Lake Tahoe – Edible Sierra Nevada Plants

The Sierra Nevada is a mountainous area located between the central valley of California and Nevada. The Sierra as it is fondly called stands tall at an elevation of about 14,505ft at a point known as Mount Whitney and it’s also known for notable geographical features such as the Yosemite Valley and the famous Lake Tahoe which is the largest alpine lake in North America. There is no gainsaying that The Sierra owes much of its popularity to the uniqueness of Lake Tahoe which is also a tourist attraction and collection of different plants which are native to the area.

Large collection of plant diversity is one of the strengths of The Sierra. There are edible plants as well as inedible ones distributed across different altitudinal zones in the area. In all, there are over a hundred edible plants native to The Sierra alone, some of which include: Strawberry, Water Plantain, Oak, Elderberry, Golden Currant, Horsemint, HorseChestnut, Hyssop, Berry, Rose, Raspberry, California Wild Rose, Chinquapin, Sierra Gooseberry, California Coffeeberry, California Bay Laurel, Buckeye and many more. Here is a description of some of these plants:

  • Sierra Gooseberry: It is an edible plant notable for its large size and spiny berries which can either be red or purple. It contains a lot of flavour and pulp which can be enjoyed when the fruit is cut open. It belongs to the “Ribes” or currant family.
     
  • California Bay Laurel: It produces a fruit known as California Bay Nut. The leaves of the tree plant have medicinal uses while both the flesh and inner kernel of the fruit can be eaten raw. The nuts can also be roasted for eating or ground into powder for beverages and cooking.
     
  • California Coffeeberry: The plant can be found in oak woodland and chaparral habitats of The Sierra. The fruit which can be eaten fresh or dried is a juicy drupe which may be green, red or black and can be made into jams and jellies. The coffee bean-like seeds could also serve as a caffeine-free substitute for coffee itself. It is used medicinally by American natives.
     
  • California wild rose: The California rose is a species of rose native to chaparral and woodlands and the Sierra foothills. It produces fruits known as “Rose Hips” which contains yellow seeds. The colour ranges from red to orange in some species and dark purple to black in others. While these fruits can be eaten raw provided the hairs inside can be avoided, they can also be used for herbal tea when dried and also for jam, jelly marmalade and beverages. Rose hips are a good source of vitamin C.
     
  • Golden Currant: It is a deciduous shrub which produces berries that are about 1cm in diameter. These fruits when ripe can be amber yellow or black, they can be eaten raw or cooked with sugar and the flowers are also edible.
     
  • California Black Oak: It is otherwise known as “Black Oak.” It is a deciduous tree plant which can grow in many types of soils provided the soil is well drained. It produces relatively large acorns which serve as a staple food among California Native Americans.
     
  • Elderberry: The fruits are edible when cooked and it can also be used in pies, jams or wines. Black elderberry is of medicinal importance.
     
  • Chinquapin:  It is an evergreen tree which is also a shrub. It produces densely spiny cupule fruits containing edible nuts.

For visitors to Lake Tahoe who might decide to explore the lush vegetation, The Sierra is nature’s haven for different fruit plants. While many of the plants in this area produce edible fruits and are of medicinal importance, there are also poisonous ones. Avoiding unfamiliar fruits is the best way to ensure overall safety.