Bryoria fremontii

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“Black tree lichen”; syn. Alectoria fremontii; partial syn. Alectoria jubata

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NOTE: Alectoria jubata is a common lichen name referred to in old literature and may be referring to either Bryoria spp. or Bryoria fremontii. References to Alectoria jubata that are thought to be referring specifically to Bryoria fremontii are dealt with under this lichen heading, the rest are dealt with under Bryoria spp.

FOLK NAMES: Sä’tc’Etct (Coeur D’Alêne); Skole¯’p or Skwei’íp (Okanagan); Skola’pkEn (Flathead); A.wi¯’.a (Stl'atl'mc); Wila (Secwepemc); /wí7e (Nlaka'pmx)

USES: Food (Thompson, Okanagan, Lillooet, Secwepemc, Coeur D’Alêne, Kootenay, Flathead, Vancouver Island Salish?, Nez Perce, Klamath: Oregon, Wailaki: California, Blackfoot: Montana)

Ray (1932: pg 104, cited in Turner and Davis 1993) classes Bryoria fremontii as one of the best liked vegetables of the Sanpoil-Nespelem Okanagan, when it was cooked with alternate layers of wild onion. Teit (1928a) lists Bryoria fremontii [Alectoria jubata] as a principal vegetal food Okanagan and records that they call it Skole¯’p. Turner et al. (1980) also record that the lichen was called Skwei’íp, and also record several other names associated with the lichen. The act of gathering the lichen is called Xipm and the instrument used to gather the lichen is called a Txipmn. Twisting the lichen off of a branch is called Ski7alkwíkstm, and cleaning the lichen is called Nexwkw’íw’sntm.

Bryoria fremontii was also commonly eaten and liked by the Lillooet, but apparently not as well liked as a food as salmon was, as shown in a story recorded by Bouchard and Kennedy (1922: pg. 31, cited in Turner and Davis 1993). In this story Raven acquires a salmon during a food shortage and tries to hide his good fortune from the villagers by pretending that he only has black tree lichen bread. Teit (1928a) records that the Lillooet called the lichen A.wi¯’.a, but does not record how they used the lichen.

Bryoria fremontii was cooked and eaten by the Secwepemc in much the same way as the other Interior Salish peoples. They called the lichen Wila. The raw thallus of Bryoria fremontii was eaten as a famine food by the Secwepemc, but it was usually never eaten raw except in cases of extreme hunger (Turner and Davis 1993). They also chewed the raw thallus as a thirst quencher (Turner and Davis 1993).

The Thompson also harvested Bryoria fremontii and cooked it in pits (Turner et al. 1990). They called the lichen /wí7e.

Bryoria fremontii was considered to be a luxury food by the Flathead of Montana, especially when it was mixed with dried powdered camas (Camassia quamash) (Stubbs 1966, cited in Turner and Davis 1993). Teit (1928a) lists Bryoria fremontii [Alectoria jubata] as a principal vegetal food of the Flathead and records that they called the lichen Skola’pkEn.

Teit (1928a) lists Bryoria fremontii [Alectoria jubata] as a principal vegetal food of the Coeur D’Alêne and records that they called the lichen Sä’tc’Etct.

Bryoria fremontii [Alectoria jubata] may have been eaten by the Vancouver Island Salish (Turner and Bell 1971), but otherwise there is no record of coastal people of British Columbia eating this lichen.

It appears that Bryoria fremontii was a standard food in some areas, especially in interior British Columbia. In these areas it was normally consumed but probably became more important during famines. The Lillooet, Thompson, Okanagan, Secwepemc, and other interior peoples probably used it in this way (Turner 1977; Turner et al. 1990; Kuhnlein and Turner 1991, cited in Turner and Davis 1993; Turner and Davis 1993).

In other areas Bryoria fremontii would only be eaten minimally under normal conditions, but increased in importance in famines (Kuhnlein and Turner 1991, cited in Turner and Davis 1993; Turner and Davis 1993). There are many records of this lichen being eaten during famines.

Bryoria fremontii was used as a famine food by the Klamath of Oregon (F. V. Colville’s notes, cited in Chestnut 1902), the Wailaki of northern California (Chestnut 1902), and the Blackfoot of western Montana (Blankinship 1905, cited in Johnson 1970, 1982). In times of scarcity the Kootenay would boil Bryoria fremontii with the stomach contents or droppings of grouse for flavoring (Hart 1976, cited in Turner and Davis 1993).

Lewis and Clark (1806: vol. 5, pg. 4; cited in Spinden 1908) report that a species of Alectoria-like lichen growing on pine trees [probably Bryoria fremontii] was boiled and eaten by the Nez Perce in times of famine.

Franchere journeyed across the continent in 1814, and he reported that the people in the Okanagan were in a famine and surviving principally on black tree lichen [probably Bryoria fremontii] (Anderson 1925). He said that it was a common famine food. Franchere tasted the lichen and thought it tasted like soap, but had heard that it could be cooked to taste good.

It is interesting that Bryoria fremontii enjoyed in some areas and not liked in other areas and only used as a famine food. This is perhaps do to variation in populations, or to contamination with other species. There are indications that the lichen varies greatly in taste, depending on the locality, elevation, and species of substrate tree (Turner 1977; and Marshall 1977, cited in Turner and Davis 1993).

The preparation techniques are also likely to have had a great effect on the palatability. Although the lichen could be eaten raw and unprocessed in times of need (Turner and Davis 1993), usually there was an extensive preparation. The lichen was only harvested in any quantity from pre-tasted populations. The unprocessed lichen could be stored dry and then brought out to eat when it was needed (Turner and Davis 1993). It was then soaked in fresh water for several hours or overnight, pounded or worked with the hands, and then pit cooking (Marshall 1977, cited in Turner and Davis 1993; Turner 1977; and Turner et al. 1980). The cooked lichen loaves were then dried, and could be stored for up to 3 years without deterioration. They were said to be a good sustainer on long trips (Turner, 1978). Most people agree that cooking was necessary to make the lichen palatable. The cooking of the lichen was probably breaking down the complex lichen carbohydrates into more readily digestible forms (Turner and Davis 1993).

Teit (1928a) describes how the Coeur D’Alêne cooked the lichen. The lichen was cooked in pits similar to the steam pits used for cooking roots. Hot stones would be placed at the bottom of a pit, then grass, roots or lichen, grass, bark, and then earth. A fire was built on top and kept going while the food cooked, sometimes for two days. According to Teit when they cooked lichen they did not put water into the pit to steam it like they did when cooking roots. However, the lichen was often cooked along with camas, onions, and other kinds of roots. Teit says that the practice of putting roots in with the lichen to cook is a relatively recent custom. The lichen and any roots that were added were cooked in the pits until they became a paste, which was cooled and cut into bricks of different sizes.

Uphof (1959) reports that First People’s of the Pacific region of North America prepared Bryoria fremontii [Alectoria jubata] for consumption by boiling, fermenting, and then baking the lichen. I have not seen another reference to this process in North America, and it sounds suspiciously like the European method of preparing lichens.

Turner et al. (1980) records an alternative method of preparation that was occasionally used by the Okanagan. The lichen would be roasted on a stick over a fire until it was crumbling, and then boiled in water to form a molasses like substance.

Bryoria fremontii occasionally contains vulpinic acid, but usually has no lichen substances (Brodo and Hawksworth 1977). A few other lichen compounds have been reported in Bryoria fremontii by different researchers in different areas. These include atranorin, thamnolic acid, and alectorialic acid (Brodo and Hawksworth 1977).

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