Incredible Edibles in County Parks

NEWS // February 19, 2016

Incredible Edibles in County Parks

Louis A. Stelzer County Park, a popular day-use park in Lakeside, is a hotbed of local history. Long ago, the area was home to a nomadic population called the Kumeyaay. The Kumeyaay people traveled from the coast to San Diego’s foothills every October and November, gathering acorns from the oak trees that continue to grace the park. The acorns were cracked, ground, boiled and used to make porridge or Shawee – an acorn mush that baked into dense bread. These acorns along with a variety of plants have provided nutrition for San Diegans for thousands of years.

Ranger Alex Gilbert, who hosts talks at Stelzer about native plants and wildlife, does a special series on what he deems “incredible edibles.” These plants aren’t typically thought of as food, but they are an important part of local cuisine and the perfect addition to a true al fresco dining experience.

“The Kumeyaay had a use for nearly every plant in Stelzer Park,” said Gilbert. “Plants were used to make medicine, shelter, clothing, fire and tools, so it makes sense that they were part of the local diet. The Kumeyaay knew how to live off the land.”

Here’s a look at some of the incredible edibles you might see along the trail:

  • CATTAILS: This plant has a lot to offer. Their pollen is high in protein, their roots can be ground into a starchy flour for baking, and young shoots taste like cucumber.
  • WILD GRAPE: Just like the store-bought variety, wild grapes are delicious fresh or dried, and the leaves can be used in a variety of dishes.
  • ELDERBERRY: Fruits from the elderberry bushes are sweet and used in a variety of desserts and teas. Just be careful – while the berries are edible, the leaves and stems can be poisonous.
  • HOREHOUND: Consider it candy with a cause. Prepared Horehound tastes like cough drops, and is used to soothe sore throats (even today).
  • PRICKLY PEAR CACTUS: Once you get past the spines you can enjoy this vegetable raw or cooked. It’s a popular menu item at Mexican restaurants (Nopales).

For more information about County Parks and upcoming educational events, visit or access the latest series of Program and Activity Guides. We encourage you to experience the upside of outside along with us!   

Article written by County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation