Ethnobotany of southern California native plants:

California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)

artemisia uses

photo credit: Antandrus at GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

California sagebrush after a spring rain.

the uses of sagebrush

A young shoot on a California sagebrush growing in my backyard.

sagebrush uses

credit: Consultaplantas, CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons

California sagebrush foliage

California Sagebrush (Artemisia californica)

This is a well known, herbaceous plant from the Sunflower family (its not a true sage.)

California sagebrush is native to western California and Baja, Mexico. This plant is commonly seen in most of the plant regions of southern California (scrub, chaparral, alpine, desert valleys).

Artemisia plant uses

California sagebrush is considered one of the most medicinally useful plants. Its leaves were used for multiple health concerns, most notably as as a natural remedy for colds. The Kumeyaay, from the San Diego region, dried out sagebrush leaves then prepared a tea from the foliage. This decoction was used to treat skin lesions. The tea was also drunk as a means to reduce fever symptoms.

The bitter leaves are antimicrobial in nature. For this reason – the fumes from a burning bundle of sagebrush leaves were considered to help clear out a respiratory tract infection.

The Cahuilla and Tongva people used California sagebrush as a gynecological aid. A decoction was used to ease menopause trama. The plant was also administered at the beginning of a menstral period – and to ease the pains associated with childbirth. It is thought that the plant stimulates uterine mucosa, this activity would help expedite childbirth.

The Cahuilla people of the Coachella Valley region smoked the dried leaves of California sagebrush, for pleasure.

Sagebrush uses

Aside from medicinal properties, this sagebrush was also used as a construction material for homes. The plant was a popular material for roofing and the wattling of walls.

Granaries and storage facilities were often made from California sagebrush.

The strong scented foliage of this plant was laid out over perishable foods to help preserve them. Fresh berries and tubers would be covered with a layer of sagebrush branches. Clearly, the antimicrobial nature of the leaves lended well to keeping foods fresh and uncontaminated.

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Bean, Lowell John and Katherine Siva Saubel 1972 Temalpakh (From the Earth); Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Banning, CA. Malki Museum Press (p. 42)

Bocek, Barbara R. 1984 Ethnobotany of Costanoan Indians, California, Based on Collections by John P. Harrington. Economic Botany 38(2):240-255 (p. 25)

Please return to our main Ethnobotany of southern California page.

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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