Five Temperate Rainforest Plants to Know in the Pacific Northwest
By Jason Knight
Many temperate rainforest plants can be used for food, medicine, or made into tools. The following wild plants are some of the most useful species in the Pacific Northwest.
Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica): Stinging nettle is a common plant in Pacific Northwest rainforests. Commonly known for its uncomfortable sting, it has many practical uses, including edible, medicinal, and utilitarian qualities. The young leaves can be eaten raw (carefully) or cooked, and are an excellent source of iron, B vitamins, and protein. Infusions (strong teas) made from the leaves are also a good preventative medicine for allergies. In the fall the standing dead stalks can be processed to make very strong cordage and fiber.
Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata): Western Red Cedar is a widespread tree in the Pacific Northwest. It has a seemingly endless list of uses. Traditionally, the bark was used for baskets, rope, mats, and clothing. The wood was used for plank long houses, canoes, paddles, and many other types of tools. A tincture can be made from the fronds that is a topical antifungal medicine. The roots make a good emergency bow drill string for making fires, and the shredded inner bark makes a great tinder material.
Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis): Salmonberry is one of the most abundant temperate rainforest plants in the Pacific Northwest. Salmonberry is related to blackberry and raspberry, and produces an edible berry in the spring that looks like an orange-colored raspberry. The tender spring shoots can also be eaten, and have a sweet, almost candy-like, taste to them. A three-foot long, straight, finger-width section of a salmonberry branch can make a good hand drill stalk for making friction fires.
Fireweed (Epilobium angustifolium): Fireweed is common along cleared or burned areas, forest openings, and along roads. The young spring leaves can be eaten raw or cooked and are very high in vitamin C. The stalk can be processed into fibers that make good cordage. The seed fluff can be stuffed into a jacket to create extra insulation on a cold day. The fluff is also quite flammable and can be used as a tinder bundle to help start a fire.
Cattail (Typha latifolia): Cattail is a common plant of wetlands in the temperate rainforests of the Pacific Northwest. Cattail also has a variety of uses. The spring shoots can be cooked and eaten like a vegetable. The long leaves can be woven into mats and the seed fluff can make good insulation and fire-starting materials. The center stalk can also be used as a hand drill for making fires.
For hands-on learning about edible, medicinal, and utilitarian uses of temperate rainforest plants, check out the
Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program
Wild Edible & Medicinal Plants Course
Wild Mushroom Identification Class
The Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program
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