Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Sierra Nevada:
A Bioregional Exploration--Central Valley to the Great Basin
6-Month Spring/Summer Field Study Program
The massive 400 mile long granitic uplift known as the Sierra Nevada is quite a spectacular sight to behold. Travelling east, the long gradual ascent from the Great Central Valley (near sea-level) takes one through a myriad of different plant communities, including: riparian woodlands, valley grassland, foothill oak woodland, chaparral, mixed coniferous forest, red fir forest, subalpine forest, montane meadows, to the alpine fell-fields found above 9,000’, and then down the eastern slope to the high desert sagebrush scrub and pinyon-juniper woodland below. Given this it should come as no surprise that from the lush western slope to the arid expanse of its eastern rain shadow this unique floristic province boasts an astonishing 3,500 vascular plant species!
Join us on this journey of discovery as we follow the plants through the spring/summer seasons while learning about their many historical and contemporary uses. Some notable edible & medicinal plants we're likely to encounter on our weekend excursions include: Arnica, California Spikenard, Milkweed, Wild Ginger, Western Peony, St. John’s Wort, Valerian, Gentian, Evening Primrose, Choke Cherry, Angelica, Oregon Grape, Sagebrush, Pinyon Pine and many others! We’ll spend our days hiking and botanizing while reserving evenings for interactive hands-on workshops, relaxing with friends around the fire, not to mention camping under a blanket of shimmering stars. Keep in mind that refreshing mid-afternoon dips in azure alpine lakes and nighttime hot spring soaks will be worked into the curriculum as well!
This interdisciplinary foundational course will engage students on 3 levels:
1. Field Study
2. Hands-On Workshops
3. Online Presentations/Pre-Class Reading Assignments
The program is structured around two main themes: Seasonal Plant Study & Bioregional Field Exploration. Meaning, we will focus our attention on the most distinctive plant communities found throughout the region while following the peak bloom season of each particular area. The goal of which is to give the student a solid background on the identification and use of the primary edible/medicinal plants found growing throughout the Northern Sierra. Our study will emphasize a dynamic sensory awareness of the plants via close observation, touching, tasting, and smelling. This comprehensive, full immersion botanical intensive should prove to be insightful and rewarding for anyone interested in knowing more about the unique flora of the region.
3 Tiers of the program:
The course is generalist by design, and holds as its central premise that a contextual approach to understanding both edible and medicinal plants will be the most useful for the student in the long run. The 3 tiers of the program will include the following class subjects and activities:
I. Field Study
• 5 weekend camping trips and one 3-day extended session
• Numerous herb walk explorations through a variety of unique plant habitats and elevation zones
• Field taxonomy/plant ID instruction
• Sierra Nevada plant communities study
• Natural history of the Sierra Nevada
II. Hands-On Workshops
• Herbal pharmacy (teas/oils/salves/tinctures)
• Medicinal plant harvesting and processing methods (along with legal/ethical guidelines)
• Seasonal wild edible plant harvest/preparation
III. Online Presentations/Pre-Session Reading Assignments
In order to augment our field studies and help prepare students for each new session (and bioregion), Powerpoint presentations will be provided for viewing each month while being paired with reading assignments from the required texts. Topics will include:
• Botany concepts & botanical terminology
• California plant family recognition strategies
• Materia medica (medicinal plant uses)
• Edible plant uses
• Plant toxicology (poisonous plant study)
• Regional ethnobotany
• Rare & endangered plants of the Sierra Nevada
2019 Course Schedule
Class will meet one weekend a month for a total of 6 months (April-September). The July field class will be extended to a 3-day session (Friday morning-Sunday evening). A total of 90 class hours.
(Arrival on Friday night optional)
(Arrival on Thursday night optional)
Field classes will occur throughout the Northern Sierra in the general vicinity of the following towns/cities: Chico, CA-Paradise, CA-Nevada City, CA- Sierra City, CA- Sierraville, CA- and Bridgeport, CA. Inquire about carpooling options.
Session 1: TBD
Central Valley: Riparian Woodland/Grassland
Near Chico, CA
Session 2: TBD
Foothills: Oak Woodland/Chaparral
Near Paradise, CA
Session 3: TBD
Mid-Elevation: Mixed Coniferous Forest
Near Nevada City, CA
Session 4: TBD
Sierra Crest: Subalpine Forest/Alpine Zone
Near Sierra City, CA
Session 5: TBD
East Slope: Modoc Plateau/Sagebrush Belt
Near Sierraville, CA
Session 6: TBD
East Slope: Great Basin Desert/Pinyon-Juniper Woodland
Near Bridgeport, CA
Click on the following link to view pictures of some representative plants and landscapes of the Sierra Nevada region:
$935 Early Bird Discount (deadline TBD)
$995 Full tuition
Tuition includes basic course materials fees.
Camping fees MAY apply but will not amount to any more than $50/person total. Meals are not included.
Pre-registration is necessary to hold your space. We recommend that you register as early as possible, as many classes fill up in advance.
Cancellations up to 8 weeks before the course begins will be refunded, excluding a $200 processing fee. No refunds will be given after that date.
Instructor: Tellur Fenner
Registration Link: To be posted once dates are finalized.
Email (preferred): firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bluewindschool/
Scope out our photo/video feed on Instagram:
The field trips will entail car-camping mainly in remote and primitive camping sites (no running water, showers, toilets, picnic tables, etc), though the lack of such conveniences is GREATLY outweighed by the stunning beauty and peaceful solitude of these locales. State-of-the-art backpacking gear is not necessary. Participants will need to be physically able to hike 3-6 miles/day in warm temperatures.
What to bring:
Tent, Sleeping Bag, Sleeping Pad
Clothes (for hot/cold weather)
Water Bottles (4 quarts)
And most importantly...a sense of adventure!
Course Materials (not included in tuition fee):
“Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West” by Michael Moore
*”Nature's Garden: Edible Wild Plants” by Samuel Thayer
“A Sierra Nevada Flora” 4th Edition by Norman Weeden
*”Botany in a Day” 6th Edition by Thomas Elpel
Total book cost: approximately $60
*(Note: we will purchase Nature's Garden and Botany in a Day as a class at a bulk discount)
-Hand-lens (for plant ID) Cost: $10-35