Friday, February 26, 2016

Meet CA Native Plant, Umbellularia californica

I recently ventured out to the San Gabriel Mountains with one of my mentees to connect and learn more about our local natural water source. We came upon a canyon, right outside of the protected San Gabriel Mountain wilderness area and with the guidance of a helpful forest ranger we decided to explore it. 

As soon as the canyon started becoming shady I noticed a scent, a beautiful hypnotic aroma, and was quickly drawn to the evergreen trees that surrounded us. Low and behold, Umberllaria californica! I’ve been wanting to meet a healthy plant stand on my wild outings for quite some time now and without any intention we practically stumbled into it. The aroma in this canyon was certainly hard to ignore. We took this great spontaneous finding as an opportunity to learn more about this wonderful CA native tree/shrub. 

Umberllaria californica, from our experience and energetically speaking, is a stimulating, bitter and highly aromatic California native evergreen tree/shrub that has mild euphoric and calming qualities. I found it to be topically stimulating, because as I felt the leaves more and more with my hands, they began to warm up, increase in circulation. Bitter, because when you place a leaf in your mouth you will begin to salivate, which is a sign of digestion support. The taste is slightly sweet with light camphor notes. Euphoric, because as we ventured out of the canyon we were in a dream state and as we proceeded with our day we felt super calm. I went to a teahouse after and enjoyed three cups of tea, something I don’t usually do especially with a long chore list to prepare for my work week. It’s exactly what I needed that day. Seems to be a good relaxant nervine that also provides stagnation circulation, which intrigues me, I’ll be looking into this more. It is also said to have antimicrobial, antifungal, germicidal and insecticidal properties. Traditionally, it is used by the Chumash in hot spring baths and is also used by the Cahuilla, Pomo, Miwok, Yuki and Salinan indigenous communities. The most common use seems to be for rheumatic ailments.   

I should also note that I came across a few science-based articles discussing the triggering of cluster headaches from a bio-active compound released from the leaves of this tree/shrub that affect the trigeminal nerves around head arteries. My thoughts are that this may occur after prolonged or intense exposure to its volatile oils, especially when thinking about our head state once emerging from the Umberllaria californica filled canyon. I was rather light-headed and felt like I was in a dream. I also found some articles that suggest traditional use included alleviation of headache by inhaling one leaf or through a steam. Perhaps, some folks are more sensitive than others in this case and it really seems like the amount of dosage is key here.   

CA Bay, the common name for Umberllaria californica, and not to be confused with Bay Laurel, likes to grow near rivers, creeks and the coast. If planted in the interior it will require moderate water and keep in mind that it’s a slow grower. I noticed that the understory was covered with its leaves but no other plant life like the chickweed that was growing everywhere else, that’s when I learned that this plant species releases terpenes that inhibit seedlings, except for California Grape vines (Vitis californica).

And in closing, here are a few inspirational quotes from a current book I’m reading that align with our mission and plant passion. 

"Botanical knowledge was not exclusively women's purview, but it is fair to say that women's everyday monitoring and use of a wide variety of native plants in their home environments, and also at fairly remote locations visited on gathering and trading trips, favoured their accumulation of botanical expertise. In the early 1900s, C. Hart Merriam interviewed a Southern Sierra Miwok woman in the foothills south-west of Yosemite who was able to identify more than 500 plants, birds and animals. Her eight-year-old daughter, interview independently by Merriam's assistant, could name over 300." - (Latta 1977) Excerpt from Women & Plants

"Nor are the boundaries of 'agriculture' to be seen at the hedgerow or living fence. Beyond this, in 'wild' areas, plant management goes on, gathering plots are marked out and roots are cultivated. The encouragement of growth and selective harvesting ensure, generation after generation, the wild foods and medicinal plants for humans and animals, and the fibres, fuel and other plant resources that meet both material and cultural needs. These 'wild' areas, together with fields and borders and pastures and homegardens, constitute the productive basis and cultural heritage of myriad human lives, as well as the habitats of a multitude of animal an insect species." - Women & Plants.


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