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David mentioned eating camas root when he was away on the mountain. Here's some information.

Leeds University info on Camas

Camassia quamash. QUAMASH is a beautiful bulbous plant that grows about 2ft tall and flowers in early summer. It belongs to the onion family (though it does not taste like it) and the flowers look a little bit like a bluebell. Plants can succeed in short grass, so long as this is not to vigorous, and can therefore be grown in the light shade of a tree in the lawn. Do not cut the grass during the time when the bulbs come into growth until they die down in mid summer. Quamash bulbs are about the size of a small onion, they are rich in starch and develop a very nice sweet flavour when slowly baked. They can also be eaten raw but their texture is not then to my liking, being somewhat gummy. Quamash was a staple food of the N. American Indians. Local tribes would move to the quamash fields in the early autumn and, whilst some people harvested the bulbs, others would dig a pit, line it with boulders then fill it with wood and set fire to it. The fire would heat the boulders and the harvested bulbs would then be placed in the pit and the whole thing covered with earth and the bulbs left to cook slowly for 2 days. The pit would then be opened and the Indians would feast on the bulbs until they could no longer fit any more in their stomachs. Whatever was left would be dried and stored for winter use. We are intending to experiment with growing quamash in an orchard - the plants will have died down before the first apples are harvested and so will not get in the way. The bulbs should increase of their own accord and then we can harvest them in much the same way as the Indians, though we might not eat them in quite the same way!


Northwest Natives


Camassia quamash by Mary Ann Spahr

Autumn! Time to plant those bulbs! Why not plant some native Camassia quamash or Camassia leichtlinii and add some wonderful splashes of blue to deep blue purple color among all those rainbow colored tulips except for true blue ones that is and those white and yellow hued daffodils? Or maybe you have a sunny area that is wet and boggy in the winter and spring but becomes bone dry during the summer and starts to become wet again with the autumn rains. Wouldn't that area become more pleasant if it were covered with masses of blue flowers peeking out from among the young grasses?

Camassia quamash or Common Camas and Camassia leichtlinii, Great Camas, are native to the rainshadow climates of the Pacific Northwest from southeast Vancouver Island to California. Camas once thrived on the Coventry Prairie which may have been managed or "owned" by local tribes as a traditional food source. Certainly one of the major reasons for the occasional firing of the prairie was to ensure a bountiful camas harvest. An indication of the former abundance of this bulb is indicated by a June 12, 1806 entry from the journal of Meriwether Lewis and I quote "The quawmash is now in blume and from the colour of its bloom at a short distance it resembles lakes of fine clear water, so complete in this deseption that on first sight I could have sworn it was water." When the camas in the prairies of south Fort Lewis, now open to the public, are in bloom in late May, the viewer with some imagination may approximate the former glory.

Camas is native to sunny moist meadows, marshes, grassy slopes and fields from low to middle elevations, but thrives in my sunny perennial bed with no extra care and even blooms but not so readily in my bed that receives the spring sun until the lilac bush and the huge Sweet Gum tree leaf out and transform the area into deep shade. Plant the bulbs 4 to 6" deep in a rather heavy soil in an area where they will not be disturbed. Camas requires lots of water while it is growing which means you do nothing because camas starts to grow roots as soon as our natural moisture comes and the weather cools in the fall and slowly metabolizes all winter in this area where our ground does not usually freeze especially at depths of 4 inches or more. During the spring rains and warming sun, the bulbs stuffed with plant food burst into bloom and then go dormant as the life giving rains cease. Like most bulbs, camas requires this period of dormancy.

A member of the Lily Family, Camas is a hyacinth-like herb with flower stalks that are taller than the leaves which are basal, broadly linear ( grass-like) and 3 to 15 inches long. The deep onion like bulbs are 1 to 2 inches long with a tendency to form clumps in good growing conditions. The showy, 6-parted flower may be all shades of blue to violet sometimes white. There are many individual star-like flowers 1 1/2 inches across with 6 showy yellow to blue anthers, in a loose terminal cluster. When reviewing my sources for this article, it became somewhat apparent that the Great Camas is more likely to be white although it certainly varies according to the source, with "Sunset Western Garden Book" suggesting that the blue Great Camas is a variety of the white, etc. Apparently there is also a form available from the San Juan Islands that is a very deep blue.

Plant a native bulb! Feed the denizens of earth and bog, attract those insects for your feathered friends and enjoy a traditional Native-American source of carbohydrates if you wish.

Copyright (C) , Mary Ann Spahr
Native Origins Nursery
1129 Water Street
Raymond, Washington 98577
(360) 942-0027
All rights reserved.

-- Anonymous, February 02, 2002

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