In my perfect world we Southern Californians would cast off our topiaried Home Depot shrubbery in favor of California natives and a few carefully chosen Mediterranean plants. No more petunias, leaf blowers or fake lawns either. Imagine if all our residential, government and commercial spaces had climate appropriate landscaping? Native insects, birds and other critters would explode in population. It would be a paradise.
It would also be a huge culinary resource. Grow these plants in your garden and you can dodge the controversies of foraging in the wild. Towards that end, I thought I’d look at three easy to grow California natives that look great in a garden and double as culinary herbs.
White sage (Salvia apiana)
If you can grow this one you should. Like most California natives, when used as a culinary herb, it’s much stronger tasting than its cultivated cousins. You need to use it sparingly when cooking with it. Our neighbor has one that made it through our multi-year drought without a drop of water. When you grow it in a garden it’s best to prune it back every year to prevent it from getting rangy looking. You can use the cuttings as smudge sticks or dry them for use in the kitchen. White sage is over-harvested in the wild for the crystal shop smudge stick market which is another reason you should grow this one in your garden.
Black sage (Salvia melifera)
Our black sage plant has become a giant blob that threatens to take over the backyard. The Chumash people made a tea out of it that functioned as a pain reliever. Like white sage, you can use it in cooking (again, sparingly because of the strong taste).
California sagebrush (Artemisia californica)
When I imagine of the scent of our local mountains it’s this plant that I think of most. It was the Cahuilla people’s DayQuil. Using it as a culinary herb brings the taste of California to your food. Bees love it too.
You can make a tea with all of these plants and you can dry them for use as
a spice herbs. And a reminder that if you’re in a hurry you can dry herbs in a microwave by putting the leaves in one layer between two paper towels. Microwave for one minute and let the leaves cool. If they aren’t brittle, microwave for another minute.
Pascal Baudar (a guest on episode 89 of the Root Simple Podcast) has a phenomenal
spice herb blend that uses all three of these herbs combined with some garlic salt. I made a batch last week and have already used it on salmon and popcorn. You can find that recipe on page 158 of his amazing book The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir. I also strongly suggest taking one of Pascal’s classes.