If you have ever looked around the, even semi, wild part of your city then you will most likely have ran into the versatile wild cucumber.
This amazing vining plant is found all over western North America. These are the species that are found in California. I literally see these at least ten times a day. The dry vine in mid to late summer is very easy to spot. Now for it’s uses…
Most commonly it’s used as a free and easy to get luffa substitute. All you do is pull the dry seed pods, or fruit, from the vine and soak in water till you can pull the now harmless soft spines. This will reveal a small, depending on the type you find, laundry sponge or what have you.
As mentioned on the Wikipedia link above, the tubers of marah fabaceus were crushed and thrown into places where fish dwell. This would apparently immobilize the fish and they just end up floating for your picking pleasure. Not sure if it kills them or is just temporary…
Marah fabaceus is said to be hallucinogenic and contain saponins, a natural form of soap.
As a good permaculturist in training I’m thinking of stacking functions, so you could for instance:
Walk yourself to the river with the dirty dishes and laundry. Find said vine and pop a seed (optional). Do laundry and dishes with use of saponins in seeds. When hungry just crush some of the roots, throw them in the water and wait for lunch to come floating up. How awesome is that!
Also be advised, some of the species are toxic. Don’t just go eating these for fun now.
Those plants have a plethora of tiny, fiberglass-like fibers that impale themselves into your skin and torture you for days, even weeks! Got one in my eye once…took an eye doctor two hours to even find it and another 20 minutes trying to grab it and remove!