Rooted Apothecary

Rooted Apothecary Guided Plant Journey

Briana Wiles

There’s something to be said about intentionally setting aside time in our hectic schedules to focus entirely on our lives, our bodies and our health (both mental, and physical).

But so often, this is easier typed than done.

I believe in our culture, there’s a certain guilt about slowing down, even for a short time, especially when it’s for the sake of our own wellbeing…

High Alpine Smoke

Briana Wiles

It was simple, like most good things are.  It was just a dinner, cooked over a wood fire for a couple friends, high up in the woods on another Friday night. 


But in my personal opinion, most good things involve wood fires.


What made it special were the people and the place.  We sat in the grass and on camping pads, surrounded by tall pines and wild blueberries.  The late evening sun was sinking over the dramatic cuts of rock in the surrounding mountains, making the forest turn a glowy-gold. 


We chatted about anything that struck our minds—without the distraction of wifi and whistling phones, we were fully present, and didn’t feel bad striking up conversations. 


We were camping in a place that’s not easy to get to, high up in the Rocky Mountains.  There was a lake near by, and plenty of dense forest, riddled with fallen pine trees.  Wilderness surrounded us, and we felt a bit more electric just by being in it.  And we were together in the most authentic way possible, which made it feel like coming home.


osha (Ligusticum porteri)

osha (Ligusticum porteri)

pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)

pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea)

In the chilly, mid-September evening, we sat around the campfire and watched the sun disappear.  And in that moment, we felt inspired to roll up a cigarette made with a smoking blend of the finest foraged plants—osha (Ligusticum porteri), pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), elephantella (Pedicularis groenlandica), bracted lousewort (Pedicularis bracteosa), curly lousewort (Pedicularis racemosa) and fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium).

elephantella (Pedicularis groenlandica)

elephantella (Pedicularis groenlandica)

curly lousewort (Pedicularis racemosa)

curly lousewort (Pedicularis racemosa)

The smoking blend is a beauty—almost too pretty to light up.  But we ground up the flowers and leaves anyways, and rolled it into a paper, and passed it around the fire.  And just like the sun eased into sunset, we relaxed into the night as we passed the cigarette around.


The blend is meant to be relaxing, no matter where you smoke it.  But I can say for certain, a campfire with friends in the woods makes it all the more enjoyable. 


Try your hand at foraging for your own wild smoking blend, or you can purchase the blend directly from Rooted Apothecary this Fall!



--Article written by Cayla Vidmar

Serviceberry + Stinging Nettle Seed Challah

Briana Wiles

A trip over Kebler pass is nothing short of amazing—from summer to fall, the views stretch from craggy peaks, to rolling forests of aspen (the biggest grove of aspens in the state, and possibly one of the largest organisms in the world).  



Whether you’re on way to or from Paonia, Hotchkiss or Carbondale, or just going for a hike, you should probably take your Mountain States Foraging  book and some containers, baskets or the extra fabric of your dress—in the summer and fall months, this place abounds with goodies.



Take, for example, the serviceberries and stinging nettle seeds Briana found while spending the day in the woods.  Serviceberries are similar to blueberries, but with a touch of almond (and larger than the blueberries you’ll find in these parts).  Uses for stinging nettle seeds, can be found in Mountain States Foraging, and are considered very nutritious. They can be a bit dicey to get, considering the stinging hairs that are attached to the leaves and stalk—use caution and clippers. After you have clipped the seed-loaded upper stalk of the plant, let it dry or use the seeds fresh. The stinging nettle seeds easily come off the plant and should cause you no harm. 


For this special batch of foraged goods, we enlisted the baking experts at Mountain Oven Organic Bakery to bake the berries and seeds into hearty and sweet challah bread.  Mountain oven specializes in organic, sourdough leavened breads and pastries, and delicious locally sourced meals, served at The Guild Café in Crested Butte.


While we didn’t snag the challah recipe, adding serviceberries and stinging nettle seeds to any home baked bread would be a treat—sub for other berries in desserts or breads you already bake and dust the nettle seeds on top for a hearty and nutritious crunch.



The bakers at Mountain Oven recommend soaking the berries in a sugar and water bath before baking, and then letting them dry out before adding to the dough.  This helps to sweeten and bring out the natural flavor of the berry.



If you were baking challah or different bread, this would make for excellent French toast, or simply as a breakfast toast with butter or coconut oil.  Whatever you do, take a picture of it and tag @RootedApothecary on Instagram for a chance to be featured!



--Article written by Cayla Vidmar



Wild Bilberry Rum Smash

Briana Wiles

It is not always bounty and baskets full of berries.  In fact sometimes it’s dusty old plants, minuscule berries and having to wait a day and find a different place to search for your prize.


The unknowing, the searching and patience in the season is all a part of it—but I suppose the same can be said about life in general.  And such as it was for the wild blueberries.


A blueberry by any other name is just as sweet, and these beauties are often referred to as bilberries or huckleberries, depending on your location.  Regardless of the name, if you live in the high rockies, you must abandon the fantasy of thick, rolling patches of tall blueberry bushes, ripe with berries the size of your thumb nail.   


The blueberries of the Rocky Mountains take a much different approach to ground cover, and I was fascinated that my favorite berry was actually very widespread here, easily found by parking the car and stepping off the road.  


So on a warm Sunday, we each wrapped up our afternoons, grabbed a libation of choice, and headed for the hills—trucks and jeeps alike clunking down familiar dirt roads.  At our destination, our leader, Briana Wiles, went to squatting close to the earth, and rifling up leaves that, once identified, could be spotted everywhere.


Overjoyed at our luck to find such bounty, we were quickly subdued when we realized the berries at this particular location where incredibly small and less abundant than we hoped.  But never the less, we stooped and collected a couple for the road, and I for one was blown away by the flavor packed in such a tiny package.


The flavor was equal parts vanilla and vibrant blueberry within a berry not bigger than a pin head.


But unfortunately, there were simply not enough of them to make this weeks cocktail: Wild Bilberry Rum Smash.


So the next day, determined to find more berries, I set out with Briana, Salix (the kiddo) and Bella (the malamute) to the patch of bilberries, which was apparently bursting at the seams.  


The truck bounced down the road on Kebler Pass, then on to Ohio Pass, and Bella hollered out the window at passing bicyclists.  And as simple as that, we pulled off the road and parked the truck, I stepped out with my mason jar in hand and was greeted with a hillside covered in the berries.


And not the dust-particle-size berries of the day before, but rather plump berries the size of tapioca balls and deep purple in color.  So ripe, my fingers were stained by the end of it.  


We rummaged through the hillside for an hour, barely making a dent.  And we chatted about life—the unknowing, the searching, having patience in the season—as we each filled our jars.  But the night was on it’s way out, and we figured we should be too, so we gathered the kiddo and the malamute and we bounced back down the road.  


And when you’ve gone to all the trouble of finding and harvesting wild bilberries for the purpose of cocktail making, you of course go to all of the trouble of using the best rum you can find.  Which lead me to Montanya’s Distillery  in Crested Butte for some of their Platino rum.  


Once home, I set out to making drinks for my hubby and I.  Measuring out around 3 Tbs of wild bilberries, with a squeeze of half a fresh lime, and teaspoon of organic cane sugar, I muddled the mix in my shaker.  I then added 2 oz of Montanya Platino Rum, added a couple of ice cubes and gave a hearty shake before pouring it into our ice-filled glasses and topping with club soda.  As always, add more or less of everything to taste.


The smooth aroma, and subtle vanilla notes of the rum melded perfectly with the vanilla-tinted berries and tart lime.  They combined so well, in fact, I made myself another.  Because I spent all that time rifling berries into my jar, I might as reap the rewards, right?


I guess in that way, the same can be said about life too.  We spend a lot of time in seasons of drought, hardship and what feels like endless searching, but when we find what it is we’ve been looking for, the rewards are paramount.


--Photos and article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary

Safety and Precautions: Foraging 101

Briana Wiles

It’s all rainy days, low slung clouds, and rain on tin-roofs around the Gunnison Valley these days—a much needed, thirst-quenching storm has arrived and settled in.  A perfect excuse for warm coffee, bouquets of flowers on the table, and a book, of course.


It’s also a great time to get well-versed in the foraging dos and don’ts.  There is plenty to learn in the way of safety, sustainability, legalities, terms, and botany in the world of foraging, and its best to have at least a cursory grasp on these things before heading out, wicker basket and clippers in hand.

Gathering sweet clover (M elilotus officinalis ), yarrow (A chillea millefolium ), and sagebrush ( Artemisia tridentata ) for a big batch of  Back Off Bug Spray .

Gathering sweet clover (Melilotus officinalis), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) for a big batch of Back Off Bug Spray.


Today, a word on foraging safety, considerations, and a note on common poisonous plants to the mountain states.  All of which, can be found in Briana’s new book Mountain States Foraging, a guide book to wild edibles in the mountain west.


Foraging for Briana has been a lifeline to a wild love rooted in her family history, and her book is that love, put to print.  


“My hope is not that this book will sit on a shelf or table but rather that it will somehow land, open, in the hands of a bored child or an adult waiting anxiously for time to pass.  When they leave that spot, I want them to greet the lamb’s quarters, dandelions, and salsify with an irresistible urger to pick a leaf and taste it.  This is how foraging lures you in, takes hold of your whole being, and welcomes you to the wild side.”


It can be an incredible journey, one which we encourage everyone to try.  But let’s talk safety, shall we?


Foraging Safety Basics


As Briana states, “before considering any plant for consumption, be aware of possible cousins, contraindications to medicines, and poisonous look-alikes of that plant.”  Indeed, her book is chalk-full of incredible information, warnings, and the like regarding wild edible plants, but ultimately it is your responsibility as a person to know what medicines you are taking, what could react to those medications, and what you’re allergic to.  If you have serious food related allergies, it is best to find out if certain plants are in the same family as the foods you’re allergic to.


It is always best to consult multiple guidebooks to assist you in your foraging efforts, thus getting the most information on a plant, multiple photos to compare plants to, and the comforts of making informed harvesting choices.


Contaminants are also an area you must consider when foraging.  Contaminants in soils from fertilizers, herbicides, human pollution, animal pollution (like from cattle ranches and farms), mining remnants, etc, are all things to consider when choosing an area to gather from.  As Briana states, “the soil in populated cities and rural communities can harbor chemicals from herbicides and pesticides and heavy metals from mining and factories, along with other contaminants.”  


It also important to know what your gathering downstream from—runoff from farms, cattle ranches and manure can leach in water systems downstream.  “Don’t harvest water-loving plants from the shores of rivers or reservoirs that are contaminated or polluted by mining, factories, or agriculture,” as stated in Briana’s book.  


Always make sure to gather watercress (Nasturtium officinale) from a clean waterway, and only take parts of the plant that are above the waterline. Watercress, being an aquatic plant, runs the risk of harboring liver flukes, which live in dirty water. They can not survive out of water, but can be an issue if you harvest the submerged stems and eat the plant fresh.

Always make sure to gather watercress (Nasturtium officinale) from a clean waterway, and only take parts of the plant that are above the waterline. Watercress, being an aquatic plant, runs the risk of harboring liver flukes, which live in dirty water. They can not survive out of water, but can be an issue if you harvest the submerged stems and eat the plant fresh.

Poisonous Look-alikes


With our varied terrain, the mountain states have a lucky abundance of wild edibles to choose from, that can be found between marshy wet-lands, to dry sagebrush deserts, and more.  But there are also a number of poisonous plants, that can also resemble edible ones, that you need to be aware of before plucking and munching.


Briana’s book shares a detailed description and photos of such plants, which is always a good place to start.  It’s also recommended that you pick up another guide book to give you more reference points.  From poison ivy, to poisonous baneberries, learn your poisonous plants before eating wild edibles.

The berries of baneberry ( Actaea rubra ) are not edible. They hold toxic properties that can make you quite ill or be life-threatening. 

The berries of baneberry (Actaea rubra) are not edible. They hold toxic properties that can make you quite ill or be life-threatening. 


Don’t let these precautions drive you away from trying out foraging—it’s a rewarding experience that allows you to connect on a deeper level with the natural world.  You just have to have a good sense of safety topics, and no-how before heading out, and certainly don’t just start picking plants at random and eating them.  


Happy hunting!


—Article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary


Mountain States Lemonade, Part 2

Briana Wiles

When in the mountains during the summer time, drink as mountain dwellers do—with the front door open so friends and neighbors can stop in, shoes kicked off, with all the camp chairs out so everyone can hang.  

And of course, bring out a bottle of lemonade sumac infused vodka to really bring home that mountain charm.

After tasting the aromatic and tart lemonade sumac infused water from last weeks blog, I knew I had to make a vodka infusion to bring my adult beverages up a notch.  So, with sticky fingers, I picked about 1 cup of lemonade sumac berries - Rhus trilobata (also called skunkbush) for Monday night.

I rummaged through my haul, removing the stems and husks of old berries, then poured them into a large mason jar along with 750ML of Skyy Vodka (sub for whatever you prefer).  Using a long spoon, I muddled the berries to help release their flavor.  I then took to the task of relaxing on the sunny porch to finish a book, shaking the bottle whenever I thought to do it.

After soaking for about 2 hours, I poured the concoction through a small wire sifter, removing the large berries.  I then did a second pass through with cheese cloth to remove most of the remaining pieces of berry—although there was a bit left over, I ignored it.  You can continue to sift through cheese cloth if you’re unsatisfied with the clarity.

The remaining infused vodka had a yellowish, pink hue, and a fragrant aroma, which you might recognize from certain Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes featuring the sumac berry.

The beauty of infusions like this, is it gives you the freedom to create drinks that suit the flavor ofwhatever it is you’re infusing.  More of a gin and tonic person?  Try infusing your favorite gin with these aromatic berries for a unique take on the perfect summer cocktail.

Monday night rolled around, phone calls went out, and just like that we had a small gathering of gals for an afternoon drink in the warm summer night.

The fragrance of the berries is the first thing that stands out to me, and I wanted to create a drink that captured that, while also standing up to the tart finish.  

And really it boiled down to what I had on hand—sweet cherry juice concentrate, and cherry flavored Dry Sodas (  The sweet, and demure flavor of the cherry turned out to be a perfect backdrop to the aromatic lemonade sumac vodka.

In wine goblets, I poured 2 ounces vodka over ice and added about 1 ounce of cherry juice concentrate (more or less to taste), and topped with the Rainer Cherry flavored Dry Soda.  


True to form, Briana Wiles, wildcrafting expert, plucked various edibles from outside, including pineapple weed - Matricaria discoidea to be muddled with the vodka, imparting an herby and sweeter flavor into her drink.  Then, we topped it with wild chamomile - Tripleurospermum spp. and sweet clover - Melilotus officinalis which added the perfect touch of mountain-summer beauty to her glass.

If that wasn’t enough, we even made straws out of horsetail - Equisetum spp. for sipping our mountain inspired beverages.  Drinks suited for mountain maidens like ourselves.  


And they would probably pair well with an icy cold PBR too, because we’re in the mountains, after all.


—-Photos and article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary

Mountain States Lemonade, Part 1

Briana Wiles

It’s a drive thats hard-wired into me, each turn so ingrained, that if I was blindfolded I’d know I was being delivered there.   

It’s the kind of drive that demands the windows are rolled down, and shoes are kicked off as soon as the truck tires hit the dirt and washboard.  You bounce down the overgrown road, passing cows and windmills and curved rows of alfalfa.

It’s a drive that transports you into a twangy country song—our black lab even hangs out the truck window, ears flopping and cheeks puffing out in the wind.

It’s the Eastern plains of Colorado, a place less revered than those purple-mountains-majesty.  But when the sun sinks low, and everything is lit up in gold the color of autumn hay, it makes you quiet and peaceful, just like the sight of those peaks.

When I was little, my dad hauled the family out of the ‘burbs of Littleton, CO and put us up in the country.  A few years after that, he sat on a vista way out east from our home and decided that was his place.  So he bought a swath of land out yonder, with hills and ponderosa pines, and wild turkeys, and cows for neighbors.

Now, years later, him and my mom call that little corner home, and they bounce down the dirt road to-and-from town every day.

This weekend I saw that place with new understanding.

I know all about the giant boulder on the crest of one of the hills, it looks over east, towards the wind-turbines that blink red in unison at night—thoughts of alien invasions swirl in my head.

I know about the bird hill—it’s right outside the kitchen window.  Birds of all shapes and sizes, even those noisy turkeys peck and roost around out there, and we watch and listen from the deck.  It’s like spring after a long winter every day out there.

But this weekend, with Mountain States Foraging in hand, and mom by my side, we set out into the tall brush and saw things in ways we hadn’t before.

Like how that bird hill has a dozen or so wax currant bushes.  Or how that huge scraggly bush with the clusters of sticky red berries, the one that my dad was threatening to mow over with the tractor, is actually skunkbush (or lemonade sumac).  Those red berries taste like pink-lemonade.

It’s a little funny and ironic, in that way that old family jokes are, how us girls used to sass my dad about eating random things he plucked from the earth, without any visible knowledge of what they were, aside maybe from what was passed down by old-timers and country bumpkins.

And I stood out there in the field, guide book in hand, crunching the leaves of that skunkbush and smelling the sweet and tart scent.  Then comparing the clusters of berries to the photos in the book, and feeling the sticky resin, and tasting the tart and sweet flavor, similar to pink lemonade candy.


It was like I was discovering that swath of land for the first time.


I think that’s the best part about learning how to forage for wild edibles.  You think you know a place because you’ve seen the same foliage and ground a thousand times over, but with a guidebook in hand, you see it with new eyes.


And with new possibilities. Like sumac lemonade, which is pictured below. 

I soaked about 3/4 of a cup of those sticky berries in cold water for a couple of hours, and mixed the tart liquid with sweet watermelon juice.  The result was refreshing and fragrant, perfect on a hot summer afternoon.

This week, I’ll be testing out recipes for lemonade sumac margaritas and vodka lemonades—so stay tuned for part two coming out next week.  And while you’re waiting, get to gathering that lemonade sumac, which you can find in Mountain States Foraging, complete with pictures and detailed descriptions, so you can enjoy a refreshing cocktail with me.




—Photos and article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary


Understanding 'Place' Through Foraging

Briana Wiles

You would be hard pressed to find a better way to get to know the place you’re in, then through the act of foraging.  Briana Wiles, owner of Rooted Apothecary and Author of the new book, Mountain States Foraging, knows her neck of the woods quite well, considering she packed 115 wild edibles into the pages of that guide.


On a Friday night, no different than the one before, I gathered up friends, and filled my backpack with items not often found there: a mortar and pestle, a bottle of sake the color of a gem, a golden bottle opener, a round of mozzarella and a juicy tomato, too.


With the windows open, we cruised down the highway that skirts Blue Mesa Reservoir, the asphalt striking a mark through the blooming fields of sagebrush.  The lake shimmered, competing with that sake bottle for which was bluer.


We turned down into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, the walls rose on either side of the road, with bramble and brush tucked into granite cliff bands.  Near the bottom of the canyon, we snapped on our packs, the weight of sake and beer on our shoulders, and readied our picnic basket for the goods.


Our mission there, in the depths of the canyon was simple: find wild raspberries, wax currants and gooseberries for a quick jam with crackers and cheese.


With the help of Mountain States Foraging, and the wisdom of Aubree Scarff, also of Rooted Apothecary, we leaned off the path and plucked a few berries here and there, making sure to skip every 10 plants between harvesting as to not impact the food supply for the critters, or future plants.


It’s funny, how ‘place’ is something we don’t often think of.  Sure, it’s a destination, a map dot at the end of a journey, but we have a hard time being present enough in this life to see a place beyond the small moments that happen there.  


We made our way down the path, plucking, nibbling and hunching over plants to examine leaves, excitedly yelling “look!!” when we found bushes filled with currants, the berries sticky in the heat.  We were discovering that place, beyond the moment that was unfolding—we understood the dirt, the water and the soil, if only because of the plants that thrived there.



We were completely present in the bottom of that canyon.  As the sun cut through the granite walls in ribbons, we knew exactly where we were in the world, because of the berries we dropped into our wicker basket.


Once we had enough berries for a jam, we found a bench along the path.  Under the shade of a Douglas fir, we popped open beers, and I twisted the cap of that blue bottle as Aubree mashed berries with honey.  I sliced thick rounds of mozzarella and tomato with a pocket knife, laid out crispy crackers, and shooed away a particularly friendly chipmunk.



And we sat there as the the sun inched farther down the canyon walls, and we talked, we tasted the tart berries, and felt the dust beneath our toes.  We clinked glasses of sake, adorned with wild elderflowers and fireweed. Our laughter was carried away with the emerald water of the river.


We sat down by the river, the water cold on our dusty toes, and we were content in that place, and in the moment, bellies full with fresh goodies plucked by our very own hands—how could we not be satisfied?


Even that overzealous chipmunk lucked out, as we turned to pack up, we found him with full cheeks munching a couple left over berries in our basket.


It was a Friday night well spent in the Colorado Rockies.


—Photos and article written by Cayla Vidmar of Rooted Apothecary