The Catalina Island Salad Bar
While picking fennel in Middle Canyon, Kali and I came across groves and groves of fruit trees: apples, pears,
pomegranates, and figs. Since these plants are not native to the island, we got to thinking – couldn’t the Island Company market some sort of fruit bar, or special granola made entirely of invasive plants, just so that the demand for their consumption would rise and our job removing them would be expedited? While this is a bit of a silly idea, there are a number of plants that are edible, and quite tasty, around Catalina Island.
The lemonade berry tastes exactly as the name suggests: like a tart, sticky version of classic lemonade. It is one of the native plants on Catalina Island and blooms in the spring, although good luck finding some to eat – they are very popular among the deer and other wildlife.
The Catalina Cherry is another sought-after plant by the deer. They
have larger-than-average pits in comparison to regular cherries, but have the taste of your store bought variety. These trees can be found all around the island, even at the USC Wrigley Institute. The cherries are only found on Catalina Island, so they are an endemic species.
There are two varieties of ice plants on Catalina Island and while these are not edible in the traditional food sense, they are marketed as hallucinogenic drugs on the Internet. While we have not tested their properties, the picture to the right is supposed to be the most powerful. Good luck with this one.
The prickly pear cactus can be found in supermarkets on the mainland. Its fruit and the green cactus (without the spines) are quite tasty and used in a number of traditional dishes in the Southwestern area of the United States and Mexico.
The bladderpod from the last photo blog is also edible – just harvest the green pods, pop them open, and use the seeds to make a spicy mustard sauce. The smell and flavor is similar to red peppers, and it is a good pairing with leeks in a soup dish. Almost all of the plants on Catalina can be used as a spice or tea flavoring: others include yarrow, white and black sage, and yerba buena.
Last but certainly not least is fennel. The most iconic invasive species of this island is a close relative to the
regular variety; however, it does not have the bulb traditionally used in cooking dishes. Instead, the licorice-scented stalks and flowers can be used in a Catalina Island treat – fennel cookies! The recipe is from a fellow Conservancy staff member – find it below:
Make sure you always check your field guide when consuming plants. Other species can be dangerous, or just plain disgusting. Happy harvesting!