Tahoe Sub-alpine Adventure

Written on July 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm, by admin in Blog

We were in South Lake Tahoe last week for our good friends’ wedding and actually got some time up in the mountains post festivities. Neil and I made it up to part of the Tahoe Rim trail and as unprepared as we were [um, I was hiking in flip flops over snow packs on parts of the trail] we saw some awesome plant friends.

Subalpine meadow melt

The amount of melt happening was absolutely amazing. The sheer force of the water over stones and through trees as it out grew the stream beds was scary. We saw portions of roads flooded and newly made streams flowing through what used to be a quit forest. This sub-alpine meadow was a mushy swamp of spring melt alive with new growth and scurrying animal life.


And then for the first time in my life I met Balsam root! What a joy. I have been keeping my eyes peeled for this plant for many years. We were actually looking for arnica to collect, but as so often happens when you’re too myopic you run into what you need. Balsam is an excellent immune stimulating herb and cold remedy and has a long history for coughs and as a food source for native peoples.

Balsamorhiza Root

As you can see from Mimi Kamp’s drawing the root has an amazing texture and form. It really does rise and crackle like that and swell at the middle with resinous scales. I’m excited about using it as medicine this year. Micheal Moore likens it to a mixture of Echinacea and Osha root together, which is to say it has immune stimulating properties, anti-microbial effects and cleansing movement to expel the nastiness.


We were on the dry side of the mountain, although it was impossible to tell at this time of year. First Balsam root and now Wild Peony! What a joy to run into her here. She love to grow in sandy soils after burns and she was even in bloom. Check out this sweet little blossom that all our showy cultivars can thank for their ruffles and curves.

Paeonia californica

A couple days later we stumbled upon a mullein patch while coming down the mountain. Mullein does grown everywhere, but it is hard to find in a clean environment. This hobo loves road sides and railroad tracks, but we honed in on it having a family reunion here. I was able to gather and dry a couple pounds of its lung saving leaves for teas and smoke mix.

Verbascum thapsus

Last, but not least, my newest saprophytic friend, Snow Plant. This magenta beauty is popping up absolutely everywhere in the Sierras as the snow melts. What a shocking and welcome surprise amidst all the green and brown.

Snow Plant

We saw lots of Pedicularis groenlandica, Valerian spp., and Yerba santa, but we’re still on the hunt for arnica cordifolia closer to home. All in all it was a joy to be back in the high altitude world hanging out with old friends.

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