Sunday, November 9, 2014

November plant walk debrief…

I highly encourage clicking on the links to learn more. Also, keep in mind, some of the photos in this blog post were taken on the walk and others were captured during different seasons on the same trail. 

Nopal (Opuntia) was abundant on our walk. The first patch we came across, beneath some Coast Live Oak trees, had some Cochineal on them. Cochineal is a scale insect that feeds on the pad’s moisture and nutrients. When the insect is crushed it leaves behind a deep red hue, which was first used by the Aztecs as a dye and quickly became an important export after the Spanish discovered how the natives would use it. It takes 25 grams of whole cochineal bugs to dye a pound of wool, according to On our walk we decided not to spare any of the Cochineal even though some of us were curious.

The landscape provided the perfect south-facing hillside for nopal to take over and flourish alongside CA buckwheat; a great combo for someone looking for native plant options on a south-facing, sun-worshiping hill.  The area we were in is actually one of the largest local examples of nopal growing on a south-facing hill!

As most of us know, the pads of the nopal are edible. I’ve enjoyed them pickled, in eggs, and as a stand-alone salad. Of course, you have to remove the spines and glochids before cooking and consuming. The nopal’s fruit, prickly pear is a fun treat especially in the heat. Remove spines and glochids from the fruit and toss in blender with tequila, lime and some sugar cane juice for a really fun treat.  Check out a similar recipe from Emily Ho, here. The prickly pear’s flesh is cooling and soothing to the core and can help those who run hot to cool down from the inside out.

Mustard (Brassica), was all dried up, of course, but we were able to see the impact it leaves behind. When in season on this trail it takes up the entire north-facing hillside choking out other plants like milkweed, sage and asters. How cool would it be to restore this hillside by removing the mustard before it goes to seed and then scattering the hill with wildflower seeds before a good long rain?


Mustard was first seen near Coachella valley and is thought to have been introduced through date palms that made their way there from the Middle East. The greens are edible, you know just like mustard greens, cook em’ down and spice em’ up. The flowers also make pretty edible dĂ©cor and the seeds make, you guessed it, mustard!

Hopefully, we do get a good long rain soon because some of the invasives are having fun and one tree that I noticed a big change with this year, within this trail, is the Elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) tree.  Some of them went into dormancy before fruiting and while in flower, and a good patch of them have black bark, perhaps a fungus…not sure. Some of them had new growth on them and one had a flower. No consistency. I’ll be watching this little grove to see if its health bounces back and I’ll be adding one or two to our home garden because I want those elderflowers and berries!

Elderflowers have antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties and they can induce sweating (diaphoretic), which makes them great for battling the onset of a cold or flu, plus so much more. According to, “Research in Ireland showed that elderflower extract was effective in killing many common hospital pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)1. This study gave scientific proof of elderflower's antibacterial properties against most gram negative and gram positive bacteria tested that align with traditional medicine uses of the past. Further study of elderflower components showed the potential for antiviral and anti-inflammatory benefits as well."

Elderberries are great at warding off any bugs that are trying to take over. The flowers and berries are great when paired together! Just as an example, here’s a small excerpt from Kiva Rose on the combo “The berries and flowers both protect the liver from damaging chemicals and other malignant influences, this important property combined with Elder’s powerful antiviral properties and it’s ability to heal damaged tissue could be potentially crucial for those living with viral Hepatitis.” You can read the full article, here. *The leaves, twigs and root of the Elder tree are poisonous.

Russian Thistle aka Tumbleweed (Salsola tragus) was everywhere! It seems with the increasing drought that this plant has been having fun spreading its seeds into the more desolate areas, perhaps were mustard once was but where CA native plant should be. Check out these Eat Your Weeds, Russian Thistle Recipes. I think learning how to live with the abundance of such species is a form of evolution and I’m happy to know there are ways to prepare this abundant plant for consumption.


As we journeyed further along the trail we became enveloped by the great Sycamores (Platanus racemosa) and Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia)! When researching these trees I came across their essence qualities and like most tree medicine they exuded strength and growth. Sycamore calms and lightens the spirit so it can reach new heights. Oak lets the strong overburden spirit realize balance by uniting heart and soul with mental will. I love reading these things after spending ample amounts of time with these trees, I feel it provides me with a deeper connection and with those, ever-entertaining, a-ha moments.

We also found some acorns on the floor in which we cracked them open to get a look at the inside. Someone then spotted some growing within eye’s view on the oak. We spent some time discussing how to process acorns. Roasting, leeching and how to make flour by grinding. Here’s a great article on how to process acorns and a pasta recipe to boot, Acorn Pasta and the Mechanics of Eating Acorns by Hank Shaw.

Cottonwood canopy. 

Speaking of ah-ha moments, I’ve been passing by this little grove of Cottonwood for years paying it no mind crossing the small creek and heading straight towards my favorite oak tree. One of the magical things in the plantworld that I’ve enjoyed experiencing is discovering new plants on your own, within your own time. As soon as I finally identified it correctly I quickly googled “Cottonwood” and “Kiva Rose”.  And bam, Harvesting & Medicine Making with Cottonwood Bark by Kiva Rose. I was so happy after reading this because of its various healing uses and because it is a tree that grows in abundance!

Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) would not let us leave without being noticed, as she was growing right in the middle of the trail. She’s so awesome how she grows in compacted soil with no care in the world. Unlike most plants in the mint family Horehound is extremely drought tolerant.

Thank you Elokin from Shooting Star Botanicals for allowing me to use this lovely photo.
Check out Shooting Star Botanicals website for more on her wellness practice. 

Horehound supports digestion with its bitter qualities and is good for throat and lung health when under the weather. She dilates blood vessels, which aids in getting rid of phlegm. She’s also a great option to plant in a native garden because of her healing uses, compact growing habit and white flowers that attract pollinators. This is another plant we will be introducing to our home garden. 

Sagebrush in our frontyard with a beneficial visitor. 
Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), one of my favorite aromatic native plants also seemed to suffer from the drought a bit. We planted some sagebrush a few months ago and she’s doing great with the supplemental water we provide her with as a new plant. We planted her near one of our walkways that leads to our front door so when we open the door after a rain we get some lovely local nature aromas. I recently used some dried sagebrush in a tea blend for food poisoning and it helped get the virus out to then restore balance, which in this case was to stop the vomiting, and diarrhea. I also enjoy drying it for incense and smudging.

Yay, we got to talk about Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana)! We found her growing about 5-10 feet from the creek and about a quarter of the patch was still green. We experienced her aroma and talked about her being a member of the Artemisia family, and how her bitter qualities are especially helpful for stagnant digestion due to change of schedule. A pretty plant with silvery undersides that I can’t wait to add to our garden because the local wild patches just aren’t large enough to harvest from. We also went into some details about dreamwork with her in which I used one of my dreams as an example.

Mugwort in our lil apothecary. 

Most of the Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) was dried out but there was a healthy patch growing in a creek. Some was going to seed. We discussed the great mineral content stinging nettles and their seeds have. Some of those minerals being calcium and magnesium. The seeds are trophorestorative, which means they focus on a specific organ and in this case it’s the kidneys. Kings Road Apothecary makes a great nutritive Nettle Seed and Seaweed salt that I like to dash on all sorts of things, one being soft-boiled eggs in the morning. Because of stinging nettles long-term usage benefits I think she would be great to add to a medicinal garden where there is some shade and moist soil conditions. She could easily be grown in a container too!

Stinging nettle in early spring. 

There were other plants we discussed, like Laurel Sumac, Fennel, Pepper Trees and Castor….but this is gettin’ kinda long.

Hope you join me on a future plant walk!

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