By Stephanie Derammelaere
The Sonoma County Parks Department has a myriad of walks and events for the public to help motivate people to get outside – even on a cold, winter day. From learning about animal tracking, to taking bird walks, to enjoying family hikes, there are many options for almost every interest and activity level, all over the county. On Dec. 30 there will be a naturalist-led walk in our own backyard, at Crane Creek Regional Park in Rohnert Park. Titled “Wild Food and Medicine,” this walk will demystify the edible and medicinal world of plants. Participants will have the opportunity to explore and learn to identify the wild food and medicine growing right in our own backyard.
The idea for the walk came from Shelly Spriggs, a Park Naturalist for Sonoma County Regional Parks who often leads walks through the year, including the series of spring wildflower walks. In her walks she often educates the public about the ecology of plants and the interactions of plants with animals, other plants and people, both today and from the time of the Native Americans.
“I started sharing these stories and noticed that people were very excited about learning that there is food and medicine growing right next to them on the trail when they hike,” says Spriggs. “So I wanted to put together a hike to highlight that piece and also to do it in a season that we’re not normally out doing those things. We don’t necessarily have the blooming flowers right now but we do have all this wonderful, lush green vegetation coming up from our beginning winter rains. We are able to take a look at what is special about the winter season.”
Spriggs chose Crane Creek Regional Park for the family-friendly hike because of its diverse topography and habitats.
“I chose Crane Creek because it is a beautiful park and it has a lot of native, in-tact species,” says Spriggs. “It is nice to talk about the plants that have been here a long time. It [the park] also has a good diversity of species. It has the wetter plants that like to live by the creek and also some of the higher and drier plants.”
While the focus of the walk will be on edible and medicinal plants, participants will be learning about them, not collecting or taking any out of the park. The general policy in all county parks is to not remove any species, and this walk will be no exception.
“We won’t be harvesting in the park,” says Spriggs. “We’ll be talking about the uses of the plants but not collecting any. We don’t encourage browsing in our parks so it’s not a hike you should bring a salad bowl! We do talk about honorable harvesting techniques and my biggest response to that is asking people to plant these native plants in their own yards because then you can harvest them without taking from this natural place.”
For people interested in this kind of information, Spriggs also encourages park visitors to check out their new “Remedios” program, also called “Remedies for You, Remedies for Pachamama, (Mother Earth)” – a series of walks that she developed with another naturalist, Irma Cuevas. These bilingual Spanish/English events celebrate multicultural home remedies and participants are encouraged to share and exchange natural remedies passed down from loved ones. The winter event, which took place in mid-December at Tolay Lake Regional Park, focused on traditional cold remedies and those that strengthen our immune system during the winter. The next event will take place on March 31 at the Coastal Prairie Trail in Bodega.
“It was cool to be out and see the different plants and have people from different places remembering how we can use them or how we have used them,” says Spriggs.
Educating others on knowledge that was ingrained in our ancestors is something that drives Spriggs to keep doing these kinds of walks.
“I feel there is a whole set of stories and ideas and communications that are happening in this wild world that our culture and our society can’t totally translate as well as we used to,” says Spriggs. “I get to go out and translate it for people and tell you the story or show you that you already know the answer. We no longer know our plants closely. We used to have a much closer and intimate relationship and understanding and I feel some grief for our culture that we don’t have that and don’t prioritize that anymore.”
The Wild Food and Medicine walk will take place from 10 a.m. to 12 pm on Dec 30. The event is free and pre-registration is not required. Participants are asked to meet at the bike rack at Crane Creek Regional Park. For more information, call 707-565-2041.