Edible California: Acorns, Willow Bark, and Invasive Figs

We’ve run into so many beautiful plants and flowers here in Central California that I thought I’d focus on some of them today. I’m not including the plants I photographed and fell in love with at the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum because they are cultivated New Zealand natives and not generally found outside of the arboretum. If you haven’t already read that blog post, you can check it out here.

IMG_1963Oak Trees

Coming from the Northwest, we don’t really have oak trees. Here in Central California they are everywhere! My understanding is that most, but not necessarily all, oak trees have edible acorns. According to the EthnoHerbalist, the California (or Coast) Live Oak is one of those and an article on Bay Nature includes a few others. The most common use for acorns is to dry and prepare them as flour or meal for use in soups, breads, etc. EthnoHerbalist’s article even said the local Native People used to toast the ground acorns and make a sort of coffee with them. (I’d say more like tea since there’s no caffeine). Have you ever had roasted corn tea? It’s amazing! I bet the acorn tea/coffee would be just as heavenly. If anyone makes some, please send me a sampler!

Besides the above two articles, Native American Netroots has a great article on the traditional uses and preparation of acorns including a recipe for acorn pancakes.

Art is also a popular use of acorns. You can glue them or drill holes to create necklaces, wreaths, centerpieces, and more. Use your imagination and combine them with other items! There are tons of sites out there that give suggestions and ideas for preparing and using acorns for crafts. Have fun and send me pics of your artwork here or on our Wandering Gants Facebook page!


I LOVE willow. It’s been one of my absolute favorite trees since early childhood. It’s one tree I absolutely did not expect to see in this arid landscape. I associate willow so closely with water that I couldn’t imagine it would be here, so I was happily surprised when I came across them in our campground! The one here is Salix laevigata Bebb – Polished Willow or Red Willow.

A Native friend of mine once told me that Red Willow is often used as part of smoking blends for pipe. Sure enough, you can find them all over the Internet. My understanding is it can help with nausea, among others things, and people undergoing chemotherapy like to smoke it regularly.

Willow bark contains salicyclic acid, which is what aspirin was originally made from. It’s anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing, so you could use it for anything you’d take aspirin for. In fact, I take willow tincture regularly to decrease inflammation. It’s also known to be antiseptic, so is a good remedy for wounds and even makes a good mouthwash. I could go on and on about the benefits of willow, but Elise Krohn of Wild Foods and Medicines has a fantastic article on harvesting and working with willow for medicine. Hop on over to her site if you want to learn more.

Ice Plant Carpobrotus edulis no edits 2Ice Plant

According to Richters, Carpobrotus edulis is a non-native, invasive plant originally from South Africa. It was brought here to stabilize the sand dunes and they went nuts – as so often occurs when we try to control Mother Nature.

That said, Richters and others do say it has medicinal benefits. The fruit is apparently similar to a fig (another name for it is Hottentot Fig) and can be made into a jam, chutney, cooked, or eaten raw. Others say to pickle the succulent leaves, though they’re similar to aloe (slimy); so you may not like it very much. The leaves may be more useful externally. They’re astringent (drying) and people say they’re antiseptic, so they could be used for things you want to dry out and clean (cuts, insect bites, and its even been suggested as treatment for sunburn or ringworm.)

I don’t know what the local government says about harvesting Ice Plant, but I know they don’t want any planted. Talk with your local authorities and see if it’s okay to harvest. They may actually encourage you to harvest/uproot to help them get it under control.

That’s all for now! Be groovy, friends, and remember to live your journey…

Julie's Signature

Disclaimer: Any statements on this website are intended as informational and not to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease or condition. If you have a health concern or condition, consult a physician. Always consult a medical doctor before modifying your diet, using any new product, drug, supplement, or doing any new exercises. Regarding plant identification, work with a local herbalist or other plant authority to properly identify plants and ensure you have permission to harvest before use. Look-a-likes can be deadly!

4 thoughts on “Edible California: Acorns, Willow Bark, and Invasive Figs

  1. Just want to say that I really enjoy reading your postings. They are refreshing and happy things to read, leading me to new things to discover and ponder. Thank you for taking me with you on your journey.

  2. Hi –

    I remembered this from something I read a long time ago in a book from the U. of California Press on native foods in California – gross but interesting, for your recipe collection! Never seriously considered eating acorns, this way or any other. I’ve got the book somewhere, I hope. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinook_olives

    Uncle Allen

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