Manzanita: our local superfood

by Alicia Funk

Although “nature” is a word used commonly with reverence, much of our real, daily connection to the natural world has been lost. With a changing climate, a 75% loss in food diversity over the last century, the introduction of patented, genetically modified food (GMO’s), and the decline of cultural knowledge of the food uses of native plants, humans are now in a nutritionally vulnerable position.


In the last century, we’ve switched from eating an abundance of local plant varieties, with 30,000 edible species worldwide, to only consuming a narrow range of high-yield species, which, in many cases, lack the taste and the nutritional content of what we enjoyed a hundred years ago and whose cultivation requires significant environmental resources. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 95 percent of the food humans consume comes from only 30 crops, with the majority consisting of rice, wheat, maize, millet, and sorghum.

Local Manzanita berries are one example of a forgotten local food with a long history of use as a food, enjoyed both as a cold cider and ground into raw flour. Ripe when round and deep red in color, the berries can be eaten raw, used as a condiment, added to smoothies or used for baking. Initial studies have shown it to be three times higher in antioxidants than blueberries. Manzanita only grows well under drought-tolerant conditions, a key consideration as water conservation becomes increasingly important in growing food.


Food localization means cultivating a sense of place—a deep awareness of the land we call home. It is a process that depends upon science and traditional indigenous knowledge as well as the continuing exchange of new ideas on sustainable interdependence within the native habitat.

Declining diversity and nutritional content in commercial food crops, loss of genetic control of food from the hands of farmers to the intellectual property of multi-national corporations, disappearing indigenous knowledge systems and difficult to predict climate changes, make it imperative to encourage regional, wild food sources, through cultivation and sustainable wild harvest. With a collaborative approach designed to share information and resources, communities can grow and gather nutrient-dense food crops that protect biodiversity and cultural heritage, while bringing families back outside.

Collect your own berries in the next two weeks (click here for gathering tips) or find the ready-to-use Manzanita sugar at HAALo.



Alicia-Funk-author-sqAlicia Funk is the founder of the Living Wild Project and co-author of the 2nd edition of Living Wild—Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California. Her passion is discovering how to eat, garden, and heal through the sustainable use of local, native plants.

Funk first studied plant-based medicine in 1990 from an indigenous grandmother in Ecuador’s rainforest and is the co-editor of six books on herbal medicine, including The Botanical Safety Handbook, Herbal Medicine-The Expanded Commission E Monographs and The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. She worked for 20 years as a consultant to the natural products industry for organizations including Whole Foods and the American Botanical Council and now focuses her time on discovering new recipes that highlight the nutrition and taste of wild California plants.

She lives off-the-grid with her husband and their three children.

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