Camas Lilies (Camassia quamash)

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Camas Lily, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve
Camas Lily, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve

The Camas is an exotic species of plants and is part of the lily family. These are beautiful purple colored flowers which can be found flourishing in their primary Garry oak meadow ecosystem of Vancouver Island in the  in the late spring. Apart from their primary habitat these stunning flowers can also be located in different ecosystems in Washington, British Columbia, Idaho, Oregon and California. The flowers are most impressive in late spring. This species of flower is not endangered but near Duncan, BC, the Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve contains some of the last preserved abundant fields of this flower. In its natural habitat Camas bulbs are available in a limited amount only because of the limited ecosystem of Garry oaks.

Camas bulbs were not just a beautiful exotic flower species for the native people. For the first nation peoples the cultivation of Camas was an important practice because camas was the major source of carbohydrates to them. First nation people used to have a very high sea food diet and for balancing with other important nutrients in their diet Camas bulbs were hugely important. In the ancient times fields of camas were subjected to feuds because every member of a particular family wished to own the farms. The Camas bulb was an important staple food and was a part of great feasts for very special and royal guests. Earlier people used credit camas bulbs for saving them from the grip of hunger and death. For explorers this was the plant that saved them from dying from hunger as well.

Camas flowers vanish in a very short period of time after they have blossomed and completed their life cycle. Camas bulbs are capable of flourishing again year after year.

How to Cook Camas:

Camas bulbs cannot be consumed in their raw state. This is because camas have a special complex carbohydrate named Inulin which cannot be digested raw. In ancient times people used to cook camas in big pits full of water. For hours these pits remained closed and camas was allowed to be cooked under the fire. If you wish to consume them today then you can use steam for cooking them. You will have to steam camas for about 8 hours or so before you consume them. Camas taste like sweet potatoes and to many are a true delicacy.

Camas is an exceptional exotic plant which has been a part of our lives forever. These flowers are beautiful and also have also been a part of our meals for a very long time. To keep it this way don’t harvest wild plants! Camas are available from nurseries and mail order.

Camas Lily, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island
Camas Lily, Cowichan Garry Oak Preserve, Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island

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