You come home from a hike and and you start developing a mysterious itch, eventually turning into a rash. You don’t get it. You did everything possible from coming into contact with known plants that can cause contact dermatitis. You zigged and zagged your way through paths, but somehow something still gotcha, but what? It is likely when you zigged you actually zagged your way right into a lesser known plant that can cause contact dermatitis, Scorpionweed. In my case, here in California, Phacelia californica.

Scorpionweed, seems to be everywhere I go and I have to point it out to my students, just on the outside chance someone is sensitive to it.

The plant itself is easy to identify and clearly gets its name because of how it grows. Once it begins to flower the head grows and begins to curl around, very much like a scorpions tale. The tail as we will call it, is covered in fine hairs and when in season will grow small flowers. the color depending on the type of Phacelia it is—It’s actually quite a pretty plant. Not all Phacelias cause contact dermatitis, but I wouldn’t entirely rule out the possibility that certain individuals mi ght be sensitive to anyone of the species.

Great, so now we have another threat to watch out for, as if poison oak and poison ivy weren’t enough? Not so fast Kemosabe, to many tribes, the various phacelias were a big part of their lives.

Phacelia californica

  • Costanoan  made a decoction of roots for fever
  • Kawaiisu made an infusion of roots for colds, coughs, and stomach problems
  • Pomo crushed leaves on cold sores

Phacelia crenulata

  • Hopi used for injury on animals
  • Keres made an infusion from the roots and used as a rub for swellings and used for soar throats

Phacelia distans

  • Kawaiisu steamed the leaves and ate them as greens

Phacelia dubia

  • Cherokee cooked the leaves and ate them as greens

Phacelia heterophylla

  • Miwok poultice of pulverized dry plant and used on fresh wounds
  • Navajo used for greens in food

Phacelia linearis

  • Shuswap made an infusion and used for colds

Phacelia purshii

  • Cherokee made a poultice and used for rheumatism

These are just some ways some of the Phacelias were used. With over 200 known species it would be hard to list all of the uses. For now, next time you look at this and think weed that causes dermatitis, think again and also think of food and medicine.