One of the most common shade plants in Southern California is mugwort, a rangy grey-green perennial with serrated leaves, which also turns out to be one of the plants most useful for healing in the Chumash tradition. That’s according to Jim Adams, a professor in pharmacology at the University of Southern California, who has published hundreds of articles in the scientific press, but on his own spent years learning about Southern California plants from a Chumash mentor named Cecilia Garcia.
“Mugwort is such a useful plant,” he said. “Cecilia was constantly working with it – it was her favorite plant.”
Adams said the Chumash used mugwort for many conditions related to the womb, and he suggests making a tea with it to relieve menopausal symptoms.
But the plant is best known as an antidote for poison oak.
“Basically, you get a handful of leaves, 10 or 15, and pee on them,” he said. “Then you rub the leaves on your skin where you were touched by the poison oak. We know this works, and there have been scientific papers written on it, but we still don’t know exactly how.”