Ethnobotany of southern California native plants:

Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa)

california native plants
native plant brittlebush plants

Brittlebush in the winter time.

Brittle Bush (Encelia farinosa)

Brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) is a medium-size shrub with oval, silver-gray leaves covered in tiny, fuzzy hairs. In the late winter and early spring, this Aster family plant produces beautiful yellow flowers on stems extending above the shrub (see photo below).

Brittlebush is found throughout the Sonoran Desert and in the warmer areas of the Mojave Desert. The name is derived from its fragile and breakable stems.

The O’odham and Seri natives used brittlebush to haft sharp points on arrows and fishing spears. The Seri also collected plant resin from the upper section of this shrub to be used as a sealant for their pottery containers. The resin is viscous and transparent yellow.

Medicinal use for the brittlebush

Brittlebush was regarded as a medicinal plant by the Seri and Cahuilla. Branches were cooked down to ashes to produce a gummy glue that could be applied to a loose tooth for support. The Cahuilla would also apply this gummy resin to their chest to relieve pain.

Early Spanish padres enjoyed burning the resinous crystals that exude from the stems. They liked the smell and regarded this plant as a form of incense. For this reason, the Spanish settlers in California called this shrub, ‘incienso.’ Apparently, the fragrance is reminiscent of frankincense.

native plant brittlebush plants

photo credit: Phier at en.wikipedia,CC BY-SA 3.0

Brittlebush in full resplendent bloom.

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On our main ethnobotany page, we present a clickable list of the southern California native plants that became a part of the culture of Native Americans and early European settlers. These plants were used for medicine, food, shelter, drink, tools and art.


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