Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/43

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33
FOOD AND FIBER PLANTS OF THE INDIANS.

unknown in Europe before it was received from America, and that is probably true of other varieties. Among the Pueblo Indians of the table-lands, and the Mohaves on the Colorado, we found many different kinds of beans in cultivation. Some of these w^ere of excellent quality, more delicate in texture and flavor than any cultivated by the whites.

Among the Mexicans and the inhabitants of our Territories bordering on Mexico the frijole is the most important article of diet, and in all campaigns and exploring expeditions in the West our people have come to consider beans as the most useful element in the commissary department. In making forced marches where the least possible weight could be carried, two articles of food were chosen in preference to all others, viz., beans and coffee ; if only one could be taken, that was always the bean, which possesses more and more varied nutritious elements than any other fruit or seed cultivated by man.

3. Psoralea esculenta (pomme blanche). The root of this leguminous plant has been for centuries an article of food among the Indians inhabiting the Rocky Mountains and the plains bordering them. It is frequently referred to by the earlier travelers in that region, and was sometimes their main subsistence during the intervals when for any reason game was not to be had, and transported supplies had been exhausted. The root is white and farinaceous, but has a negative flavor, and as it nowhere exists in great quantity, it has been rather a make-shift than a staple, and its use has been abandoned wherever the supplies furnished by the white man have been attainable. The plant is about a foot high, with hairy stems and leaves, and with compact spikes, of bluish-white flowers. The root is tuberous, an inch or more in diameter, white, farinaceous, and wholesome.

4. Camassia esculenta {camass). Over all the country drained by the Columbia River, and especially the plains and mountain valleys about its sources, the camass grows in considerable abundance, and it has been not only a common resource for the Indians inhabiting that region, but certain localities where it is found in large quantities have taken their names from it, and they are places of resort for the purpose of gathering it. One of these is the somewhat noted Camass prairie on the line of travel from the Upper Missouri to the Columbia. The plant is liliacious, has linear leaves, a scape usually twelve to eighteen inches in height, bearing pretty blue or white flowers. The bulb is about an inch in diameter, mucilaginous, sweetish, and quite nutritious. Where it abounds it is gathered in large quantities, baked, and stored for winter use.

5. Peucedanum farinosum (biscuit-root, couse). In the country bordering the Columbia and in Northern California there are many plants which belong to the umbelliferous genus Peucedanum, some with yellow and a few with white flowers. The foliage is much dissected, sometimes capillary like that of the fennel. Among these is