Blue camas is an herbaceous perennial that is part of the lily family. In late spring the flower blossoms into an eye-catching blue, which indicates it is time for harvesting. The bulb takes on the shape of a shallot and is harvested between May and August. The blue camas bulb takes on a sweet flavor and texture similar to that of a parsnip.
While blue camas grows throughout the western United States and western Canada as part of a staple in indigenous people’s diets, the blue camas was especially important to the Coast Salish people of South Vancouver Island. During the peak of the camas harvesting season indigenous groups would collect the camas in cattail bags (burlap sacks) for easy transport. The plant was used in traditional feasts and was traded with neighboring First Nations tribes. At large events the indigenous people would regularly cook the blue camas in pit cooks.
The Coast Salish people traditionally conducted controlled burning, which helped remove weeds and bushes and so maintained the meadows and grasslands next to the rocky terrain in which blue camas thrives.
The accurate selection of the blue camas bulbs has been passed down through the traditional oral knowledge of indigenous people. It is important when selecting blue camas that it not be mistaken for the closely related death camas, which can cause death if eaten.
To learn more about blue camas and other plants of Coastal First Peoples, check out Nancy Turner’s book Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples.
Serves two as a side dish.
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 12 hours
- 1/2 pound blue camas bulbs, about a dozen
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon verjus, lemon juice, or white wine vinegar
- Smoked salt
1. Remove the papery sheath from the bulbs and put them in an ovenproof container with a lid. Pour in just enough water to cover the bottom of the container by about ¼ inch or so. Cover the container and bake the camas bulbs at 220–230 degrees for 12 hours. Check on them after 8 hours or so. They should appear from pale gold to full gold in color.
2. Slice the bulbs into rings and lightly dust them with fine salt. Sauté them in olive oil, butter, or some other fat until they brown. They will be a little sticky, so keep the pan moving for the first minute or so to prevent the bulbs from sticking to the pan. Keep an eye on them, as the sugars in the camas will caramelize quickly.
3. To finish, toss with the verjus and dust with the smoked salt. Eat at once.