Manzanita

I’ve been thinking of ways that I can do some woodworking with the beautiful Manzanita trees that grow on our property, either for crafts or for furniture. Therefore, I’ve done a little research and I thought you might find it useful to have all of the work I’ve done about these trees in one place.

“Manzanita water was the universal California drink [of the Native Americans]”
Survival Skills of Native California, by Paul D Campbell
.Excerpts from pages 149 to 151

Manzanita means “Little Apple” in Spanish, as the little berries look like miniature apples.

Below the fold I’ve got stuff about making wine from the manzanita berry, scientific information about why the bark is smooth, how it propagates, purported health benefits, and extensive excerpts on how the Native Americans used manzanita.

Click on “Read the rest of this entry” to continue.

Manzanita (Arcostaphylos manzanita)… The generic name is Greek for “bear grape,” but the common name means “little apple” in Spanish. And, indeed, the berries look like tiny apples with a mealy rather than juicy flesh and very hard seeds.
Jack Keller’s Wine Making Weblog
(Note, Mr. Keller has some thoughts on making wine from the manzanita berry, and would be interested to hear from anyone who has their own recipe).

Research in Yosemite shows that plants, including acorns, comprise 75% of the diet of Yosemite bears. Bears are also fond of fruit, particularly manzanita, service berry, elderberry, and wild cherry. Chipmunks, ground squirrels, marmot, pocket gophers, and mice are also a part of their diet.
Yosemite Nat’l Park Info

Why is the bark smooth?

Trees with smooth bark lack the standard protection from herbivory (animal feeders on various plant parts) afforded by thick, corky exterior bark, so they must have another strategy to protect themselves. In manzanitas and other smooth-bark trees, the bark layer peels away each year. This prevents fungi, parasites, and epiphytes, such as mosses and lichens, from persisting on the tree’s trunk and stems.

…[t]he rich, reddish coloration of manzanitas…comes from tannins… Tannins are bitter compounds toxic to some organisms; when present in the bark, they most likely serve to deter such organisms (insects, birds, bacteria, etc.) from penetrating the stems and feeding on the tissue within. So the coupling of shedding bark and tannic compounds appears to be an adaptive advantage that discourages stem herbivory.
bynature.com

How does it propagate?

Many chaparral plants produce flammable oils, alcohols and resins that are deposited into the soil around them. Fire removes these toxins and returns nutrients like nitrogen to the soil. Burning wood releases chemicals into the soil that encourages germination of seeds in the soil.

Some chaparral plants, like manzanita, re-sprout after a fire from underground woody structures called root-crown burls. These structures have buds that remain dormant until the winter rains following a fire. Poison oak and chamise are other chaparral plants that re-grow after a fire by burl-sprouting.
Calacadamy.org

California is the center of diversity for manzanita with about 60 species, many of which are endemic. Several species are rare, threatened or endangered.
Calacadamy.org

What did the Indians use Manzanita for?

Feasts were often a time for trading foods after a harvest. Owens Valley Paiute traded salt, pine nuts, and other seeds for acorns and manzanita berries brought by the Western Mono, who lived nearby.

The Pomo (Indians) made juices from elderberries and manzanita berries.
hearstmuseum.berkely.edu

manzanita berries are edible — raw or cooked — in moderation, but can cause constipation if too many are eaten.
Jack Keller’s wine blog

Pomo children would suck or eat the globular waxy flowers of the common manzanita. The green berries came later and quenched thirst when eaten in small quantities. But if too many of these or even the ripe berries were consumed it could lead to death, noted V.K. Chesnut.

Women went out with their babies into the dry hillsides in July or August and beat the ripe berries into great carving baskets. The berries were transported home and eaten raw, stored for the winter, or made into a variety of foods. The Karok shook the bush so the berries would fall into an acorn basket and then spread them in a flat basket to dry in the sun. Later they were taken from a storage basket, pounded, mixed with salmon eggs, cooked in a basket with hot rocks, and eaten…

The Karok … utilized the common manzanita (A. manzanita)… but the Pomo preferred the smaller berry of another manzanita, probably A. tomenlosa… The berries were ground into a very fine meal and stored. This the Pomo later dampened and molded into cakes 4 to 5 inches in diameter and about ¼ inch in thickness that were dried in the sun. Some Pomo rock-boiled manzanita meal into mush. Still others baked bread from the meal in an underground oven. From parched manzanita berries the Central Pomo made a pinole (fine meal) that they mixed with water and drank as a beverage…. The Karok made cider by soaking the berries in water and straining the water through a basket plate or by running water through the berries. Manzanita water was the universal California drink…

The Concow (Northwestern Maidu) carefully selected the manzanita berries, discarding those that were worm eaten. The women scalded them for a few minutes until they were soft, then made a mash of the whole mixture. An equal amount of water was added and all of this at once passed through dried pine needles or straw resting in a shallow sieve basket over a watertight basket. Sometimes they allowed the mash to stand for an hour or so before straining. After cooling it was ready to drink…

The preferred Northern Maidu drink was manzanita cider. The drink was greatly loved in the summer. Berries, dried or fresh, were crushed and the sweet meal mized with water into a stiff dough. A small rough frame of willow covered the top of a soup basket; cross strands of bark had been twined about it to form a rude openwork tray. A few large leaves were placed on the tray, and on the leaves they placed the manzanita dough in the form of a truncated cone, 15 to 20 cm in diameter and 10 to 15 cm high. Into a depression in the top of the cone, water was made to trickle a little at a time. It percolated through the dough, leaching out the flavor and dripping as a clear amber liquid into the watertight basket below. Water was continually added until all the goodness had dissolved out of th heap of berry pulp. The cider was strong, sweet, and refreshing. Slightly roasting the berries yielded a darker liquid with a slightly altered flavor.

Survival Skills of Native California, by Paul D Campbell . Excerpts from pages 149 to 151

The Yokuts are said to have made a desert using manzanita berries and yellow jacket larvae. I’m not sure I believe this account, as the yellow jackets I’m familiar with make their nests up high (usually in the eaves under a house). Perhaps when they say “yellow jacket” they refer to what I would call a “meat bee?”

“Locate a yellowjacket nest hole in the ground. Early in the morning before the yellowjackets are aroused by the light, build a fire close to the hole and force the smoke down the hole with a fan. After the yellowjackets are stupefied by the smoke, dig out the nest and carry it carefully to a prepared bed of coals. Roast the nest, shake the dead larvae out on a basketry tray, mash them, and put them in a basket to be boiled with hot stones. After the larvae are boiled, drain and eat with manzanita berries or acorn meal.

The Natural Work of the California Indians, by Robert E. Heizer & Albert B. Elasser (California Natural History Guides, Phyllis Faber, Series Editor).

Unconfirmed medicinal uses (may refer to species other than those found in California)

Uva Ursi extract Artostaphylos uva-ursi Arbutin Bearberry Leaf Extract Uva Ursi is also known by the names Bearberry, Bear Berry, Kinnikinnik, Manzanita, Mountain Cranberry, Mountain Box, Arbutus, Chipmunk’s Apples, and Hog Cranberry. Most commercial Uva Ursi is grown in Spain. Uva Ursi is a small perennial shrub that typically grows in elevations of about 6,000 feet. In Latin, Uva means “grape”, and Ursi means “of the bear”, hence the common name Bear Berry.

Bears like eating the red berries, as did Native Americans. The Spanish name Manzanita means “little apple” as the berries look like the fruit. The parts of this herb used medicinally are the leaves and the berries. Uva Ursi leaf is widely used as a diuretic, astringent, and antiseptic. Folk medicine around the world has recommended Uva Ursi for nephritis, kidney stones, and chronic cystitis. The herb has also been used as a general tonic for weakened kidneys, liver or pancreas. In Scandinavia, the leaves are sometimes used to tan leather (because of its high tannin content). The berries can be cooked along with other foods. Raw, the berries are bland, but they do help to quench thirst and stimulate saliva flow, and can be used as a “survival food”. The berries can also be made into a cider. The primary chemical constituents of this herb include glycosides (arbutin, methylarbutin, ericolin), allantoin, flavonoids (quercetin, myricacitrin), tannins, hydroquinone, ellagic acid, gallic acid, malic acid, and ursolic acid. It also contains vitamin A, iron, manganese, selenium and silicon. Uva Ursi contains a high concentration of arbutin, an antiseptic phenolic glycoside. Arbutin and other glycosides have diuretic & urinary antiseptic action. They relieve pain from bladder stones, cystitis, nephritis, and kidney stones. In the urinary tract, the arbutin constituent is converted in the body to hydroquinones & glucose which have antiseptic and disinfecting properties, and also helps alkalinize the urine. The hydroquinone may turn the urine green. Uva Ursi also contains allantoin which is well known for its soothing and tissue-repairing properties. Uva Ursi works best when one avoids acidic foods, such as citrus fruits & juices, cranberry products, sauerkraut, and vitamin C. This herb helps prevent postpartum infection. Uva Ursi is also helpful for chronic diarrhea. As a nutritional supplement and muscle relaxant, Uva Ursi soothes, strengthens, and tightens irritated & inflamed tissues. The herb neutralizes acidity in the urine, increasing urine flow, therefore reducing bloating & water retention, making it beneficial for weight loss. Uva Ursi’s astringent properties may also assist in the treatment of some bed wetting problems. The common name Uva Ursi includes the species Arctostaphylos rubra and Arctostaphylos alpina, which are used interchangeably with Arctostaphylos uva-ursi.

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