In its early years, people knew the small town of Gustavus as “Strawberry Point” because of the abundance of the sweet, wild berries growing here.  The town name was changed to Gustavus in 1925 by the new post office.  This new name came from Gustavus Point at the mouth of Glacier Bay.  However, locals continued to refer to the community as Strawberry Point into the 50s and beyond.

The wild strawberry, or beach strawberry, as it is often called, is a member of the rose family.  It is a perennial from the Fragaria genus.  The plant has thick, scaly roots.  It starts new plants by runners, just like cultivated strawberries.  The leaves of the beach strawberry look the same also.  In the spring, a flower with 3 white petals blooms on a long, slender stem.  The juicy fruit grows up to 1 inch long.

The leaves, stems, and berries are edible and contain lots of vitamin C as well as iron, potassium, sulphur, calcium and sodium.  Eat the berries raw or in jam, jelly, and other desserts.

Gustavus black bears really like strawberries.  If you have a favorite patch, you’d better pick Continue reading


We in Southeast Alaska are fortunate to have many mountain ash growing in our forests.  They flank the road down half my long driveway, and are lovely at any time of year.

Did you know mountain ash has an alias?  It is also known as the rowan tree.  The ancient druids revered it.  This group included lawyers, poets, and doctors, but were best known for being religious leaders.  Druids believed the tree, having the power to enhance life and create magic, held forces that could counteract evil and give protection from witchcraft.  For this reason the tree was often planted in churchyards.  It was also believed that by wearing a sprig or a cross made from the wood, the person would be safe from such negative powers.  Druid priests also used the bark and berries of the tree to make a black dye used for garments at lunar coronations.

A member of the Sorbus genus, mountain ash is part of the rose family.  The berries are edible, though rather bland.  They are sweeter after the first frost.  Nutritionally, they are high in vitamins C and A.  When made into jam or jelly, their flavor may be enhanced by adding sugar, ginger and apples.  The birds, however, need no additions but find the berries to be choice food.  Thanks to these feathered creatures, the seeds have spread throughout the woods of remote Alaska.

Though the berries are edible, this shrub or tree is valuable at any time of year as an ornamental.  Its leaves, pinnately compound, are attractive by themselves.  In the spring  clusters of white flowers adorn the tree.  These flowers gradually wilt and turn brown; they then transform and ripen into stunning bright red berries.  Once the berries fall from the tree and the temperatures drop, the mountain ash leaves change to spectacular shades of red-orange and yellow, creating yet another beautiful display.

Many ancient groups have legends about the mountain ash under its rowan tree alias.  There is a Greek legend concerning Hebe, the goddess of youth.  Hebe had a magic chalice from which she served a drink to the gods from time to time, to keep them young and healthy. Continue reading


Spring comes to Gustavus when the dull colors of winter give way to the greens of the forest under-story and grassy lawns.  Then, we know the season has arrived for sure when the first dandelions appear.  Their bright-yellow flowers, like little suns reflecting back from the ground, lift our hearts and bring smiles to our faces.

As spring continues, the dandelions become more and more prolific, until they seem to be trying to take over the world.  Never fear — I have a solution here for you.  When you get tired of looking at that field of yellow, you can make a very fine wine from the blossoms.  You’ll need 15 quarts of them for your first batch, so start picking!

Soon after you start your wine the remaining Continue reading


The dandelion (Taraxicum genus) is a perennial, and a member of the very large composite
family.  “Dandelion” comes from the French name, “dent de lion” (tooth of the lion.)

Roots, crowns (parts between roots and ground surface), and tops, from young leaves to flower buds and full blooms, can be eaten.  They are an excellent source of vitamins B, C, and A.  The plant is especially high in calcium, and also contains potassium, phosphorous and sodium. Here is a summary of ways dandelions can be eaten:

Roots:  Scrape, slice, and boil roots in salted water until tender, then eat as a vegetable.  Being part of the chicory family, the roots may also be dried in the oven, ground, and used as a coffee substitute.  I would recommend Continue reading