Foraging for Wild Edibles: Mountain Bluebells (Mertensia Ciliata)
Mountain Bluebells (Mertensia Ciliata)
One of my favorite wild edibles to snack on while hiking is the Mountain Bluebell. You can often find these growing along rivers or in damp soil with moderate shade. Just this last year, my daughter discovered a forgotten trail that followed the river— the whole bank was lined with these delicious Mountain Bluebells. It's now her, and the whole family's, favorite spot to visit. I think it will now be a family tradition to hike this trail as many times as possible before the bluebells wilt away later in the summer heat. Usually they flourish from early spring to mid-summer, but they are extremely susceptible to heat or cold. Most of the time, I find them growing in the shade of the pines which helps them last late into the summer! My youngest daughter, only three years old, has these flowers memorized and will munch on them every chance she gets! If my three-year-old can identify them, that just shows how easy it is. Let's take some time to study this plant up close so you can enjoy them next season!
Let's first talk about what you will be needing to look out for from a distance. If you study the picture above you will probably notice the small Bluebell flowers nodding over. That will be one sure giveaway as to whether or not you have found the correct plant (we will discuss details on how to identify the flowers a little further in this article). But one thing that I noticed was the actual color of the leaves. It's hard to see in this image, I will have to capture a photo this coming spring to show you what I'm talking about, but the leaves of the Mountain Bluebells actually have a slight blue tint to them. I am so used to spotting these that I could be walking down a trail and several yards ahead I can pick out the color change and know that a delightful treat is just ahead.
Mountain Bluebell Leaves
If we look closer at the leaves you will notice that they range anywhere from an Ovate shape (bottom leaf) to a Lanceolate shape (top leaf), you may even find some Elliptical ones (similar to bottom leaf, just rounded at top). As we discussed earlier, they will be blue-green in color, making it easy to spot as you become more experienced. The leaves alternate slightly along the stalk but you will find that they are rather crowded, making the plants form a dense 'bush like' look. This is another thing that makes them easy to spot, it'll be one big mass of leaves with the Bluebells speckled throughout. The leaves usually measure anywhere from 3-15 cm long and 1-4 cm wide. Taking an even closer look at the veins of this amazing wild edible you'll find that they don't actually meet the edge of the leaf. They make a solid loop back around to the center vein.
They can be eaten raw or cooked, but many people prefer them cooked since they are covered in trichome (tiny hairs). By cooking the leaves it will make them more palatable and easier to eat.
Mountain Bluebell Flowers
Now let's take a look at the flowers themselves, you will first find that they are an assortment of colors. The youngest ones that haven't opened yet will be such a light blue or pink that they are almost white, then after they open they will darken to a baby blue, and once again as they grow old and are about to die, they will turn light pink.
These tiny flowers grow to about 10-17 cm long but the weight is just enough to pull the stem into an arch shape, nodding over to represent a bell. Hence the name Bluebell.
The flowers are edible at all stages of life. These can be eaten raw in moderation. I love to have them as a snack on the trail or even to top my salads. They have a sweet floral flavor that is quite enjoyable. Trust me, once you try these wild edibles you will want to visit them every spring. Although Mountain Bluebells aren't as commonly used these days they can be utilized in many ways. The flowers have been used as a natural dye. If turned into an infusion it has been known to increase a mothers milk because of it's Galactogogue properties.
No matter how you plan to use them, this is an easy wild edible to start with. Easily recognizable, no poisonous look-alike, and delicious!
Dye, snack, produce mothers milk (galactogogue), tea.
Raw (but hairy), cooked, tea, produce mothers milk (galactogogue).
Topical, infusion of powdered root relieves itching (smallpox, measles).
Disclaimer: The contents of this article is for educational and gardening purposes only. Before ingesting ANY herb or plant from the wild, please ensure you correctly identify it or consult a professional wild plant harvester for advice.
© 2018 Beth Deveraux