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Saturday, April 11, 2015

People and the Forest--Gathering Ichnish, A Tribal Tradition. by Jae Hall

Lomatium californicum. Also called Ich-nish
Getting ready for this blog I thought about wide variety of native plants and the stories connected with them.  
Then the warm weather turned cold and my camera came out. Our mountain tops were shrouded in clouds and snow furies. I knew the plant and the story that needed to be shared.

I gather many plants with my family through the year, but spring time is special. It's not only Ich-nish (Ick niche) Season but it's also Coyote Weather, and the Story of Coyote and Coyote Weather is told in my family as it has been told for thousands of years.

In the Shasta Language Lomatium californicum is called Ich-nish.
It's a species of plant related to the carrot and the parsnip which is known by the common names California rock parsnipcelery weed, and California lomatium. This plant is native to California and Oregon, where it is found in low elevation mountains and hills. ( )

Gathering among the Oak trees

As with all wild plants, please know what you are picking and eating. Most plants in the carrot/celery family are extremely toxic. There is no such thing as too much caution. I recommend if you are in Northern California/ Southern Oregon and do decide to gather this plant that you go with someone knowledgeable.

Ichnish is used by several tribes in the Southern Oregon/Northern California area. Some use the root as a part of their traditional medicine and religious ceremonies. It can be used for smudge and many Shasta people use it to protect their homes from evil spirits.

I'll focus on the edible aspects of the plant.
Bags of Ichnish Spring 2015

For most people it is simply a delicious herbal seasoning and only the leaf is used. It is a great addition to common seasonings like pepper and garlic. It tastes somewhere between celery tops and cilantro with a twist. The older the plants the hotter the leaves. I often add it to soups, stews, and any roasted meat. it also spices up deviled eggs, omelets and salads. It grows only in the spring and is only available for a few weeks so gathering and drying enough to last our family for the year is important.

Book By Mary Carpelan

When the late winter gets warm and the Ichnish starts to grow we watch the mountains for the distinct green color of the growing Ichnish. 

I'm going to share a Shasta Legend that has been handed down for many many generations. This story takes place during the 3 days of the spring equinox and the Sun and all the landmarks in this story line up perfectly on a map for those 3 days.

My sister-in-law, Mary Carpelan wrote and illustrated this ancient family story in a children's book called Coyote Fights the Sun (currently out of print) 

I'm using common names for places and please forgive some of the photos. It's hard to get clear pictures without getting power lines, houses and  other modern items in the shots.


The Shasta Legend: Coyote Fights the Sun

Winter was turning to spring and Coyote thought of eating fresh Ichnish. He was foolish and decided that the food they had stored to get through winter was no longer good enough. He had his daughters throw it out.

He looked outside and saw that the skies were clear. Calling his two daughters he told them to go up the mountain (Quartz Hill) and  pick some Ichnish.

His daughters were hungry too. They went up the mountain to gather in the Ichnish patch. It was growing tall and they began to fill their bags quickly so they could get home before dark. The kept their eyes on their work and didn't pay attention to the weather.

They didn't notice that the clouds started coming over the Marble Mountains and came across Quartz Valley.

The storm rolled up the ridges and covered Quartz Hill. Soon there was a terrible storm and several feet of snow covered the hill. Coyote's daughters realized too late that the sun was gone and they were trapped.

 When the storm was over and Coyote was able to climb Quartz Hill he found that his daughters had died in the storm. He was very angry. He blamed the Sun for going away and allowing the storm to take his daughters. He vowed to kill the Sun. He took his bows and arrows and climbed up on Quartz Hill to the Ichnish patch. He waited all night for the Sun to come up, but the Sun came up across Oro Fino over Chapparal Hill!  

Still angry Coyote walked all day and climbed to the top of Chapparal Hill. The next morning the sun came up over Duzel Rock. 
Now Coyote was really mad. The sun was teasing him. He walked all day and climbed to the top of Duzel Rock and waited for the sun to rise. But the sun came up over the Lime Stone Bluffs in Shasta Valley. 
Again he walked all day to the Lime Stone Bluffs. He was determined to kill the Sun.

 The next morning the Sun was now across the valley and came up behind Mount Shasta. Coyote looked down the bluffs and saw a big lake between him and Mt. Shasta. He dove down to swim across and get ready for the next morning. But the lake was really fog. Down he tumbled until he landed on a rocky ridge and was turned to stone. 

Coyote is still standing on the ridge south of Gazelle California.

He waits each morning hoping to get his chance to kill the Sun.

So when Sun shines brightly in February and March we don't go up the mountain to look for Ichnish. We call it Coyote Weather because Coyote is a trickster and the warm weather is not Spring. It is a false Spring that goes away as the late March and early April snowstorms come over the Marble Mountains and cross Quartz Valley to wrap our Ichnish patch on Quartz Hill in cold and ice and snow.

Jae Hall
Find my page and book TimberBeast at "Kelsy is an environmental spy running from her troubles. Fox is an timber faller living his dream. They meet in a forest full of  danger, romance and the Timberbeast." What could possibly go wrong?
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  1. Great blog, Jae!!! I have Mary's book -- it's always been a great story to read. I will have to find it again and read it to the grandkids. Thanks for sharing this --- and of course, thanks for sharing the Ichnish. I also use it in my stews and soups (just put some in the minestrone I made two days ago :) ).....I know everyone will enjoy this post and the photos came out wonderfully.

    1. Thank you Gail. I'm drying some and will get you a new jarful in a week or so.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks Taabia. I love sharing my family stories.

  3. Jae, I love all the Indian legends--they all have so much wisdom in them. Your pictures are just gorgeous, too! I would definitely have to take someone with me to gather wild plants and herbs--I don't know the first thing about them, and I admire those that do--that's such a valuable knowledge to have!

    1. Thank you Chery. Yes with the carrot/celery family you definitely want to know what you are gathering.

  4. Love the legend about Coyote! Thanks for sharing that and Ichnish; sounds very Scottish.

  5. Great photos, Jae, and what a wonderful native parable. I guess Coyote must be the trickster in a lot of native cultures. I wonder how that happened. Do you know?

    Much success with TimberBeast!

    1. Kathleen, I know some tribes honor coyote but he is a very bad character in the Shasta world. To be called a coyote by a Shasta is not an honor.
      Coyotes are sneaky and think they are smarter than they are. Always trying to get something for nothing then blaming everyone else when things don't work out.

    2. Coyote has that reputation among the Apache, too, Jae. Are the Shasta an Athapascan people? They and the Apache may have a common ancestry. (I'm ashamed to admit I know virtually nothing about the Shasta, but now I'm intrigued. I'll have to find out about them. :-) )

    3. Thank you Kathleen.
      Yes.Shasta are Athapascan and many tribes are relate through marriages over the centuries. It's okay that you don't know much about the Shasta. Most people know about Shasta soda or Mt. Shasta. ;)
      Crystal Geyser bottled water comes from wells on the side of Mt. Shasta.
      The amazon link on my blog shows all my books. I co-authored Shasta Nation through Arcadia publishing. It's a pictorial history with bits of tribal and family information attached to each photo.

  6. Very interesting. I have probably seen ichnich, but not realized what it is. As for that trying to get good photos while dealing with power lines, etc., tell me about it. Best wishes on the success of your book.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

    1. Thank you Robyn. We are blessed with a lot of underground lines but some still sneak their way into the photos.

  7. The word for the plant reminded me of Gaelic until I realized you were referring to out west in the good ol' USA.
    I really enjoyed the story about the legend of Coyote, how he tried to kill the sun because of the loss of his daughters and ended up turned to stone.
    This was such an interesting blog, Jae. I wish you every success.

    1. Thank you Sarah. I enjoyed writing it.
      I tried to get to coyote rock but trees have grown up and I'll have to find a way to get a clear photo. The landowner protects it so it isn't disturbed.
      I'm sure there are similar plants around the world.
      The Shasta language is harsh so you speak it like you are clearing your throat.

  8. I do love the stories of regions and its people. We used to hunt mushrooms in the spring and had to be careful about which ones we harvested. It was fun, but... Doris

  9. Love the story and the blog. Thanks for the information and the photos.