Hometown Herbalist: Seasonal blooms

Martinez News-Gazette Columnist

The San Francisco Bay Area is home to many awe-inspiring native plants, a number of which have a long history of ethnobotanical and medicinal use. If you’ve been hiking in the hills over the past month or so, you’ve likely noticed many of these charming botanicals in bloom. Spring and early summer are stellar times of the year to catch many of the area’s most spectacular flowers as the weather is still cool enough to support a wide range of plant types. The list below features some of the in-season medicinals that can be easily sighted around town.

Elderberry Flowers (Sambucus nigra): While the berries of these lush medicinals are prized for their antiviral and immune boosting properties, the flowers of elderberry also have a long and rich history of use. Traditionally used in cordials, champagnes, and as unique flavoring element in confections, elderflower holds a prominent place in any herbal-based kitchen. While the flowers may be tempting to collect, remember that if you remove all the flowers from your elder tree, you also won’t be blessed with any berries during the summer (which also act as forage for native wildlife).

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica): California’s state flower – the CA Poppy has been in bloom since spring went into full gear. This classic flower can be seen amongst many a California landscape, and can commonly be found along roads, across hills, and in disturbed and/or rocky areas. In herbalism the California poppy is well-known for its sedative properties and has traditionally been used as a remedy for sleep. Remember – state flowers have some legality tied to their collection in the wild, so (like many medicinals) be sure to grow this beauty in your yard if you wish to collect it.

Mugwort at Carquinez Regional Shoreline.
Mugwort at Carquinez Regional Shoreline.

Mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana): One of my favorite native California medicinals, this magical little plant can often be found in shady moist areas throughout our regional hiking trails. This plant has a strong bitter flavor and has been revered in herbal folklore for its ability to induce lucid dreams when kept nearby at night. While this lovely botanical isn’t in flower yet, it’s thriving in the cooler, moister days leading up to summer.

Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii): Yerba Buena is currently making its debut in the hills around Martinez and Crockett. This low growing native perennial herb can commonly be found in shady woodland areas, and in cool damp places. If you happen to spot it on the trail, make sure to properly identify and then take a whiff! The aroma is unforgettable.

California Buckeye (Aesculus californica): Not as commonly used as a medicinal in modern times, but this native California tree has a long and rich history of use with the indigenous tribes of the area. The large spike shaped flower heads are a common sight in late spring throughout the East Bay hills and are quite breathtaking when in full bloom. Next time you’re out hiking, see if you can spot one!

As is the case with all medicinal herbs it is imperative to be 100% certain of the identification before exploring, and equally as important to leave these beautiful plants where they belong; their existence is often an integral part of the ecosystem that they are a part of.

Interested in learning more? East Bay Herbals’ next Free Community Workshop will be on June 18th from 6:30-7:30 pm at the Martinez Library. We will be talking about DIY Herbal Skincare for Summer Sun Exposure – hope to see you there!

Note: This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration, and is for educational, historical, and research purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease and should not be used as medical advice. If you have a medical concern please seek out a qualified health care professional, and always consult your physician before adding herbal supplements into your diet, especially if you are pregnant, nursing, or on medication.

Anna Marie Beauchemin is a trained clinical herbalist and biologist. Born and raised in Martinez, California, she is passionate about sharing her craft with her community and helping people to find balance and wellness in their lives. For more information visit her website at eastbayherbals.com or follow her on Facebook and Instagram @eastbayherbals.

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