Luiseño Ethnobotany

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The Luiseño are the southwesternmost group of Shoshonean people in the greater North American desert. The name Luiseño came from their close proximity to the Spanish mission San Luis Rey (1798-1834), which is located in northern San Diego County near Oceanside, California. Originally, the Luiseño may have been called Payomkowishum ('people of the west') by neighboring people and Atashum ('the people') by themselves.

The Luiseño occupied parts of San Diego County and Riverside County in  pre-Hispanic times (before 1769). It is theorized that the Luiseño came into Southern California approximately 5,000-7,000 years ago during severe altithermals (drought periods) from the Great Basin areas east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Their Shoshonean neighbors like the Cupeño, Cahuilla, Serrano, Gabrielino-Tongva and Chemehuevi were part of this migration. The Southern California environment was dominated by scrub plant communities that included the following :

Coastal Sage Scrub (0-1500') South facing Drought-deciduous; small leaves California sagebrush; Coastal encelia; Monkeyflower; Sage
  North facing Evergreen; large leaves; succulents Toyon; Laurel sumac; Lemonadeberry; Prickly-pear
Lower Chaparral (1500-3500') South facing Evergreen; small leaves Chamise; Ceanothus 
  North facing Evergreen; Oval, thorny leaves; vines Scrub oak, Holly-leaf  redberry; Holly-leaf cherry; Wild peas; Wild cucumber
Upper Chaparral (3500-5000') South facing Evergreen; vertical oriented leaves; sun tracking Manzanita;  Birch-leaf mountain mahogany; Silk tassel bush
  North facing Evergreen conifers Pine; Fir
Desert Chaparral South facing Drought-deciduous; succulents Desert apricot; Desert almond; Sage; Ephedra; Cholla cactus
  North facing Evergreen; large leaves Sugar bush; Desert scrub oak; Manzanita; Jojoba

Certain limited ecological islands exist within the scrub communities in southern California. These include:

Southern Oak Woodland Lower north facing slopes with deep soils Coast live oak; Poison oak (Sumac)
  Upper canyons/slopes Interior live oak, Engelmann oak; Poison oak; Three-leafed sumac
Riparian Woodland Lower elevations Western sycamore; Willow; Cottonwood
  Upper Elevations White Alder; California laurel
Coniferous Forests 4500'+ Jeffrey pine; White fir; Black oak; Sugar pine; California incense cedar

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   (Based on Schoenherr 1992)

The Luiseño used all of the plant communities. Major villages were located in the Coastal Sage Scrub and Lower Chaparral plant communities and seasonal visits were made to the Upper Chaparral and Coniferous Forest plant communities for many important resources, such as black oak and canyon oak. The Desert Chaparral was visited on occasion, but mainly to trade with the Cahuilla people. The Luiseño also utilized coastal waters for plant and animal resources. These plant communities were radically altered by European colonization and the original range and distribution of some of the native plants is not clear in each of these plant communities. As might be expected, the Coastal Sage Scrub has suffered the most. To find out more about the botanical aspects of the Coastal Sage Scrub plant community see Wayne's Word.

The Luiseño were intimately aware of this environment and used most of the plants and animals for food, shelter, utilitarian products, medicine, and religious ceremony. This environment was heavily impacted by European American intrusions and is in danger of disappearing in Southern California. The original oak trees of the coastal environs are all but gone and were replaced by eucalyptus trees in the 1880's. It is estimated that in pre-European American times that mule deer numbered 60 head /sq. mile and that mountain lion, grizzly bear, elk, pronghorn antelope, bobcat, ringtail, woodrat, quail, coyote, and many birds like the California condor abounded in the Southern California area. Of course the sea life provided an additional natural resource that also has been depleted. The Luiseño actually used more plant foods than animal foods, too include over 17 species of native grasses. Acorns of various deciduous and perennial species of oak trees were by far the most important staple to the Luiseño and most California Indians.

         Food Use               Coastal                       Inland

         Acorns                   15-25 %                    25-45%

         Seeds                     20-40 %                    20-40 %

         Greens                     5-10 %                    10-12%

         Roots/Bulbs           10-15 %                    10-13 %

         Game                       5-10 %                    15-20 %

         Fish/Shellfish           20-35 %                      0-5 %

                                                       (Bean and Shipek 1978)

Here is a sample of the plants used by the Luiseño from the various plant communities. These natural resources are still being used and are important resources. The Luiseño seek to preserve the natural resources and geographical space which they consider part of their cultural resources.

NOTE: Plants are identified with scientific name first (italics) and the common name second. The plant family is in parentheses and ends with -ceae; and if available the Luiseño name is in parentheses and bold italics. Scientific names and families are now used in accordance with the Checklist of the Vascular Plants of San Diego County, 4th Edition. Cultural plant and use comparisons can be accessed through the Native American Ethnobotany Database.




Acorns/Oak: Quercus sp.  A primary staple; at least 7 species used with Quercus kelloggii, California black oak ( kwiila) acorns being the most important. Other known species with useful acorns were Q. agrifolia, coast live oak (weahsahl), Q. chrysolepis, canyon live oak (wiat), and Q. engelmannii, Engelmann's oak (tovashal) (FAGACEAE).

Pine Nuts: Pinus coulteri, Coulter pine (wixe'tut) and Pinus monophylla, single-leaf pinyon (yoela) (PINACEAE)  nuts were gathered or traded for.



Sunflower: Helianthus annuus, bush sunflower (pankla) (ASTERACEAE)

Sage: Salvia columbariae, chia (pashal); S. carduacea, thistle sage (palit); S. mellifera, black sage (kanvut); S. apiana, white sage (quaashil) (LAMIACEAE). All of these seeds are high in protein (>15%) and were used to produce highly nutritious mush (Sp. pinole).

Holly-Leaf cherry: Prunus ilicifolia (chamish) (ROSACEAE)

California Goosefoot: Chenopodium californicum, California goosefoot (kahawit) (AMARANTHACEAE). C.album, lamb's quarter, is common in recent times, but was introduced.

Grass: Bromus carinatus, California brome (wosh hat) (POACEAE) is one of many native and non-native grasses whose seeds were used. Panicum acuminatum(POACEAE) is one native species of panic grass used, but has been replaced by numerous old world grasses during the Mission/Rancho Periods with the introduction of domestic livestock.  

Redmaids: Calandrinia ciliata, red maids (puchakla) (PORTULACACEAE). C. breweri, Brewer's calandrinia and C. maritima, seaside kisses, were used but are very rare today.

Mugwort/Tarragon:  Artemisia douglasiana, Douglas mugwort (pa'aku) and A.dracunculus, tarragon (wachish) (ASTERACEAE) seeds were harvested and used as food.

Goldenbush: Ericameria parishii, Parrish goldenbush (sanmikut) (ASTERACEAE).

Cactus: Opuntia littoralis, coast prickly pear (CACTACEAE) is a native, but seeds were also taken from the alien South American cactus Opuntia ficus-indica, Indian- fig. These two cactus species will hybrid and cause some confusion in field identification.

Clover: Trifolium ciliolatum, tree clover (mukalwut). T. willdenovii, valley clover (chokat) (FABACEAE).

Peppergrass: Lepidium nitidum, shining peppergrass (pakil) (BRASSICACEAE).

Melon: Cucurbita foetidissma, wild squash (Sp.calabazilla) (CUCURBITACEAE). The melons are rather small and bitter, but the seeds were dried and roasted.

Daisy: Layia glandulosa, white layia (solisal) (ASTERACEAE).

Dandelion: Malacothrix californica, desert dandelion (makiyal) (ASTERACEAE).

Gilia: Gilia diegensis, San Diego gilia (chachwomal) (POLEMONIACEAE).


GREENS (Leaves and Stems)

Mallow: Sidalcea malviflora, checker-bloom (pashangal) (MALVACEAE).

Celery:  Apiastrum angustifolium, wild celery (pakil) (APIACEAE).  Apium graveolens, common celery which was introduced was used in historic times but is  commonly confused with Cicuta maculata, water hemlock, which was also introduced and is very poisonous.

Miner's Lettuce: Claytonia perfoliata,  Mexican miner's-lettuce (towish popa'kwa) (PORTULACACEAE) was eaten raw.

Tule: Schoenoplectus californicus, California bulrush (piveesac) (CYPERACEAE), young shoots were eaten.

Goosefoot: Chenopodium californicum, California goosefoot (kahawit) (AMARANTHACEAE).

Redmaids: Calandrinia breweri, Brewer's calandrinia (puchakla) (PORTULACACEAE).

Yucca/Agave: Hesperoyucca whipplei, chaparral candle (pan'aal) (AGAVACEAE) . Agave shawii, Shaw's agave (AGAVACEAE) is rare today. Both plant's lower stalks were roasted in earthen ovens.

Pea/Legumes: Lathyrus vestitus, San Diego sweet pea; Lotus strigosus, Bishop's lotus (tovinal); Lupinus succulentus, arroyo lupine (mawut); Trifolium ciliolatum, tree clover (mukalwut); T. gracilentum, pin-point clover (kekesh); T. microcephalum, maiden clover (pehevi); T. obtusiforum, creek clover (shookut) (FABACEAE).

Poppy: Eschscholzia californica, California poppy (ataushanut) (PAPAVERACEAE).

Violet: Viola pedunculata, Johnny jump-up (ashla) (VIOLACEAE).

Phacelia: Phacelia ramosissima, branching phacelia (sikimona) (HYDROPHYLLACEAE).

Leather root: Hoita orbicularis, roundleaf psorelea (shikal) (FABACEAE) was used for greens.

Mushrooms: Laetiporus conifericola, shelf mushroom (shakapish) (POYPORACEAE).



Brodiaea: Bloomeria crocea, goldenstar (kawich'hal) and Dichelostemma capitatum, blue dicks (tokapish) (THEMIDACEAE) were much more abundant in aboriginal times and extensively used. Luiseño women used digging sticks, often weighted; and only harvested larger corms, while turning under smaller ones to propagate for future harvest. Such management, with controlled burning, actually increased such crops.

Broomrape: Orobanche californica, sagebrush broom-rape and O. bulbosa, chaparral broom-rape (mashal) (OROBANACEAE). This is a parasitic plant growing in association with a number of plant communities.

Soaplily: Chlorogalum parviforum, small-flower soap plant or amole (kenut) (HYACINTHACEAE). This important bulb was cooked for food, and used (mashed raw) as a shampoo. Also, the raw bulb was chopped up and used as a neurotoxin to stun and catch fish.

Bulrush: Schoenoplectus californicus, California bulrush (piveesac) (CYPERACEAE).  Young shoots with roots were used for food.



Manzanita: Arctostaphylos glandulosa, Zaca lake manzanita  (koolul) and Xylococcus bicolor, mission manzanita (muukul) (ERICACEAE). Ripe berries were bruised and soaked overnight in cold water to produce a cider-like drink.

Prickly Pear Cactus: Opuntia littoralis, coastal prickly-pear (Cactaceae). Later, O. ficus-indica, Indian-fig, replaced the native prickly pear.

Lemonade Berry: Rhus integrifolia, lemonadeberry . R. trilobata, three-leaf sumac (sawvel) and R. ovata, sugar bush (ANACARDIACEAE) produced similar fruits that were used.

Cherry: Prunus virginiana, Western chokecherry ('aatut)  ; P. ilicifolia, islay or holly-leaf cherry (chamish) (ROSACEAE) .

Christmas Berry: Heteromeles arbutifolia, Christmas berry or toyon ('aatcawut) (ROSACEAE).

Elderberry: Sambucus mexicana, blue elderberry (kootah) (ADOXACEAE) .

Wild Grape: Vitis girdiana, desert wild grape (makwit) (VITACEAE).

Gooseberry: Ribes speciosum, fuchia-flower gooseberry and R. speciosum (kawa'wal) (GROSSULARIACEAE).

Thimbleberry: Rubus parviflorus, thimbleberry (povlash) (ROSACEAE).

Blackberry:  Rubus ursinus, California blackberry (picwla) (ROSACEAE) .

Wild Rose: Rosa californica, California rose (ushla) (ROSACEAE) .



Tea fern: Pellaea mucronata, bird's foot cliff-brake (wikunmal) (PTERIDACEAE) fronds were steeped as beverage.



CORDAGE: This includes fine string to rope that was made mostly from the vegetal fibers below, sometimes animal sinew or hair was used. Vegetal fiber tended to perform better in wet applications and conditions. Sinew was stronger with finer strands, but expanded with moisture.

Nettle: Urtica dioica,  hoary nettle (URTICACEAE) (sakisla). This was the least prized fiber for cordage purposes.

Yucca/Agave: Yucca schidigera, Mohave yucca  (hunuvut) and Agave shawii, desert agave (AGAVACEAE). Fiber from these plants were used for a variety of applications, including woven sandals. Coastal groups also used yucca for nets and snares. Various nets were used, including fish nets (tciiwanac), rabbit nets (waanal) and carrying nets (iikat)

Dogbane: Apocynum cannabinum, Indian hemp (wicha) (APOCYNACEAE)  was used for the toughest cordage applications, including as a substitute for sinew bowstrings (three to four ply).

Milkweed: Asclepias eriocarpa, Indian milkweed (tokmut) (APOCYNACEAE) was used for finer string, including the women's inner apron/skirt (pishkwut). Nets and snares were most commonly made with milkweed or dogbane  by inland groups.

Cottonwood/Willow: Populus fremontii, Western cottonwood (avahut) and Salix goodingii, black willow (wat) (SALIACEAE) inner barks were used to make women's outer aprons/skirts (shehevish).



Willow: Salix lasiolepis, arroyo willow (saxat) (SALIACEAE)  was used as foundation for twined baskets, cradleboards, seed beaters, and various traps/snares. Both stems and roots were used in these various applications.

Juncus: Juncus effusus, Pacific rush (pivut)  and J. dubious (shoyla) (JUNCACEAE) were used as wrap in open twined baskets that functioned as sieves and closed twined baskets that were used to stone boil various foods. Also, they produced various special mats in the household.

Grass: Muhlenbergia rigens, deer grass (yuulalac) (POACEAE) was primarily used as foundation for coiled baskets.

Three-Leafed Sumac: Rhus trilobata, skunkbrush (shoval) (ANACARDACEAE)  was used as the wrap in coiled baskets and in other applications such as the seed beater.


SHELTER: Houses  were semi-subterranean 2-3 feet and peaked (smaller: kish) or a conical (larger: kiitca mukat) with the roofing variable upon material available. Cooking was often under an outdoor open willow shelter (noylac or Sp. ramada). A sweat house was  subterranean and elliptical. Finally a large open enclosure for ceremonial purposes (wamkish) was elliptical and measured about 38'x58' and was constructed with Malosma laurina, laurel sumac (naqwut) (ANACARDACEAE) .

Cedar: Calocedrus decurrens, California incense cedar (tovot) (CUPRESSACEAE)  wood was used for house posts and beams. Inland groups used cedar bark for roofing.

Bulrush/Tule:  Schoenoplectus californicus, California bulrush (piveesac) (CYPERACEAE)  was used by coastal people for various roofing/thatch applications.

Willow: Salix lasiolepis, arroyo willow (saxat) (SALIACEAE)  was also used for construction, roofing, and thatch.



BOWS: Bows of various lengths and weights (lbs./ pull) were made of the wood of Salix lasiolepis, arroyo willow (saxat) (SALIACEAE); Sambucus mexicana, blue elderberry (kootah) (ADOXACEAE); Fraxinus velutina, velvet ash (kuttipic) (OLEACEAE); Cornus sericea, creek dogwood (taawumal) (CORNACEAE) ;  Juniperus californica, California juniper (waa'at) (CUPRESSACEAE).

ARROWS: A compound arrow, with or without stone points was made of Leymus condensatus, giant wild-rye (huikish) (POACEAE) (backshaft)  and Adenostoma fasciculatum, chamise ('u'ut) (ROSACEAE) (foreshaft) . Simple, one-piece arrows were made of  Heterotheca grandiflora, telegraph weed (humut), Artemisia californica, coastal sagebrush (hulvul), A.douglasiana, Douglas mugwort (paaku), A. dracunculus, tarragon (wachish) (ASTERACEAE), and Cornus sericea, creek dogwood (taawumal) (CORNACEAE).  A special long arrow, possibly for fishing or birds (with special ends) was made of Pluchea sericea, arrow weed (hangla)(ASTERACEAE).

BOWSTRING: Sinew (deer tendon) was commonly used in 3-ply and Apocynum cannabinum, Indian hemp (pishkwat) (APOCYNACEAE)  was the preferred vegetal fiber used in 3-4 ply cords.

FIRE DRILL: Baccharis douglasii, marsh baccharis (morwaxpic) (ASTERACEAE) ) was used as the drill shaft.

GUM/GLUE: Glue was made from various species of pine, Pinus sp.(PINACEAE) or Adenostoma fasciculatum, chamise ('u'ut) (Rosaceae) . A base for chewing gum was made from Asclepias californica, California milkweed (tokmut) (APOCYANCEAE).

DYE/PIGMENT: Tattooing dye was made from Solanum douglasii, Douglas nightshade (takovshic) (SOLANACEAE) .  Hoita macrostachya, leatherroot (pimukul)(FABACEAE) roots produced a yellow dye. Marah macrocarpus, wild-cucumber seeds (enwish) (CUCURBITACEAE) were mashed to produce a grease base for paints.  A red pigment was produced from pond scum bacterium, Leptothrix ochracea (mooshic)  that was dried , burned and added to the grease base. Mineral pigments were derived from hematite Fe2O3, red or yellow (navyot); charcoal, black, (tuula); manganese oxide MnO2, black; kaolin, white, (toovic). Also, various colors were derived from different wood ashes.

RATTLES: The seeds of the following were used in box turtle shell(s) or gourd  to create rattles:  Arctostaphylos glauca, big-berry manzanita (kohul); Xylococcus bicolor, mission manzanita (muukul) (ERICACEAE), Prunus virginiana, western chokecherry ('aatut) (ROSACEAE)  or Washingtonia filifera,California fan palm (maaxul) (ARECACEAE).

CLAPPER: A split Sambucus mexicana, blue elderberry (kutpat) (ADOXACEAE) branch of about 1" in diameter was used as a clapper muscial instrument.

CLEANING: Cuscuta californica, chaparral dodder, (CONVOLVULACEAE) and Equisetum sp., horsetail or scouring-rush (EQUISETACEAE) were used to scrub utensils and containers.




Yerba Santa: This is one of the most famous medicinals from California and was listed in  the U.S. Pharmacopia. The leaves of Eriodictyon trichocalyx, yerba santa, (palwut) (HYDROPHYLLACEAE) were used to produce an infusion that is principally an expectorant.

White Sage: Salvia apiana, white sage (qaashil) (LAMIACEAE)  leaves were chewed or smoked as a decongestant.

Datura: The leaves of Datura wrightii, datura or Jimson weed (naqtumuc) (SOLANACEAE)  are steamed to produce a vapor that acts as a decongestant.

Sagebrush: Leaves from Artemisia californica, coastal sagebrush (hulvul) (ASTERACEAE)  were chewed or smoked in combination with tobacco to relieve colds.

Mugwort/Tarragon: A tea was prepared from the leaves of  Artemisia douglasiana,  Douglas mugwort (pa'aku) (ASTERACEAE)  that acts as a bronchial and sinus decongestant. A. dracunculus, tarragon (wachish) served the same purpose.

Yerba Mansa: The strong peppery roots of Anemopsis californica, yerba mansa (chevnish) (SAURURACEAE) were prepared as an infusion to act as a decongestant. This plant was sometimes combined with mugwort or tarragon to create a more comprehensive action.

Yerba Buena: Various mints, including introduced and native such as Monardella lanceolata, mustang mint (huvamel) (LAMIACEAE)  were effective treatments for colds with headache and fever reducing qualities. The same action is attributed to the inner bark of Salix gooddingii, black willow (wat) (SALICACEAE) and the inner bark and flowers of Sambucus mexicana, blue elderberry (kutpat) (ADOXACEAE). This action is due mainly to the presence of salicylic acid (similar to aspirin) in these plants.

Gentian: A tea was made from the leaves of  Centaurium venustum, canchalagua (GENTIANACEAE) to reduce fevers.



Ephedra: The stems of  Ephedra californica, California ephedra (EPHEDRACEAE) were used to boil up for 'wine red' colored infusion or tea to thin the blood and flush the kidneys. It is not as potent as its Asian counterpart, but does contain some relative of the ephedrine alkaloid that acts as an adrenalin-mimic; such that long term usage was not recommended by Luiseño healers.

Rue: An infusion was made from the leaves of Cneoridium dumosum, coast spice bush (navish) (RUTACEAE) that had 'bood thining' action that included diuretic action.



Baccharis: Baccharis douglasii, marsh baccharis (morwaxpic) (ASTERACEAE) was used as an infusion made by boiling the entire plant to irrigate sores.

Yerba Mansa: The bark around the roots of, Anemopsis californica, yerba mansa (chevnash) (SAURACEAE) was used as a wash for various external sores, ulcers, and small wounds.

Leather root: Hoita macrostachya, leather root (pimukvul) (FABACEAE) was used by pulverizing the root for a topical salve or poultice.

Fern: Woodwardia fimbriata,  giant chain fern (mashla) (BLECHNACEAE) was used as a wound pack or poultice, often in combination with spider web to act as a blood coagulant. Another fern, Pellaea mucronata, bird's-foot cliff brake (wikunmal) (PTERIDACEAE) was used in the same way.

Oak gall: Insect larvae construct round galls on the branches of Quercus dumosa, scrub oak (l'mushla) (FAGACEAE). These galls are dried and ground up to concoct an infusion for sores or small cuts.



White Sage: The seeds of Salvia apiana, white sage (qaashil) (LAMIACEAE)  were used as an eye cleanser and foreign object remover. When the seed is placed in the eye it becomes glutinous, picks up any foreign material, and is easily removed.

Nightshade: The berries of the Solanum douglasii, Douglas nightshade (takavshic) (SOLANACEAE) were used to place drops in sore or inflamed eyes. The primary drug in the berries is atropine which is still being used.

Oak Gall: The galls of the Quercus dumosa, scrub oak (l'mushla) (FAGACEAE), were also (see topical) used as an eye wash and is known to have boric acid as an active ingredient.


 Buckwheat: The leaves of mature, Eriogonum fasciculatum, California buckwheat (hulakul) (POLYGONACEAE) were used to prepare a rather strong decoction for stomach disorders. This decoction was also effective as a diuretic and to effect uterine shrinkage in cases of dysmenorrhea.

Sagebrush: A tea from the boiled leaves and stems of Artemisia californica, coastal sagebrush (hulvul) (ASTERACEAE was administered as an infusion to induce menstrual activity and for childbirth, especially post-natal.

Buckthorn: Rhamnus californica, California coffeberry (hunwut qwaiva)(RHAMNACEAE) was a famous herbal known as cascara sagrada since it was listed in American Pharmacopoeia. The dried bark is used principally to cure constipation with a laxative/purgative action.

Blue Eyed Grass: Sisyrinchium bellum, blue-eyed grass (patumkut) (IRIDACEAE) roots were used as a purgative.

Four O' Clock: The leaves of Mirabilis laevis, coastal wishbone plant (nanukvish) (NYCTAGINACEAE) were used to make an infusion that acts as a purgative.

Mint: Like most mints (Spanish: yerba buena), a tea was made from Monardella lanceollata (huvawut) (LAMIACEAE) which was effective in settling an upset stomach.

Yerba Mansa: The bark or roots of Anemopsis californica, yerba mansa (chevnash) (SAURURACEAE), were used to cure G.I. ulcers

Ragweed: Ambrosia psilostachya, Western ragweed (pa'atcivat) (ASTERACEAE)  along with introduced ragweeds, such as A. artemisiifolia, were used as emetics.

Croton: The plant Croton californicus, California croton (shuikawut) (EUPHORBIACEAE) was used as an abortive.

Bird's Beak: Cordylanthus rigidus, dark tip bird's beak (yumayut) (ORBANCHACEAE)  was used as an emetic.

Mallow: Malacothamnus fasciculatus, bush mallow (kaukat) (MALVACEAE) leaves were used as an emetic.

Wooly Blue-Curls: Trichostema lanatum, wooly bluecurls (LAMIACEAE), the leaves and flowers were steeped in a tea for unspecified stomach ailments.




Sandmat: Chamaesyce polycarpa, small-seed sandmat (kenhamal)(Spanish: yerba golondrina) (EUPHORBIACEAE) was used to make a poultice for rattlesnake bites.

Currant:  Ribes indecorum, white flowering currant (kawa'wal) (GROSSULARIACEAE) roots were used for toothaches.

Fern: Woodwardia fimbriata, giant chain fern (mashla) (BLECHNACEAE) root was used to produce an analgesic tea.

Poppy: Eschscholzia californica California poppy (ataushanut) (PAPAVERACEAE) were chewed with chewing gum originally made from the Asclepias eriocarpa, Indian milkweed (tokmut) (APOCYNACEAE) sap.

Soap Plant: Chlorogalum  pariforum, small-flower soap plant or amole (kenut) (HYACINTHACEAE)  has a bulb that produced saponin that served as an excellent soap or shampoo. This bulb also can be chopped up and thrown into ponds or streams to stupefy fish; and the neurotoxin does not render the flesh of the fish inedible. The hairs surrounding the underground bulb were also used to make a variety of brushes.                                               

Goosefoot: Chenopodium californicum, California goosefoot (kahamut)(AMARANTHACEAE) roots were ground up to produce a soap.

Wild gourd: Cucurbita foetidissima, wild squash (Sp. calabazilla) (CUCURBITACEAE) fruit contained saponin and was used to clean various utility items.

Recorded, but unknown medical use: Tauschia arguta, southern tauschia (kaiyat) (APIACEAE); Turricula parryi, poodle-dog bush (atovikut) (HYDROPHYLLACEAE); Ericameria parishii, Parish's goldenbush (sanmikut) (ASTERACEAE) (Sparkman 1908; Kroeber 1925).


Tobacco: Tobacco was considered sacred and was primarily used in ritual as smoke for blessings and purification. Certain blessings included the sprinkling of dried tobacco leaves. Shamans used tobacco in curing, dreaming  and ritual. The various species used by the Luiseño included Nicotiana quadrivalis, Indian tobacco(pavivut), N. attenuata (coyote tobacco) (pivat), and N. clevelandii (a rare coastal species) (SOLANACEAE). N. glauca, tree tobacco, is an alien introduced from South America. Tobacco was also used for medicinal purposes in curing, but is rather toxic with powerful alkaloids. It may also be administered topically as a wound infusion or as a fumigant to relieve pain of ear infections or rheumatism. A liquid infusion with water acted as an emetic since the alkaloids do not do well in the GI tract. Young girls used an infusion of tobacco as a purge for purification during their puberty rites. Smoking produced a relaxing euphoric and hallucinogenic experience; and was used as a preparation for ritual or for stressful activity such as war or hunting larger game.

Jimson Weed/Datura: Datura wrightii, jimson weed (naqtumuc) (SOLANACEAE)  also contained powerful alkaloids. Since the quantity and effect of the alkaloids in datura are unpredictable a shaman had to be careful with this plant. The dried roots were generally used to produce a hallucinogenic effect for shamans and in boy's puberty rites. Leaves were used to produce pain alleviating ointment or in a hot poultice. Vapor from leaves was used for severe cases of congestion and contains atropine as an active ingredient. The hallucinogenic effect was long term and would produce the will and strength for all night ritual performances by shaman.

Mugwort: Artemisia douglasiana, Douglas mugwort (paa'ku) was used boys puberty rites as a branding with a small pinch of dried crushed leaves that were burned and placed on the arm and/or leg to create a small brand. Endurance of pain during puberty was also achieved with whipping with Urtica dioca, hoary nettle (shakishla) and with the 'ant ordeal' component to the puberty rites.

Sagebrush: Artemisia californica, coastal sagebrush (hulvul) (ASTERACEAE)  and Salvia apiana, white sage (qaashil) (LAMIACEAE)  were used to build a ceremonial fire before hunting. These acted as a cleanser and scent mask.

Revised 2009: Copyright © S.J. Crouthamel



Luiseño Botanical Master List

 Other Links:

Calflora Database

Native American Ethnobotany Database