Summary of California sagebrush and its traditional use

Kumeyaay name: kwechash

California Sage Brush (Artemisia californica)

California sagebrush is a very common shrub in western North America. The plant is not a true sage and is actually a part of the sunflower family. This shrub branches out of its base and grows out to be 5-8 feet tall. The leaves are light green and hairy. Cluster of yellowish flowers produce fruits that are 1-2 mm in length. This sagebrush contains terpene chemicals – this contributes to the aromatic sage-type smell.

The Kumeyaay ground the leaves of this sagebrush and applied the poultice to treat ant bites. This plant was also useful in puberty ceremonies for women. The leaves are also dried out and smoked, similar to tobacco leaves.

Interestingly, scientists have discovered that the leaves of the California sagebrush are anti-microbial in nature. This makes sense, as the fumes from burning sagebrush were used by southern California natives (Kumeyaay, Cahuilla) as a means to battle upper respiratory tract infections.



Foliage of the California sagebrush

photo credit: John Rusk from Berkeley CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons