Yerba Santa – Fire Follower & Phlegm Fighter

First published Juen 29, 2018

Yerba santa – Eriodictyon californicum – is native to California and Oregon.

Its common name is Spanish for “sainted weed” or “blessed herb.”

Native people are thought to have educated the early missionaries about plant uses.


This sun-loving plant generally grows on east or south-facing slopes. It can be found near Douglas-fir, Madrone, Ponderosa Pine, Jeffry pine,  Black, Blue, and Canyon live oaks.

Life Cycle

Seedlings and new growth – spring
Blooms – May through June
Seeds Form – late summer
Drops Seeds – fall

After two years, the plant produces rhizomes, a shallow underground stem system that helps it spread.

Fire Follower

Yerba santa produces hardy seeds. They can lay dormant for ten years or more, waiting for a fire or ground disturbance to germinate.

Glutinous resins produced by the leaves make them shiny. The resins are flammable.

Animal Feed & Honey

Black-tailed deer will eat Yerba Santa leaves early in the growth cycle when the resins are sweet. Seed capsules are consumed by small animals and birds.

Honey made from Yerba Santa flowers has an amber color and a spicy flavor.

Soil Stabilization

Yerba Santa’s shallow root and rhizomes control and stabilize soil erosion.

Human Uses

Commonly called consumptive’s weed, Yerba santa branches and leaves were historically burned in steam baths to relive tuberculosis symptoms.

Leaf compounds, included in cough medicines, dilate bronchial tubes and function as an expectorant – an agent that brings up and expels phlegm.

Yerba santa has also been used to for;

  • headache
  • colds
  • stomachache
  • asthma
  • hay fever
  • rheumatism
  • pulmonary and bronchial congestion
  • blood purifier


Leaves can be used fresh or dried in tea.

Fresh leaves can be applied to the skin (they stick). They can be rolled into balls and sun-dried. Chewing them (bitter at first, then sweet) is a natural mouthwash.

Mashed leaves can be spread over cuts, sores, and to relieve aching muscles.

Responsible Harvesting

Harvest light green, new-growth leaves from early to late summer. Only take a few from each plant, leaving the root systems intact.


If you liked this post, you might also like – Native Plants for Healing the Land


Calflora – Yerba Santa

Encyclopedia of Life – Eriodictyon californicum

click on the image to see Yerba Santa Life on the Creek art

The School of Forest Medicine – Yerba Santa the Holy Herb

USDA National Resources Conservation Service – Yerba Santa Plant Guide PDF

USDA Forest Service – Yerba Santa

WebMD – Yerba Santa

Wikipedia – Eriodictyon californicum

Mugwort – Dream Plant with a Long History

First published May 23, 2017

Aromatic mugwort has been used to help women with menstrual and menopausal issues, it has been included with greens to stuff geese, and used to make beer before hops became popular.

Its generic name, Artemisia, comes from the Greek moon goddess, Artemis, patron of women.

In Pagan ceremonies, a belt of mugwort was worn while dancing around the fire summer solstice celebrations. When the dance was over, the plant was thrown into the flames to ensure protection for the coming year.

Romans planted it at the edges of roads so travelers could put it in their shoes to relieve aching feet.

Some Native Americans rubbed mugwort leaves on their skin to prevent poison oak rash.

They called it the ‘dream plant’ because they believed that it helped to remember their dreams.

For this purpose, they dried the leaves, burned them as incense, or stuffed them in pillows to sleep on.

Sometimes mugwort was worn on the body to keep ghosts away or to ward off evil dreams.

The next time you are out in the grassy wilds of Nevada County or walking near the creek, look for mugwort. Roll a fragrant leaf between your fingers and smell it while thinking about the many ways people have used this plant.


If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Yerba Santa – Fire Follower and Phlegm Fighter.




Artemis, Greek Mythology


Central Miwok Ceremonies, Anthropological Records (PDF), by E. W. Gifford, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1955, medicine, pharmacology, mugwort

Indian Herbal Remedies: Rational Western Therapy, Ayurvedic and other Traditional Usage, Botany (Google books)

Native American Plant Mythology website

Native American herbal books on Amazon

WebMD  – Mugwart overview, uses, side effects, interactions and dosing

click on the image to see Mugwort Life of on the Creek art

Wikipedia – California Mugwart, Artemsia, douglasiana




Mining Pollution Legacy and Clean-Up

First published May 21, 2017

In the mid-1850’s hydraulic mining filled the stream channels and muddied the waters all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.

Mercury was used in sluice boxes to amalgamate gold. “It is estimated that ten million pounds of mercury were lost into the streams,” comments Kyle Leach, Geologist for Sierra Streams Institute.

“The tale of the Gold Rush is a greedy tale,” says Shelly Covert, Nisenan Tribal Council Secretary. “Miners came for the land and for the gold. All of the trees, waterways, fish, and plants that  our families lived on were gone.”



Crow’s Range: An Environmental History of the Sierra Nevada, by David Beesley [KXJZ, Insight interview 35:46]

Nisenan Tribal Members Collect Scientific Data to Restore the Land (2017)

Abandoned Mine Clean-Up | Sierra Streams Institute

  • Providence Mine (2015)
  • Stiles Mill (2013) – Under Pine Street Bridge
  • Pioneer Park (2017)
  • Providence Quartz Mill (ongoing) – off Providence Mine Rd.



Development of Lake Wildwood & Current Events

First published May 21, 2017

“Ed Colwell owned the Anthony House [current location of Lake Wildwood] before Boise Cascade bought it…  He had peacocks and big white geese, which he would rent out for such things [as] pulling weeds from spinach beds. He raised turkeys and some cows. Mostly, however, he raised horses. He had 300 brook mares and one Palomino stud…He sold the Palomino colts. This was during the Roy Rogers era; …Everybody wanted a Palomino,”  says Alice Magonigle in the article Long-Time Rancher Looks Back by Marianne McKnight, 1999 – Penn Valley Chamber of Commerce.

  • 1967 ranch land purchased by Boise Cascade
  • 1968 Lake Wildwood Association incorporation
  • 1969 early summer – construction began on the dam, road construction, golf course, marina, and buildings
  • 1969 Lake Wildwood filled


E. Coli Contamination at Lake Wildwood

CBS 13 – Sacramento – Geese Euthanization – July 12, 2018
KNCO – E.Coli Restrictions Still In Place Lake Wildwood – Feb. 23. 2018

If you liked this blog post, you might also like, Anthony House & Penn Valley Under Lake Wildwood.



Article: The Union – Urban refugees, country-seekers flock to Nevada County developments for ‘good life’– The Union – July 27, 2014
Book: Shapping the Sierra; Nature, Culture and Conflict in the Changing West by Timothy P. Duane – LWW sewage treatment plant

1996 Lake Drain

Video: 1969/70 Boise Cascade development in San Bernadino County

Website: Lake Wildwood Home Owners Association

Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld

First published September 1, 2018

The shrimp sized roly-poly kids love to play with has a night job making soil a nicer place to live…if you’re a plant or microorganism.

Photo Credit: Franco Folini

Also Known As…

Doodle bugs, potato bugs, wood shrimp, pill woodlouse, armadillo bug, log-louse, boat-builder (Newfoundland), cheeselog (England), chiggy pig (Devon, England), monkey-peas (Kent, England), and slater (Scotland) these tiny animals are best known for a defense reaction.

Conglobation is the act of rolling into a ball. Entomologists say this behavior also preserves water when the surroundings become too dry.

Pill bugs are isopods (without a backbone); not bugs at all, they are crustaceans most closely related to shrimp and lobster.

Photo Credit: Sandstein

The scientific name, Armadillidium vulgare, was given for its likeness to the armadillo conglobation behavior.

Out of the Water but Retaining Moisture

Millions of years ago, these crustaceans moved from the ocean and adapted to life on land.  Gills formed pleopods that act like lungs. These must be kept moist to function.

Staying damp is a powerful pill bug motivator.

A fascinating behavior is a 911 pheromone call. Responding to the chemical communication, a large number (70+) of like-species aggregate. Animals arrive to cover an individual with their bodies to assist with water retention.


Typical habitat is under rocks, leaves, or fallen logs and in compost piles. Generally, millipedes, earthworms, and sow bugs are found in the same places. Pill bugs need moisture, but they don’t like saturation.

Studies measuring the biomass (total number) of animals in different locations on farms found that pill bug populations are stronger in untilled soil and in environments where pesticides have not been used.

Because pill bugs need calcium to maintain their exoskeleton; they prefer soil with a neutral pH.

Although Armadillidium vulgare can be found during the day, most of their activity occurs at night.


Fortunately, pill bug dietary requirements align with the need for moisture. They feed on decaying wood, plant matter, and fungus. Occasionally they will also graze on algae and lichens.

Their excrement further breaks down nutrients making them available for microorganisms and tree roots.

Heavy Metal Indicators

Pill bugs consume copper, zinc, lead, and cadmium. Rather than absorbing and eliminating the metals, they accumulate and store them in digestive glands. Because of this, pill bugs are useful bioindicators of heavy metal pollution.


Predators include ground beetles, scorpions, spiders, birds, frogs, toads, newts, and lizards. When young are soft after molting, sometimes pill bugs eat each other.

Life Cycle

Females produce one to two broods per year consisting of 100 to 200 eggs. She carries them in a marsupium-like pouch on her underside for nearly a month. After hatching, the young remain in the pouch for several weeks, feeding off marsupial fluid.

Once leaving the mother, babies molt every two weeks for the next four-and-a-half months gaining body segments and additional legs.

Adults can live for two to five years.

Next time you spot a roly-poly, you’ll appriciate that its much more
than a ‘bug’ that rolls into a ball.

If you liked this post, you may also like Cuckoo Wasp – A Living Jewel.


American Orchid Society – Sow Bugs and Pill Bugs
Carolina Biological “Critters in the Classroom” Pillbugs
Encyclopedia of Life – Armadillidium vulgare – Build a Roly-Poly Terrarium
Insect Identification

Isopod Newsletter
Marine Species.Org – Isopodia – Ordway Biodiversity Inventory
Maurizio G. Paoletti, Dipartimento di Biologia Università di Padova
lab. Agroecology and Ethnobiology
–  Woodlice: their potential for sustainability and as bioindicators
Midwood Science Research – macro pillbug photos
PBS – Pill bugs emerged from the sea to conquer the Earth
Science Daily – Invasive Roly-polys Might Actually Help The Soil, Study Reveals (2005)
Scientific American – Student Science – Springtime Science: What’s Home Sweet Home to a Bug?
ThoughtCo. – 15 Fascinating facts about Pill Bugs  (Note: Isopod photo with the article is a Sow Bug.)
University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources – How to Manage Pests in 
Garden Landscapes
University of Illinois Extension – Composting for the Homeowner
University of Florida – Pill – Armadillidium vulgare – Woodlouse


Cuckoo Wasp – A Living Jewel

First published May 21, 2017

The Cuckoo wasp is an eye-catching creature that is easy to see.

Its brilliant turquoise color is created when light refracts between hollow layers of the exoskeleton. This adaptation makes the stealthy insect virtually invisible when it enters the dark burrows of its prey.

Foraging for nectar during a hot afternoon. Cuckoo wasps are most active between May and August.

The Cuckoo wasp is parasitic. It watches and waits to find ground bee and wasp nests. To enter, it will often hitch rides on victims being dragged inside. The bumpy exoskeleton of the Cuckoo wasp protects it from stings.  It also has an indented midsection, like a pill bug, that allows it to curl into a ball– another protective measure. Once inside, the Cuckoo wasp lays its eggs inside the host larvae. Its stinger evolved into an egg-laying tube, so it couldn’t hurt you if you wanted to let one crawl on your hand.

One species of Cuckoo wasp first came to California from Africa in the mid-nineteenth century. It parasitized mud dobber larvae aboard sailing ships.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld.


Bay Nature Magazine – Bug Guide

Texas A&M- Cuckoo Wasps

Wikipedia – Cuckoo Wasp

Bird’s Nest Fungi – Spores Spread by Rain Drops

First published May 20, 2017

At first glance, they look like curious, minuscule insect nests. Tiny baskets, holding a collection of

‘eggs,’ clinging to a dead log at the edge of Deer Creek.

Identification investigations revealed something more interesting than ‘just’ insects.  Bird’s Nest Fungi – Nidulariaceae, Cyathus stercoreus – mushrooms that use raindrops to propagate.

Moving with the Rain

Raindrops aren’t the only way they move from place to place. At the base of the peridiole (spore sack) is a cord that unfurls when disturbed. Like newborn spiders, these cords are long and sticky. They cling to whoever or whatever passes by.

Anatomy of a Fungus

Once the peridiole drops off or is eaten and excreted by an animal, the spores are released to begin a new life cycle.

The ‘nests’ are approximately five millimeters in diameter, about half the size of a pencil top.

Bird’s Nest Fungi can be seen in late winter and early spring. Look for them in shady places growing on dead or decomposing wood.



Fungi of California

Mushrooms, Fungi, Mycology

Wikipedia – Bird’s Nest Fungi – Nidulariaceae

Exclusionist State Governor

First published March 13, 2017

Peter Hardeman Burnett: California’s First Governor

Peter H. Burnett 1807 – 1985 Store owner, lawyer, farmer, road builder and Provisional Supreme Court Judge. Signer of Oregon’s first exclusion laws. California Gold rush miner, land sale broker, and first Governor of the new state of California (1849-1851). A supporter of Chinese Exclusion Act and extermination of local California Indian tribes.

Before securing his position as California’s first Governor (1849 – 1851), Burnett moved his family from Missouri to Oregon on a wagon train.

“As a legislator in Oregon, Burnett proposed that all free blacks be forced to leave the state. Any who failed to leave were to be arrested and flogged every six months until they did leave.” – from The Governors’ Library

Excerpts from Governor Burnett’s State of the State Address

December 21, 1849

The New State

Twenty months ago California was inhabited by a sparse population – a pastoral people – deriving their main sustenance from their flocks and herds, and a scanty cultivation of the soil; their trade and business limited, and their principal exports consisting of hides and tallow.

Within that short period has been made the discovery of the rich, extensive, and exhaustless gold mines of California; and how great have already been its effects! The trade and business of the country have been revolutionized and reversed – the population increased beyond all expectation – commerce extended – our ports filled with shipping from every nation and clime – our commercial cities have sprung up as if by enchantment – our beautiful bays and placid streams now navigated by the power of the energetic, intrepid, and sensible people of California have formed a Constitution for our new State – the Pacific Star.

Payment of Taxes

There are some individuals in California who intend to remain here only while they extract her gold, and enjoy the protection of her laws, and who would willingly return without paying anything. This is particularly the case with respect to the great mass of foreigners in the country. – Burnett State of the State Address 1849

Free Blacks Should be Excluded

Our Constitution has wisely prohibited Slavery with the State; so that the people of California are once and forever free from this great social and political evil.

Governor Burnet was instrumental in drawing the first county boundaries in the state.

For some years past, I have given this subject my most candid and serious attention, and I most cheerfully lay before you the result of my own reflections. There is, in my opinion, but one of two consistent courses to take in reference to this class of population, – either to admit them to the full and fee enjoyment of all the privileges guaranteed by the Constitution to others, or exclude them from the State.

If we permit them to settle in our State, under existing circumstances, we consign them, by our own institutions, and the usages of own society, to a subordinate and degraded position, which is in itself but a species of slavery. They would be placed in a situation where they would have no efficient motives for moral or intellectual improvement, but must remain in our midst, sensible of their degradation, unhappy themselves, enemies to the institutions and the society whose usages, have placed them there, and for ever fit teachers in all the schools of ignorance, vice, and idleness.

It could be no favor, and no kindness, to permit that class of population to settle in the State under such humiliating conditions, although they might think otherwise; while it would be a most serious injury to us.

We have certainly the right to prevent any class of population from settling in our State, that we deem injurious to our society. – Burnett State of the State Address 1849

Had they been born here, and had acquired rights in consequence, I should not recommend any measures to expel them. They are not now here, – except a few in comparison with the numbers that would be here, – and the object is to keep them out. I, therefore, call your most serious attention to this subject, believing it to be one of the first importance.

California’s Destiny

We have a new community to organize, a new State to build up. We have also to create and sustain a reputation, in the face of the misconceptions of our character that are entertained elsewhere. But we have the most ample and the most excellent materials, out of which to construct a great community and a great State. The emigration to this country from the States East of the Rocky Mountains consists of their most energetic, enterprising, and intelligent population, while the timid and idle, who had neither the energy nor the means to get here, were left to remain at home.

Either a brilliant destiny awaits California, or one of the most sordid and degraded. She will be marked by strong and decided characteristics. – Burnett State of the State Address 1849


The California Militia and “Expeditions Against the Indians”, 1850 – 1859

Google e-book – Recollections and Opinions of an Old Pioneer, by Peter H. Burnett

History Channel – California’s Little-Known Genocide

Subsidized Indian Massacres, Murder & Legal Disenfranchisement of the Native Californians  by Chuck SmithAnthropology Instructor, for the Cabrillo College’s Anthropology 6 class “Native Peoples of California.”

The Secret Treaties with California’s Indians (PDF) – Larisa K. Miller

Wikipedia – Peter Hardeman Burnett


Name History: Oustomah, Deer Creek Dry Diggings & Nevada City

Isaac J. Wistar – 1827 – 1905 Lawyer, miner, farmer, animal trapper, mountaineer, Indian fighter, soldier, and author. He served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

First published May 30, 2018

Before the Gold Rush:
The Nisenan people called the Nevada City area Oustomah. At one time, it was home to approximately 2,000 Indians. It was part of a network of villages along Deer Creek.

August 1849:
According to, California Place Name, Deer Creek was named by Isaac Wistar and Mr. Hunt after leaving a freshly-killed deer. Hostile Indians scared them away.

“Next day we reached camp before dark, and described to eager listeners our creek – then and there christened Deer Creek – with the promising appearance of its vicinity.”
– Isaac Wistar

Hunt returned later, striking a rich gold deposit that he named Deer Creek Dry Diggings.

October 1849:
“Dr. A. B. Caldwell built a log store on Nevada Street, back of Main Street ravine … the place was known as ‘Caldwell’s Upper Store.’”

March 1850:

A. A. Sargent 1827-1887 Journalist, lawyer, politician, and diplomat. A proponent of Chinese Exclusion Act and introduced wording that became the 19th Constitutional Amendment giving women the right to vote.

“At noon the judges of election adjourned to dinner at Womack & Kenzie’s cloth hotel at the present corner of Commercial and Main Streets, and champagne being freely circulated, it was proposed that the names by which these diggings had hertofore been known, viz: ‘Caldwell’s Upper Store,’ and ‘Deer Creek Dry Diggings,’ be dropped, and a new and more euphoneous name adopted. It was finally agreed that each person present should write on a slip of paper the name he would suggest, and the collected names be referred to a committee of the whole for selection of the best. A great many names were written, and among others ‘Nevada,’ by O.P. Blackman, which was immediately, on being read, adopted by the meeting. Thus Nevada was named.” – 1856 Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Citizens Directory (pages 20-21), A. A. Sargent

Nevada is Spanish for Snow Covered

March 1851:
The town was incorporated as the City of Nevada.

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy, History of Us Book Review, Contemporary Nisenan Culture, Historic Trauma & Healing the Past.


California Place Names: The Origin and Etymology of Current Geographical Names, Erwin G. Gudde (pg 104-105)
Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Citizens Directory 1856, A. A. Sargent
Of Mines & Memories; A Story of an Odgers Family, Jean Lee DeLaMare
Trust in the Land: New Directions in Tribal Conservation (First Peoples: New Directions in Indigenous Studies), Beth Rose Middleton Manning

Online Articles & Links:

“Part of our gold mining legacy is the richness, imagination and humor found in place names. They can tell us a lot about a place and/or its namers.  Compare these robust, descriptive and often sensitive names to what real estate developers offer.  “Alta Sierra” is not in the high mountains and “Lake Wildwood” is neither wild or especially wooded and the “lake” is a dammed reservoir.  “Cascade Shores” sounds like a beach town.  Unlike the early namers who arrived at the place then named it, the investor-namers view the landscape abstractly from a conference table while seeking safe and soulless names.”
– Guilty Pleasures: Yuba Place Names, Hank Meals – Yuba Tales and Trails Blog

My Gold Rush Tales – John Rose Putnam – Mining Starts Around Nevada City
Nevada County Gold – Nevada City was one of the Original Gold Discovery Sites

“At first the surface placers were rich and the camps along Deer Creek grew rapidly. … A population census in the spring of 1850 showed 1,067 inhabitants. By fall there were 6,000.”
– Article by Don Baumgart

Seeks Ghosts
The Union – In the Beginning
The Union – Nevada City Celebrates 162nd Birthday
Virtual Cities – Nevada City
Wikipedia – A. A. Sargent
Wikipedia – Isaac Jones Wistar
Wikipedia – Nevada City, CA

Shelly Covert of the Nevada City Rancheria [6:06] talks about the Yuba River before the white man’s arrival and sings a Nisenan song of spring.