomatium

By Andrew Rodman

With rising concerns about infectious diseases, I have been wondering about what the natives of the Northwest have used to ward off seasonal afflictions.
A chance encounter with seed breeder Alan Kapuler hinted at the wonders of the pestle parsnip Lomatium nudicaule. 


First, I had to climb the mountain, or in this case visit his farm, to untangle the story of how the plant was found, and learn about tuning into the quieter plant frequencies. 


Alan and Linda with daughter Dylana and son in law Mario DiBenedetto, run Peace Seeds farm outside of Corvallis.


Of Lomatium, the Plants for a Future website (www.pfaf.org) notes that “The seeds are analgesic, diaphoretic, febrifuge, laxative and pectoral. They have been chewed in the treatment of fevers, colds and sore throats.” Of its other qualities, “The immature seed is chewed as a refreshing snack and can be used as a flavouring in soups. The vitamin C content of young plants is remarkably high, one cup providing more than the recommended daily allowance”.
I am no herbalist, but I could get behind this.


The day was brisk and muddy when Alan gave me a tour of his unheated greenhouse, which sported a near tropical oasis of greenery, including a 15-year old Meyer lemon tree, and a wealth of herbaceous medicinals.
There could indeed be magic within these plastic walls.


Alan’s tour was rather freeform, drifting from one wonder to another. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Seeing as my host entered Yale at 16, earned a doctorate in molecular biology at Rockefeller University, and dropped out in the late 60s to study plant breeding -I expected some degree of genius eccentricity. 


The tour came back around to the Lomatium they were growing.
 I asked him where they originally got the seed?


“On Hwy 26, where you come out on the high desert there, out near the Descutes there is a patch with several patches of nudicaule growing. You go in the wild, and you can identify them by their unique foliage. They are very distinctive, from 40 feet away you can spot them.”


Alan moseyed over behind a thick patch of lemon verbena. “Gather information about the plants and get the right identification...Abrams has drawings of them.” (meaning Illustrated Flora of the Pacific States, by Leroy Abrams --Stanford Univ. Press, 1960).


Alan recalled passing the seeds on to a friend, who “met the daughter of one of the old chiefs. She smelled the seeds, and said her grandfather used to carry them around with him all the time,”


Me: “So you eat the seeds?”


Alan: “You chew the seeds up. If you read about the ethnobiology of the Pacific NW, these were known medicinal plants.”


“Mario planted a small one under a black walnut tree in our yard five years ago, and they are still growing. Last year we planted 15 kinds of nudicaule seed, aliums, onions. It is just practical home medicine.”


So much of the work of Peace Seeds is in breeding rare and heirloom varieties, preserving vanishing ecological marvels.


Alan continued, “There is a book called Wild Beauty: Photographs of the Columbia River Gorge, 1867–1957 ( by Terry Toedtemeier and John Laursen) with photographs prior to the highways, photos of native’s villages on the bluff, and what their lives where like back then. It was a marvelously beautiful place when the river ran free.”


From where I stood, what I was hearing was not the Columbia, but rather a river of cars just beyond the farm’s entrance, running on the freeway from Corvallis to 1-5. I must have driven past this farm thousands of times without noticing the tender treasures thriving in this mini oasis.


Alan went on, “there was Ceilio Falls, a holy place where people would meet. If you have ever been to a really big waterfall, you can’t hear yourself think.
Everybody has to have a way to stop themselves from thinking for a while, where you can just have reverence for the power of nature.”

Peace Seeds can be found at 
www.ps02.cn.

 

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