Category Archives: Hiking

Conifer Syrup & the Best Conference Ever

CAMP

Most conferences I’ve attended have gone something like this: show up to some hotel ballroom, get a name badge, sit through endless panels and PowerPoint presentations, and then muster up the energy to attend a reception where I attempt to make small talk while holding a cup of so-so wine.

CAMP isn’t your average conference.

The brainchild of UNIQUE‘s Sonja Rasula, the very first CAMP drew together an inspiring group of entrepreneurs and creatives for an immersive experience unlike any I’ve had before. Up in the mountains two hours outside of LA, we had our comfort zones challenged, bonded with our peers, and attended workshops that stimulated both mind and body. No name tags, no cell phones, no stuffy hotel rooms, and no subpar booze (on the contrary, Proprietors LLC were on hand for evening cocktails and mixology lessons!). It was a four-day experience that I’ll remember for a lifetime.

CAMP

As the leader of a CAMP workshop called Wildcrafting with Conifers, I had the great joy of teaching participants about some of the wild foods in the woods around our camp. We focused on my favorite citrusy white fir (Abies concolor) and vanilla-scented Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), both of which can be used to make fragrant syrups for cocktails, sodas, and more. I like mixing conifer syrup with fizzy water and a squeeze of lemon — splash of homemade gin optional. White fir can be especially aromatic and lemony and I love the syrup with fresh strawberries, drizzled over cake, and used to sweeten hot tea and lemonade. The possibilities are limitless.

CAMP

Depending on where you live, you could make conifer syrup with fir (Abies), Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), pine (Pinus), spruce (Picea), or hemlock (Tsuga; not to be confused with Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum, which is a completely different plant). Flavors vary between seasons and even individual plants, so nibble as you forage and pick what tastes and smells good to you. Never cut the top of a tree, which can open it up to decay and disease — just pinch or cut off the tips of the branches with pruning shears. As always when foraging, be mindful of the health of the plants, their ecosystem, and your role in it.

Because we did not have refrigeration in our cabins at CAMP, I had us make a shelf-stable rich syrup (2:1 sugar to water ratio), which has a lower water content and a splash of vodka to prevent spoilage. One could also make a 1:1 simple syrup and store it in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Conifer Syrup

Makes about 1 3/4 cup (14 ounces)

2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/2 to 1 cup conifer tips and/or needles
1 ounce 100-proof vodka

Lightly bruise the conifer needles with a knife.

Combine the conifer needes, sugar, and water in a saucepan over low-moderate heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. Simmer for 5-7 minutes until the solution is clear.

Let cool completely and strain. Stir in the vodka.

Bottle in a very clean, airtight bottle.

conifer syrup

p.s. We also made buttery shortbread cookies scented with white fir and orange zest! For that recipe, see my post at The Kitchn → Evergreen Shortbread Cookies

Spring in Griffith Park

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I spend so much time hiking on the outskirts of town that I sometimes forget one of the nation’s largest city parks is practically in my backyard. Griffith Park is a sprawling urban wilderness — not quite as serene as our favorite “getaway” trails, but there’s still much to learn and appreciate. While Gregory goes trail running, I poke around in the woodlands and chaparral…

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(left) London rocket (Sisymbrium irio) – A member of the mustard family with spicy, pungent leaves. A bite of this will jolt your tastebuds if you’re feeling sluggish on the trail!

(right) Shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) – I haven’t foraged for this yet, but I recently learned that the leaves and roots are eaten in Korean cuisine, where it’s known as naengi.

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California everlasting/cudweed (Gnaphalium californicum) – I am developing quite a love affair with the dreamy, maple syrupy fragrance of this plant. I’m just learning to use it in food and medicine, so more to come!

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(left) Lupine (Lupinus longifolius, maybe?) – Some varieties of lupin seeds are edible, but I haven’t delved into this world yet. Lupines always make me smile, though, as they remind me of my home state flower, the Texas bluebonnet.

(right) California bluebells/wild canterbury bells (Phacelia minor) – Can cause dermatitis similar to poison oak, but it sure is pretty springing forth from the rocky ledges.

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Griffith Park wildlife in action.

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(left) Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) – This nettle is starting to seed, which can be used for food and medicine. My friend Rebecca at Cauldrons & Crockpots has a nice monograph on nettle.

(right) Blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea) – It’s disconcerting how early in the season the flowers are blooming (an effect of climate change?), but I am looking forward to making elderflower cordial and champagne soon.

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Finally, if you need a dose of human culture, you can always climb up to the Griffith Observatory, pay homage to the bust of James Dean, and imagine that you’re watching a teenage knife fight … or am I the only one under the age of 70 who does that? :)

{Note: This blog is meant to inspire, not serve as an identification or field guide. If you decide to forage yourself, make absolutely sure you know what you’re picking, and make your own decisions about where and how you gather.}