Sacred Native Plants

San Diegans share the temperate climate we love with some fascinating native plants with a rich history in herbal lore.


Various sages grow from coastal areas to the mountains, covering entire hillsides in some areas around Ramona.

The most common of this group of aromatic herbs are white sage, Salvia apiana, black sage, Salvia mellifera and Cleveland sage, Salvia clevelandii.

white sage

black sage

black sage

Cleveland sage

Cleveland sage

Sages are sold in stores tied together in bundles, sometimes with cedar leaves, as natural incense or purifying sticks used in sacred spaces, homes and offices to clear residual vibrational energies.

The many uses of sage

  • Purification with sage still precedes native rituals
  • The burning smoke is wafted around people and places, usually with a feather
  • We use sage and cedar to purify our Herb School classroom and Clinic before and after classes and seeing clients
  • Natives rubbed sage leaves on their skin to ward off insects and to mask scent while hunting
  • A few leaves placed in hot water make an agreeable and stimulating tea beneficial for quickening the memory and senses
  • As with many mint family plants, the sages are cerebral vasodilators, increasing blood flow to the brain thereby acting as a brain tonic, hence sage indicating an elder with functioning mental faculty
  • A popular spice, it is widely used to relieve tension, stress, muscle cramps, and menstrual changes
  • Some people may turn to it for relief of the headaches that come along with these conditions
  • It can be gargled as a mouthwash for sore throats or used as a wonderful foot bath for sore, tired feet
  • To use sage tea for decreasing milk supply when weaning an infant, infuse 1 tablespoon of sage in 1 cup of hot water. Steep covered for 5-15 minutes and drink a cup, 2 – 6 times per day

The name of the genus, Salvia, is derived from the Latin salvere, to be saved, referring to its curative properties.

Among the ancients and throughout the middle ages it was held in high repute: Cur moriatur homo cui Salvia crescit inhorto? (“Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?”).


California sage

California sage, Artemisia californica

California sage, also known as coastal sage,  Artemisia californica, and sage brush, Artemisia tridentata, have similar properties but are not true sages. Artemesias are a genus of plants in the Aster family.

They are terrifically bitter and hence great for aiding digestion by stimulating digestive juices.



Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana, is a distinctive native plant. The leaves are dark green on top and a soft, downy silver on the bottom. It can be found growing in moist places along the banks of streams.

Mugwort is considered a protector plant. This is not due to any plant chemistry, rather a power of the plant spirit of mugwort.

In the middle ages it was known as Cingulum Sancti Johannis due to the belief that John the Baptist wore a girdle of it in the wilderness to protect himself from bad weather, robber bandits, stinging insects, and other such mishaps.

Many superstitions were connected with mugwort

It was thought to protect one from sunstroke, fatigue, wild beasts and evil spirits.

Hung from the corners of a room it was thought to dispel spirits.

Mugwort (mug herb) is said to have derived its name from having been used to flavor drinks. It was used to great extent for flavoring beer before the introduction of hops.

mug of beer

It has also been suggested that it derives not from the drinking mug, but the moughte (a moth or maggot), because it has been long regarded, in common with wormwood, effective in keeping away moths.

Mugwort is used medicinally

  • As a digestive aid
  • As a nerve sedative
  • As a female reproductive tonic, helping to bring on the menstrual cycle
  • As a diaphoretic to sweat out the commencement of colds, flues, bronchitis and fevers
  • As a nervine, mugwort is valued in palsy, fits, epileptic and similar affections, being an old-fashioned popular remedy for epilepsy (especially in persons of a feeble constitution)
  • Asian species of mugwort are used in the preparation of Moxas, burning sticks used in acupuncture to stimulate local chi – energy flow
  • Traditionally, dried mugwort leaves are placed in a pillow to aromatically stimulate vivid, epic length dreams
  • Mugwort leaves may also be smoked or drunk in a tea for this purpose

Dr. John Hill extolled the virtues of mugwort, and said, “Providence has placed it everywhere about our doors; so that reason and authority, as well as the notice of our senses, point it out for use: but chemistry has banished natural medicines.”

Many other sacred plants grace our hillsides and valleys.

Becoming acquainted with them can immeasurably contribute to our awareness and appreciation of the Nature around and within us.

Sacred Native Plants

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