Manzanita Berries

boletus
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September 3rd, 2018, 3:48 am #1

I took the family up to the hills today to have a bit of quiet time away from the city. We are on the tail end of manzanita season, but we were still able to collect a few. My main drive to gather them was to make some shrub with the berries, but Im not sure if a long soak in vinegar will leach out any toxins from the stones. They contain some of the same elements that you can find in apple seeds, so Im going to go with a more traditional approach with the batch this year. Does anyone have any thoughts on this? Im not a chemist, so Ill be making a cider-like drink with them, just like the natives. I will say that collecting manzanita berries is not for the faint of heart! You better truly love foraging, because this was NOT easy to do. Most of the berries are pretty sticky, even in their dried form like the ones we collected here and its no joke trying to clean them of debris. Im going to have to come up with a different method.. I did break a few open and taste a bit of the dried, powdery fruit inside and its very similiar in taste to apples, a bit tart and also sweet. I'm excited about the preparation. I took this photo out in the field today. That was the sum of our haul, but at least we'll be able to have a little taste and a bit of experience for next season. Theres got to be a better way to harvest these things..

Sent from my LGMP450 using Tapatalk

-Jason
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Forager
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September 3rd, 2018, 2:36 pm #2

Again from Anderson's Tending the Wild:

"Indians gathered most fruits by hand, breaking off the single fruit or cluster.  Some shrubs . . . were shaken or knocked with sticks to make the fruit fall off into baskets placed below.  With particular species of manzanita bearing very sticky berries, the Sierra Miwok would sweep under the bushes and knock the fruit to the ground rather than use their hands."

"The fruit beverage that quenched thirst in more California Indian homes than any other was a type of cider made from the crushed berries of manzanita shrubs.  The fruits were often mashed in mortars or slicks into a fairly dry pulp and set in open-work basket colanders.  Water was then poured over the mass and the liquid drained into another water-tight basket, producing a refreshing drink.  Merriam  described it as being "in color and flavor like the very best apple cider[,] . . . cooling and delicious."  Each woman had her own special manzanita shrubs that provided the best-tasting berries.  Cider is still made by Indian families in many parts of California."
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boletus
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September 4th, 2018, 12:18 am #3

Thank you for the reference. Ive looked into that book and Ill have a copy of my own soon!
-Jason
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DuxDawg
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September 4th, 2018, 11:22 pm #4

At the risk of suggesting the absurdly obvious, if you're worried about the seeds... remove them before steeping?? That being said, it sounds like a valid concern as vinegar does extract much. Look at pickling brine: goes in clear, comes out cloudy. 

Be interesting to see if anyone knows what vinegar does or does not extract. 
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Forager
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September 4th, 2018, 11:47 pm #5

DD your point about removing the seeds is well taken from a practical standpoint, I would tend to do no less with such a concern.  However, in lengthy and detailed discussions with a very mature (85 y/o) indigenous life-long traditional practitioner I was strongly encouraged to simply mash my Chokecherries with the seeds which I understood to contain the principle for arsenic, then dry them in the sun as a preserve.  He argued that this was how it was always done in the past and how he'd enjoyed them throughout his long life without adverse effect.  I did so, and within a few years reconstituted them, enjoyed them, and in like manner suffered no ill effect (and the seeds added a pleasant almond flavor to the fruit, as I've observed with Saskatoons).  Is it that the arsenic principle in the crushed seeds is neutralised under the sun's UV rays, translated into something better, or some other less esoteric organic reaction of exposure?  I don't know.

It's very interesting that we learn through our contemporary means of scientific inquiry about the constituents of botanicals, and classify them according to the requirements of our health... we learn more as our research questions subsequently evolve over time and discover that our initial judgements were premature... that non-industrial eggs from bug-eating hens which forage for their greens are very good, butter produced from truly pasture-ranging cows is a boon, and so forth.  It may be that when our science matures to the extent of appraising the overall data condensed into the accumulated lore of truly ancient traditions which have been nourished by such food preparations, we may come to understand that it not how much or little, but how properly to garner and prepare our diet which makes us healthy and defensibly resistant to affliction.  This is not an endorsement of a food process, diet, nor philosophy, but merely a reflection on a detail of our topic.
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DuxDawg
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September 5th, 2018, 3:18 pm #6

Believe it was Thayer (or maybe Kallas?) who went over how drying destroys the "bad stuff" (believe you are correct in naming arsenic, but would have to review to be certain) in Chokecherry seeds. Makes sense that crushing, then drying Manzanita seeds would do the same for them. 

As to nutrition, I have clung to Joan Gussow's remark that she "trusts the cows more than the chemists" since the Great Margarine Fiasco of the 1970s. The Great Egg Fiasco of the 1980s further solidified that wisdom. Clearly there are beneficial interactions in whole foods that the chemists haven't even begun to understand. 
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Forager
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September 5th, 2018, 3:26 pm #7

Ah!  Thanks for drawing my attention to the toxic principle I referenced - Rereading it I suddenly remembered that it is not arsenic but cyanide.

And yes now that you mention it, I recall some germ of information about the drying factor disarming it.  Thank you for stepping in with these details!
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Michael Bootz
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September 5th, 2018, 5:27 pm #8

Not that I know anything about chokecherries or processing them, but off the top I don't see how drying could disarm cyanide (or cyanogenic glycosides to be precise as this is the type of compound that some fruit seeds or bitter almonds contain).
Heat/cooking is usually the best way to destroy these substances and get rid of the cyanide (which is why e.g. bambbo shoots need to be cooked to be edible).
Some seeds, to my knlowedge, contain very little cyanide, so that eating modest amounts (plus one usually doesn't chew the seeds anyway) is not harmful.
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DuxDawg
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September 5th, 2018, 10:14 pm #9

Sam Thayer goes over how heating or drying deactivates the amygdalin (precursor to cyanide) in Forager's Harvest or Nature's Garden. 

This article makes the same assertion: 

https://www.today.com/health/amygdalin- ... ng-t114515

From the above article: 
"Heat deactivates the cyanide, so seeds are safe if processed properly, which often involves soaking, drying, heating — including cooking, canning and roasting — or fermenting..."
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Forager
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September 5th, 2018, 10:38 pm #10

This harmonizes with my advisor's emphasized and reiterated insistence that the Chokecherries which had been pounded with seeds into a mash needed to be dried in the sun, a task which occurs during the strongest heat of Summer.  This would combine heat and drying.

I am however curious about Michael's information - how would cyanogenic glycosides be broken down through such natural means and what are the resulting compounds?  Are they less threatening, inert, or somehow even nutritious?  My hope is that so very long and deep a food processing tradition should disclose analytical information from a phytochemical/nutritional standpoint.
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DuxDawg
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September 5th, 2018, 10:42 pm #11

Another article. 
This is from a Wild Foods site. The author mentions processing chokecherries with Sam Thayer, among others. 

arcadianabe.blogspot.com/2012/10/chokecherry-from-dry-side-of-mountain.html?m=1. 

"WARNING: Avoid eating the crushed Chokecherry pits right away as the crushing process converts amygdalin into poisonous hydrogen cyanide(prussic acid), but this toxin boils away quickly at temperatures above 79° F and is probably absent in all but trace amounts when ground Chokecherries have been properly dehydrated."  

Note the specific temperature of "above 79°F".

From the comments upon the above blog article: 
"Thank you so much. I have been searching for years for information about how to make sure the pits are safe. I assumed that it must evaporate (and you can smell it happening). I thought they nearly had to be safe as I had heard the same recipes from Crow Indians and Mongolians among others. I went as far as consulting a chemist who said you might eat them every day and then happen to have bacteria in your gut that release the cyanide and you're a goner. Do you have a citation for this information? Very nice blog."  

Also among the comments was this link that covers several Native American uses of chokecherries, including several recipes. 
http://plantwatch.naturealberta.ca/choo ... ke-cherry/
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DuxDawg
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September 5th, 2018, 10:57 pm #12

Another name for Amygdalin is vitamin B17... How very interesting! 
https://www.apexcsllc.com/index_files/AMYGDALIN.htm
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DuxDawg
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September 5th, 2018, 11:14 pm #13

Some interesting information about glycosides: 
https://www.researchgate.net/publicatio ... _armeniaca

"... Moreover, pasteurisation does appear to reduce the activity of b-glucosidase, as the enzyme is not very active after pasteurisation. A previous study by Nout,Tunçel, and Brimer (1995)reported that endogenous b-glucosidase activity causes a significant degradation of amygdalin in ground apricot seeds soaked at 20 °C." 

(20°C = 68°F) 
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Brian T
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September 6th, 2018, 4:38 pm #14

On the Canadian prairies, anyone harvesting Saskatoons or chokecherries did so by stripping the bushes over a tarp (aka bison hide).
Pick up the corners and you are done except for the cleaning.  I still harvest Saskatoons this way, 20-25 lbs per day.
The Saskatoom varieties found across the Nechako plateau are as good as the prairie sorts.  (Pie tested!)

Dad carved and built a crusher for the chokecherries, two ribbed pieces of wood to break the fruit and NOT the pits.
That's enough damage for very successful wine making.  The pits fall to the bottom of your primary fermentation tank = lees.
Also, Dad claimed that analysis showed very little leaching from the pits.  
Of course, you rack off the raw ferment over the pits as soon as is practical.

Chokecherry pit fragments are as hard as stone.  Dangerous from a long term dental health point of view.
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Michael Bootz
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September 6th, 2018, 5:27 pm #15

Forager wrote: This harmonizes with my advisor's emphasized and reiterated insistence that the Chokecherries which had been pounded with seeds into a mash needed to be dried in the sun, a task which occurs during the strongest heat of Summer.  This would combine heat and drying.

I am however curious about Michael's information - how would cyanogenic glycosides be broken down through such natural means and what are the resulting compounds?  Are they less threatening, inert, or somehow even nutritious?  My hope is that so very long and deep a food processing tradition should disclose analytical information from a phytochemical/nutritional standpoint.
Glycosides are molecules containing one or more sugars (hence the name, which is derived from the Greek "glykós", meaning sweet, just like glucose), which occur in nature. Cyanogenic glycosides are glycosides which "contain" a cyanide molecule - the cyanide is bonded to the glycoside. Since Amygdalin has been mentioned above, let's use it as an example. This is the molecular structure:
Amygdalin-PP.jpg
Circled in green is a cyanide molecule which is connected to the glycoside via the bond marked in red. Enzymes in your body can break that bond. This results in cyanide in your body, which is not good for you. When cooking, the heat will also break that bond. The resulting cyanide then reacts with water to form hydrogen cyanide (= prussic acid) which is a gas and therefore evaporates. That makes plants which contain such glycosides safe to eat after cooking.
I'd like to stress that drying alone does nothing to destroy/remove the cyanide - only heat does.
Some fruits whose seeds contain cyanogenic glycosides may be safe to eat if the seeds are left whole and not chewed, as the body cannot break the seeds down (which would release the cyanogenic glycosides and thus the cyanide). Some seeds also contain only very small concentrations, which are not harmful. This is not a general rule, however. For example, eating a bunch of raw bitter almonds is a pretty bad idea - according to Wikipedia 5 to 10 bitter almonds could kill a child.
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Brian T
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September 6th, 2018, 6:31 pm #16

What we call "stone fruits" = peaches, plums, nectarines, cherries, apricots and the like.
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Forager
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September 6th, 2018, 6:59 pm #17

Thank you Michael for so simple and clear an explanation!  I couldn't imagine anything more direct and specific.
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Forager
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September 6th, 2018, 7:02 pm #18

boletus I apologize for leading the discussion this far from Manzanitas.  Looking forward to the results on your culinary trials.
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boletus
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September 6th, 2018, 10:31 pm #19

Its not too far away, since part of the discussion was involving the pits of the berries. Carry on :)
-Jason
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Brian T
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September 6th, 2018, 11:42 pm #20

Just used Google Images to see what the plant/bush looks like.
I'd deal with them like Saskatoons = Amelanchier sp. = step ladder and an 8' x 10' cheap tarp.
I'm fresh out of bison hides.
The fruits are clustered.  Strip over the tarp, pick up the 4 corners, drag to next bush, go again.
That way, you get to work with both hands = 4X faster.
Fine food from what I learned.
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