A Walk on the Wild Side

Wild Fennel, Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

Nature can be cruel and nature can be kind. Take the wild fennel plant for example. It’s seeds and young stems are edible and can be steeped into a tea which can be very good for the digestive system. If you are experiencing bloating, fennel can be your friend. The wild hemlock plant looks very much like fennel and can be irrevocably deadly if ingested. It could be easy to confuse the two plants in the wild.


Emily Sanders, Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

Emily Sanders, founder of Artemisia Academy, explained where her infatuation with plants and their medicinal properties began. She was not brought up by botanists who taught her to love wild leafy things. She preferred shopping malls over wilderness trails.

As she struck out on a new backpacking experience, Emily was thrilled to learn of a new environment beyond fashion and pretty clothes. In fact, she told some of us on an herb walk at Baron Ranch, that she got violently sick on one of her new wilderness experiences. She didn’t go into gory details but I could only imagine giardia which comes from water contaminated with bacteria with animal feces. It can render one helpless like when you have food poisoning. On that trip she met some people who showed her how to make a tea from mint which would help alleviate much of her digestive discomfort. It worked! She was impressed and decided to learn more about the power of medicinal plants.

As an employee of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, I am always looking for new ways of experiencing the valuable resources we have available to us in this majestic area. I had heard of Herb Hikes and so I embarked on a Google search for the Santa Barbara area. Artemisia, a Santa Barbara herb school, popped up and I contacted Emily. She was excited to offer a walk and we decided on Baron Ranch as a starting point.

Our small group was confronted by National Forest trail closures due to the high fire danger. We hadn’t thought this would affect the coastal areas. Never the less, we were there and nobody wanted to turn back. Clad in our Covid mask armour, our hearty group decided it was worthwhile to proceed down the frontage road which led to the closed trailhead. We were encouraged to see small flags marking native plants that are part of a restoration project.

The lovely minty fragrance of purple sage caught my attention. Its essential oils contain antibacterial properties and can clear congestion in the nose, lungs and throat. It can be used for an expectorant and can stimulate circulation. Coastal sagebrush, also known as “cowboy cologne” has a fun wild fragrance but is very bitter as a tea which can stimulate digestion. There are many non-native plants that also contain beneficial healing properties.

Emily expressed a valuable lesson she learned from some Chumash friends. It is as important to give as to receive. She encouraged us to plant medicinal herb plants in our yards and other surroundings, especially the native varieties.

If we harvest these plants in the wild, we can deplete our resources. If we learn to identify the invasive yet medicinal plants like the yellow mustard, then take what we want. It is important to maintain a balance in all we do. Give and receive.

Hemlock at Baron Ranch, Photo Courtesy of Janet Koed

This was just the beginning of our introduction to the wild medicinal plant world.

I look forward to the next journey. We have a walk planned for Gaviota Wind Tunnels on October 24 and another to Gaviota Hot Springs on November 21.

Contact Emily at Artemisia Academy if you want to be included on these trips or if you want to learn what the academy has to offer.