Chew on This: Eating wild plants in Southwest Prescott

There are a lot of options when it comes to eating in the quad-cities. One way is to take a hike and pick a meal along the way.

Prescott, according to author Carolyn Niethammer, offers a great temperate zone for edible, and wild, plants. Niethammer is the author of "The Prickly Pear Cookbook," published by Rio Nuevo Press; "American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest," "Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants," published by the University of Arizona Press; and her first-ever fiction novel, "The Piano Player," released this year.

She knows a thing or two about the area's wild plants.

Niethammer grew up in the Granite Dells area between Willow and Watson lakes at a time when development didn't exist in the area. As a child, most of her days were spent playing outdoors. As such, she was familiar with a number of native plants in the area, but didn't know many were edible until years later.

"The most easily recognized and used is the prickly pear, of course," Niethammer said, adding that the time she spent working on her first cookbook counted as the first time she gathered food in the wild. But she did pick prickly pear with her parents. "My parents were from the Midwest originally so they must have learned about prickly pear from someone. We went to Sedona and up the Schnebly Hill road."

Niethammer later traveled throughout the Southwest to research her first book by interviewing Native American women about the plants they used. She learned from Grace Mitchell, leader of the Yavapai at the time, about acorns from Emory oaks.

"She said the Yavapai cowboys would take a pocketful of those acorns and, with some water, that would be their lunch. To many people, they taste bitter, but they are less bitter than the acorns from other oak species," Niethammer said.

Besides a number of wild mushrooms, which Niethammer said only experts should gather, berries such as wild currants and sumac, often called lemonade berries, and manzanita berries, among others, are plentiful in the area.

Cattail pollen, she added, counts as a fun edible plant that is easy to gather.

"In the spring, the new cattails are loaded with golden pollen. It is full of vitamin A. Take a small paper bag, put it over the cattail and shake. The pollen can be added to any baked goods or even stirred into rice or quinoa," Niethammer said. "There is a lot less danger to eating wild plants than people think. Look at pictures closely, especially the leaf shape. Consider the growing area. Take a walk with people who can show you the right plants."

Niethammer will take part in a special panel discussion Saturday, titled "Women Who Broke the Mold" at the Peregrine Book Company, located at 219A N. Cortez St. in downtown Prescott. Authors Amy Hale Auker and Heidi Thomas also will be in attendance for the discussion, which will focus on women who live outside societal norms and the fictional characters that appear in their books. Visit peregrinebookcompany.com for more information.

To learn more about Carolyn Niethammer, visit her website at cniethammer.com.