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Miwok Material Culture: Indian Life of the Yosemite Region (1933) by S. A. Barrett and E. W. Gifford


THE USE OF PLANTS

The Miwok were not agriculturists, except so far as they grew a little tobacco. The only other control of vegetation which they attempted was the burning off of dry grass about August. This was said to have been done to get a better growth the following year. Underbrush was less abundant anciently than now, so informants said, and perhaps due to this periodic burning. What means, if any, were taken to prevent the spread of fire to trees was not learned. Forest fires no doubt were of frequent occurrence. “The Sierran forest is typically a fire forest; that is to say, all the tree species have shown reaction in structure or life history to long continued fires which have undoubtedly run over California woodlands for many thousands of years and perhaps for a longer period.”10

Flowers in general are called loyema (C); bulbs and corms, olutcu (C); seeds, to tū'yū (C, S); gum, takuta (C). Kelse (C) denotes certain bulbs or corms, with edible but insignificant roots, whose stems only are eaten. Three were mentioned (popkine, C; solasi, C; lippasi, C), but not identified.

Meals made from seeds are also called tū'yū (C, S). Some were eaten as dry meal, others in cake form, and still others were cooked as mush. The seeds were from grasses, other small plants, and shrubs. The conical burden basket, with interstices closed with soaproot gelatine, and the handled seed beater, were the usual utensils used in gathering. Sifting, winnowing, and pulverizing in the bedrock mortar followed. Parching took place in many cases before pulverizing, and consisted of shaking the seeds in a shallow parching basket with live coals. The natural oil in some seeds made the forming of meal cakes, cones, and balls an easy matter. Seed meal was regarded as particularly fine eating. Visitors were given it to eat along with their acorn mush, which was regarded as insipid without such accompaniment.

Many bulbs, corms, tubers, and roots were eaten. These are now commonly referred to as “Indian potatoes.” They were secured with the digging stick, and were preferably baked or steamed in the earth oven, or roasted in the ashes of the open fire, or, if the quantity was small, stone-boiled in baskets. When roasted, the ashes were sifted from them by means of an ordinary winnowing basket. “Indian potatoes” were also dried for winter use, first being oven baked. They were stored in baskets in the dwelling, never in a cache as were acorns. Sometimes the stored ones were pulverized and cooked as mush or porridge.

Several fungi were eaten, but only a puff ball has been identified. They were gathered by both men and women. Mushrooms were gathered in April and May, puff balls in the summer and fall. Mushrooms in general were called helli (C), also the name of one species. Shredded and dried mushrooms were boiled and eaten with salt, or were ground in a mortar and cooked as soup.

Greens were usually eaten after boiling. The surplus was steamed in the earth oven, dried, and stored for winter use. When needed it was soaked in cold water and either boiled again or eaten without further cooking. Water cress is eaten now, but is said to have been introduced by Chinese in the mining days of the nineteenth century.

Many plants were used medicinally.

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10Jepson, 1921, 243.



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