Manzanita – A Most Useful Plant

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Manzanita is a shrub you’ll find growing all over around here, as California is manzanita country. Seen as a nuisance or a fire hazard by many, it’s actually quite an attractive and useful plant. Manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish and probably comes from the appearance of the berries, which do look like tiny apples. It can be used in landscaping and for firewood, food and medicine.

One of the earliest flowers to bloom, manzanita produces clusters of tiny urn-shaped blossoms in shades ranging from deep pink to white. Hummingbirds love manzanita nectar and the flowers usually coincide with the spring migration. The bark is deep red and sheds from the branches in small curls. The flat leaves are a pale green that turn silver when highlighted at night or when wet. They can become small trees with intricately twisting branches. Highly drought resistant, it grows in poor soil and on steep ground.

Manzanita as Food

The berries can be eaten both fully and partially ripe. However, fully ripe berries are more likely to be mealy. Native Americans ate the fruit fresh or dried the berries, powdered them and extracted the seeds. They reconstituted the powder with water to make a drink and baked seeds into thin cakes. Seeds were also mixed into other foods.

Jelly

2 quarts of ripe berries
1 ½ cups sugar per cup of juice
3 oz liquid pectin

Wash berries thoroughly. Place into a saucepan, add 1 cup of cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. Strain the mixture through a jelly bag. Add sugar and stir well. Bring to a boil for 1 full minute, add 3 ounces of liquid pectin and boil for 2 full minutes. Skim foam, pour into hot, sterile jelly jars and seal.

Cider

Wash and stem 1 quart of fully ripened berries, place into a saucepan. Add 1 quart of cold water, bring to a boil and simmer until berries are soft. Crush with a potato masher and continue to simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain. Add a little sugar or honey.

Herbal Remedies

  • Do not use in children under 12 or if pregnant.
  • Simmer the berries well and allow to cool. Use the resulting tea as a lotion for poison oak.
  • Make a tea from fresh or dried leaves and drink for indigestion, headache, mild urinary tract infections or rheumatism.
  • Native Americans chewed the leaves and used them in a thick poultice for sores or headaches.

Manzanita Wood

The wood of the manzanita plant is extremely dense. It can vary in color from deep yellow to a rich reddish brown and takes well to polishing. You can carve it, although as it dries it often develops deep cracks and is not useful for lumber. My daughter makes walking sticks, bird perches and decorative stands for hanging jewelry from manzanita wood. Manzanita can be used for firewood, with a couple of caveats. It burns extremely hot and because it is so dense, it burns at high temperatures for a long time. It is these qualities that make it so dangerous in a forest fire. For firewood, use small amounts, especially in a metal stove, or it may crack the cast iron.

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Pandemic Gardening

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Pandemic gardening is big this year. Nothing like a major hitch in the food supply chain to get people back to the traditional kitchen garden. I have never been so glad for my old-fashioned seed-saving and stocking up ways as I am this year. A quick look at the web sites of various seed sellers is illuminating. “Sold out.” “Not taking new orders.” “Expect extended delays in shipments.” If you were prepared because you saved your own seeds or ordered well ahead, I salute you. If you’re empty-handed, there are some ways you may still be able to grow food this year.

Kitchen Scraps

I’ve written about this before. A number of produce items can easily be regrown. Romaine lettuce, bok choy, celery, cabbage and green onions are among the easiest. Put the cut-off base of the first four in some water for about 10 days until roots form, then plant. Kids love these because they’re so quick – and pandemic gardening entertainment for children is a big deal in these days of no school. Soak the bottom half inch of green onions in water overnight and then plant roots down. Cover with about half an inch of soil.

Onions and Potatoes

Sprouting onions and potatoes are another example. The onions may or may not produce bulbs. In my experience, most produce several small bulbs rather than one large one. Even if they don’t form bulbs, you can use them like giant scallions. Just put the whole onion in the ground with the green top of the onion just above ground level. These may also go on to produce seeds, although most are hybrids, so you may or may not get a good variety to go on with. You can plant a whole sprouted potato or cut them in quarters. Just make sure there’s one sprout in each chunk.

Grow for a Neighbor

Many older people don’t have the physical ability to grow a garden this year, but they may still have seeds. Offer to grow for both of you. If the seeds they have are several years old, plant more thickly to ensure a decent crop.

Connect with Farmers and Market Growers

Unless you live in the depths of the cities, there are probably some smaller food growing operations around. Some may have leftover seeds or excess seedlings you can buy. In many areas, workers aren’t available to plant, tend or pick crops. Offer to work in return for a portion of the harvest.

Go Wild

While this isn’t technically pandemic gardening, foraging is another way to improve the food supply. There are dozens of wild foods out there, free for the harvest. Use online references to identify things like miner’s lettuce, pigweed, purslane, dandelions, chickweed and lamb’s quarters are good for salads and greens. Wild onions work just as well as scallions. Cattail corn is considered a delicacy in many areas. Before too much longer, wild berries will be coming along. Abandoned orchards are other sources for tree fruits.

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Pandemic Story – Part III

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So here’s the latest: cases in our county are still at the cluster stage, probably because we are quite rural and thus there are fewer opportunities to come into contact with large crowds or travel on public transportation. However, we’ve had three deaths in the county. We have a mobile field hospital being set up in the largest town to deal with non-COVID patients, leaving the two major hospitals available for people with the virus. Testing is still minimal and strictly controlled – basically you have to be already hospitalized with virus symptoms, a health care worker who has been exposed or someone who is severely ill (and thus needs to be hospitalized). Test kits are back-ordered from Quest and LabCorp. Given the rate at which COVID-19 spreads, I’m betting we have three to four times the reported numbers.

In our clinic, we have tested five people, none of whom were positive. Frankly, in two cases I don’t believe the results – those two had pretty much classic symptoms and spent several weeks in a hot spot where community spread was already established. I also suspect that if were were to test our staff, there are three or four who would have antibodies indicating they have had the disease. But they were all sick much earlier in the year, before any testing was even being considered.

I mentioned in an earlier post that we were switching to phone and telemedicine visits as quickly as possible, and we have continued that activity. We now ask patients to come in and register, then wait in their cars. We give them a color-coded, numbered sign to put on the dashboard. A smaller, matching card is kept at the reception desk and the rooming medical assistant uses the small card to find the right patient. The signs are laminated so they can be decontaminated as soon as they come back in the building. We still have chairs in the waiting room but the seats are blocked off and arranged so no one can sit closer than six feet. Instead of doing walk-in labs, we schedule patients for lab appointments, trying to keep at least 15 minutes between visits. I triage patients in their cars if necessary. All of these activities are designed to provide patient services while minimizing the umber of people in the clinic and the amount of contact between patients, staff and other community members. Basically the only patients who come in for visits are the rare walk-in triage, people who really must have a physical exam or something like a pap, and the chiropractic patients. Our psychiatrist and behavioral health staff have switched to phone visits only.

Something like a pandemic brings out both the worst and the best in people. It’s been disheartening to find that other primary care offices and clinics have just shut down for the duration of the pandemic. Their patients are coming to us for help. We don’t have their medical records, which makes it tougher. Access to specialty care has always been difficult for our patients, but it’s even more so as many specialists have also closed their offices.

Most of our staff have been wonderful – coming to work consistently, being patient with each other (we’re all tired, stressed and a bit cranky). Our food closet has been in high demand – the case manager served 17 people in a week when her normal is two or three. A receptionist spent 30 minutes today listening to a man who just lost his brother (non-COVID-19 issues). He desperately needed to talk and she was his first contact because he’d been in self-quarantine. Then we have the idiots who are bored with being stuck at home in the city, where most of the cases are, so they go for a drive (we’re talking a string of 30+ cars) and stop at the local store in our area for snacks. These are the same idiots, who – despite the large sign saying counter service only and a barricade across the aisle – try to climb over said barricade to get into the back of the store.

Our admin team is spending anywhere from two to four hours a day on conference calls – updates on the clinical aspects of the pandemic; coordination calls with local public health and other disaster-preparedness folks; calls with the state public health; calls with the state on licensing, regulatory and financial issues; calls with the feds and the national community health center organizations on changes in grant requirements, financing from the stimulus/rescue bills. We’re all on information overload – our heads are so full our brains are running out our ears. Our board of directors held its first-ever virtual meeting last week.

We’re managing. We’re fulfilling our mission and serving our community and we will by-God keep doing it until we can’t stand up any more. Hope you all are also holding on to the important things in life – family, friends and giving back. If we do, we’ll come out of this stronger, with a renewed sense of purpose and hope.

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