Lost Foods are the native plants that once covered the landscape and were eaten and managed for thousands of years by the original people of California. Now mostly foreign foods and domesticated crops cover the original landscape where these natural foods once grew with less effort and resources.
California is one of the most diverse places on earth, regarded as a world hot-spot for biodiversity; with over 6,200 species of native plants; one third are endemic, which means they occur nowhere else on earth. California is home to more plant species than all other states combined. Many of these plants produce foods, such as, nuts, seeds, fruits, berries, leaves, stems, bulbs, and tubers that humans and wild life can eat. Early explorers could not believe the amount of food fit for human consumption that covered the landscape. These native food producing ecosystems easily produced more food than the domestic farms that took their place.
California now has the most endangered species of any state, which shows we are damaging and losing our rich biodiversity. Endangered species are a result of habitat loss due to commercial agricultural practices along with deforestation and urban sprawl. Some of our most useful plants are also being harvested unsustainable for the herb trade for dollar profits, making our best medicinal plants the rarest. The biggest problem is that we destroy them faster than they can regenerate; and then we plant exotic and invasive plants in their place.
Native plants are the structure of habitat. Native plants provide food and shelter to wildlife; wildlife pollinate and disperse the seeds of native plants. They depend on and support each other. By incorporating edible, medicinal, and material-producing native plants into our agricultural land we can help California’s unique biodiversity recover. It is wiser to depend on these plants and the natural diversity that evolved on these unique lands for thousands of years, instead of on exotic, domestic plants that use so many resources just to survive because they do not fit the local ecology.
The more we learn about our native plants the more we realize that growing and using native edible and medicinal plants can be one of the best things we can do for our health and the health of our local ecosystem. By using and incorporating these plants in our yards, landscapes, and farmlands we can stop the loss of species by sharing the land we use with nature. If our landscapes and farms resembled natural ecosystems or even included some native plants, human activity would not have such a negative impact on nature. At the same time native plants would provide us with some of the most nutritious foods and effective medicines available. Using natives in this way can lead us to a healthy more sustainable future.
Lost Foods encourages the use of native plants on agricultural land and other urban landscapes and even the installation of native food producing ecosystems in their place. Wild foods are highly nutritious specialty foods and many can be cash crops. Instead, our society grows foreign plants and domestic crops which take more energy, water, fertilizers, and pesticides because they do not fit the local ecology. Lost Foods believes native plants have the ability to repopulate their natural areas from the disturbances our society has made if we helped by planting them, removing invasive species, and allowing native plants to spread through the natural process. We can restore native plant habitats and diversity, help endangered species recover, reduce invasive species populations and benefit from the food, medicine, and plant materials produced in the process. We can learn and practice indigenous land management skills to greatly increase the amount of foods produced for humans and wild life. To truly begin to live in balance with our local environment we must learn how to grow and use our native plants that support and fit the local ecology. By growing natives we can become a beneficial part of our local ecosystem and create a symbiotic relationship with nature, where there is a mutual benefit.