Early Morning Hike Checking Out Useful Plants

By 3:30 a.m. I was already tossing and turning. After laying in bed for a while, I finally decided to get up. It was 4:00 a.m. by now and I was getting in the shower, ready to start my day. Funny thing is I really had no where to be, or anything really to do. I just wanted to get up and get ready. I guess It’s not entirely abnormal. I’m usually up between 4:30 and 5:30 every morning.

After checking some emails, I headed out the door and on my way to the convenient store for my usual morning stop. By now it was 5:oo a.m.

“Hmmm! Guess I’ll head over to the local hiking trail and get an early morning hike in,” I thought… Off I went.

After dilly-dallying at the trail head, mostly waiting for day to break, I strapped on my Teva’s and finally hit the trail.

I hadn’t been on this hike in a while, so I was eager to see the transformation of the area due to the rains we had earlier this year. I wasn’t disappointed. A lot of plants were already in bloom, with a lot more just beginning. Over the next few weeks, this area will turn into a spectacular display of colors. We may not have much of a fall season, but our springs sure are pretty.

I came across several plants I’ve either not seen in a long time, or not seen flower in a long time.

This Dudleya was just one of several growing along the rocky bank of the river bed. Though it is protected, it was used by Native Americans as a delicious addition to their meals. It is succulent and tender and offers a mildly acidic flavor the older it gets. The new growth is best.

Yerba Santa was also flowering and is one I don’t usually see flower. Translated from Spanish to English it is is Holy Weed. Yerba Santa is very medicinal and was used as a soothing bath for rheumatism. It has a very noticeable menthol like sensation when the leaves are chewed, making it suitable for freshening your breath. It is also used to soothe coughs and respiratory issues.

Indian Cucumber, Wild Cucumber, or Manroot (pick your poison), though wasn’t consumed, was used by Native Americans. The Spiky seed pods, once dry, the spikes were separated leaving a membrane behind which was used as a loofah and very much looks like one.

It’s high saponin content made it an ideal fish poison when the root was crushed and dispersed in a pool of water containing fish. Often times, Native Americans would often contain running water by daming it, effectively trapping the fish in the pool

Prickley Pear was a favored food by local Native Americans. In Mexico, it is known as nopal and often sold by street vendors. It can be bought locally in Mexican sections of the super markets, pickled in jars.

Webmd has it listed with many medicinal benefits:

Prickly pear cactus is used for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, alcohol hangover, colitis, diarrhea, and benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). It is also used to fight viral infections.

In foods, the prickly pear juice is used in jellies and candies. 

Though not quite ripe yet, the wild currants were showing signs of maturity.

Currants were used extensively to make jams, jellies, and Pemmican. They make a tasty trail side snack when mature.

Early Morning Hike Checking Out Useful Plants

Walking along certain areas of the trail was the strong presence of Black Sage.

The Chumash people used a strong sun tea of the leaves and stems of the plant. This was rubbed on the painful area or used to soak one’s feet. The plant contains diterpenoids, such as aethiopinone and ursolic acid, that are pain relievers.

The Black Sage also produces a nectar that Black Sage honey is made from. This honey is typically peppery and strong, and is prized as a rare honey due to the plant’s dry climate. Black Sage honey can only be made when specific rain conditions are met and the plant produces enough nectar.

California Pepper Tree, though not a native, is ubiquitous across the state. It is a fast growing shady tree which is a favorite in parks.

The ripe red seeds are delectable gourmet style peppercorn replacements. They have a sweet peppery flavor. The red chaff should be separated from the seed first. then take the shed seeds drop them into a pepper grinder and use accordingly.

There were many more wild plants. I will definitely be back in a couple of weeks to catch the flowering of the other plants. It’s important to come back and view plants through their various stages, so that you may learn to recognize them throughout the year.

Every area has a story to tell.