Monday, March 22, 2010

Herb Walk with William Broen

William Broen, bioregional herbalist

Last Saturday Dave and I met a group at Tucker's Grove for an herb walk led by William Broen. William took us on a 2-1/2 hour walk, identifying edible and medicinal plants as well as a few poisonous ones to avoid.

First he showed us poison hemlock.

It looks like a carrot top and also like Queen Anne's lace, but it's very poisonous. Look for red blotches on the stem to help you identify it. Do not eat it.

The hemlock was in a patch of wild blackberries.

The bushes are beginning to bloom, but no berries yet. We'll have to check back maybe next month.

Oxalis is blooming all over town.

As kids, we used to call it sour grass. We'd chew on the end of the stems. It contains oxalic acid, so it's best not to eat a lot of it, but you can eat some and you can certainly use the flowers as garnish.

Next he showed us mugwort.

These silver-backed leaves have a smoother edge than some which are more jagged. People put it near their beds or under their pillows to stimulate dreaming. It's very bitter but the tea is good for digestion and to help break a fever. It's antibacterial and antiparasitic. It is often picked during the full moon.

Mugwort often grows near poison oak.

Some people use a poultice of mugwort to treat poison oak. Not everyone is allergic to poision oak but most of us don't want to find out. In the fall poison oak turns red. It has five lobes and grows on the stem in clusters of three.

This is a yellow dock plant.

As a poultice, it will soothe bee and nettle stings. It's also good for anemia.

This will be a beautiful display of California wild roses in a couple of months.

The rose is very fragrant and leaves a rose hip after the bloom fades. The tiny hips turn red and are full of vitamin C. September is a good time to collect them. They are tart but good for your heart. They would probably make a good rose hip jam if you can find enough of them.

This dandelion doesn't look particularly yummy.

However this much-maligned plant is quite edible and is treated with great respect in Europe. It is especially good for the lymphatic system.

We came across two varieties of plantain.

Chew a little of this fibrous leaf and apply it to insect bites. It's cooling and according to one of the women with us on the walk, it really helped soothe the bee sting on her toe.

Here's the narrow leaf plantain.

We stood under a California live oak and learned that the acorns must be leached in water before eating. They were part of the native American diet here.

The California bay laurel is highly fragrant and can be used in cooking, but only use about 1/3 of the amount in the recipe. It's much stronger than the commercial variety. Roasted bay nuts are also edible.

An elderberry tree! You can eat blue or purple berries but not the red variety. The leaves, roots, and bark are purgative, so you might not want to eat those. Rub the underside of the leaf and it will smell like peanuts.

We found a chaparral current bush. A few of the currents were purple enough to try.

The miner's lettuce was quite delicious. Better than most of lettuce greens growing in my garden.

Look for a little white flower growing out of the center of the rounded leaf. We also found chickweed growing alongside the miner's lettuce.

Look for a ground cover with a small white star-like flower. The stem has tiny white hairs on one side if you hold it up to the light. It was quite tasty too.

The black sage drew lots of bees.

It has a strong sage fragrance. Chewing the leaves is good for sore throats and for gingervitis. It will also help to dry up breast milk when weaning.

Pineapple weed grows easily here. Sometimes I even see it in sidewalk cracks.

(Click for a close-up)
It's a close relative of chamomile but doesn't have the white flowers. It sure smells like chamomile.

The yerba buena was quite minty and apparently doesn't often show up this far south. Maybe it's all the rain we've had this year.

Cheeseweed mallow grows readily in my garden without invitation. I had no idea that it was useful. We ate a little and were surprised by its gelatinous texture which can be soothing to the digestive system.

As you can see, we learned a lot on this walk. There will be another walk on July 11th at 5 pm for a requested donation of $10. What a deal! Contact William at if you want to be on his mailing list for more herb walks in Southern California.