Most days I go to Montana de Oro State Park after work, and explore for (what turns into) hours on end. I have a goal to learn and observe every subtle passing– migrations, wildflowers, ocean tides, as well as the movements and patterns of the plants and animals that live there. It is the place I feel most at home. (I might even start camping out there to live and riding my bike to work…! I’m really considering it lately.)
There is so much natural medicine that grows after the rains, especially when I go on hikes deep back into the canyons which cradle small streams. There is yarrow, mugwort, miners lettuce, and willow, as well as herbaceous flowering plants, and ferns. Up on the hills is a certain kind of sage brush– which smells so good, and covers most of the Seven Sisters, coastal mountains, and bluffs. Of course, manzanita and oak grow rampant too. I’ll update more as I learn more. For now, here are a few photos of what I have seen lately (minus all the California poppies!).
This is Mugwort, which usually grows in wetter areas, and is most commonly known for the vivid dream state it induces. Marija used to brew big pots of Mugwort tea which our old housemates in Eugene used to sip together before heading off to bed. Apparently, it was traditionally used in beer before hops. The plant, called nagadamni in Sanskrit, is used in Ayurveda for cardiac complaints as well as feelings of unease, unwellness and general malaise. In Chinese medicine, the plant was literally rolled up in to little balls and placed with acupuncture needles on to the patient’s skin. It was then ignited, and the heat it released when burned is supposed to be healing. The leaves can be clipped and dried to use later as a tea.
Below is Indian Paintbrush. It is hard to miss with it’s color, and I learned that the flowers are actually edible. Native Americans would consume the flowers in moderation with other fresh greens. However, it is important not to eat the leaves or roots, because they could potentially be very toxic. The Ojibwe tribe made a hairwash from the flower, because it made the hair glossy and full-bodied, and Nevada tribes used it to treat STDs and enhance the immune system. There are many different varieties of Indian Paintbrush, but this one happens to grow well here.
Above is Yarrow! This is one of the first wild plants I learned to identify, and now I enjoy seeing it nearly everywhere I go– even crawling out of the cracks in urban areas. It has different coloured flowers, which appear sometime between May and June. Yarrow is sturdy, and is used in agriculture occasionally to combat soil erosion, because it is so drought resistant. It’s also great as a companion plant, because it will repel predatory insects, and attract ladybirds and hoverflies. Yarrow has a long history as a healing herb, and can be used externally to create a poultice to stop blood flow, because the leaves encourage clotting. The flowers can be made into an essential oil, and used as an anti-inflammatory. Yarrow can be taken as a bitter digestive tonic to enhance bile flow, and as a diuretic. It also is known as a blood tonic, and used to stimulate circulation, treat menstrual and gastrointestinal disorders, and much much much more. Chinese proverbs claim yarrow sharpened the intelligence, and cleared the eyes. The Navajo consider it “life medicine.” Young leaves can be eaten in salads or soups like spinach is used, or in the past I have made tinctures with the leaves. Maybe you have and / or will discover new uses and ways to experience yarrow that I have not mentioned!
Morning glory is the common name for over 1,000 different kinds of flowering plants. The kind that grows in this ecoregion, coastal chaparral and coastal sage scrub, is calystegia macrostegia. Do Latin names mean anything to anyone (besides linguistic scholars… MK, you there?). I will admit that I know Morning glory largely because of its supposed hallucinogenic qualities (Aztec priests in Mexico were known to use the plant for these reasons), and because some of the best breakfast in Eugene, Oregon is from Morning Glory Cafe. However, I read that Morning glory was first known in China for its medicinal uses, due to the laxative properties of its seeds. It was introduced to the Japanese in the 9th century, and they began to cultivate it as an ornamental flower. It became very popular during the Edo period (which was also the time some of my favorite art– Japanese traditional wood cuts– was produced). The Japanese led the world in developing varieties. This herbaceous flowering plant now grows all over the hillsides at Montana de Oro. I love the way it slowly unfurls itself to open…