Nestled near the Claremont Colleges is a realm of natural healing right at garden visitors’ fingertips. Mar Vista based herbalist William Broen took a group of 10 on a tour of medicinal plants Saturday morning at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.
Broen bent down to rub a leaf of Salvia Spathecea, or hummingbird sage, then sniffed his fingers.
“The mint family calms nerves; just smelling certain plants has a relaxing effect,” Broen said. “When I see this plant I just immerse myself in it.”
He invited the participants to smell the sweet and spiciness of the California specific sage and they followed his lead.
Plants stopped being widely used as medicine in the 1940s when people realized no one could put a patent on a plant and make it profitable.
David Hodges, herb walker and Broen’s neighbor for more than 20 years, said that yerba santa can be smoked to treat asthma.
“That may sound contradictory,” Broen said. “But it has a smooth smoke that gets those great ingredients straight to the lungs.”
California Mugwort is a commonly used plant next to Eriodictyon trichocalyx, or yerba santa, which Broen said relieves respiratory issues, activates the menstrual cycle, acts as a purifying agent for acupuncture needles, and is used as an ingredient in water at bathhouses.
“People have disconnected from the natural world,” Broen said. “A lot of people ask me if I really believe in this stuff. They don’t realize they treat themselves with plant medicine every day by eating food.”
Wendy Lesovsky came from Lake Elsinore to participate in the walk and is part of an herb group that shares their experiences as well as tangible findings on their medicinal plant journeys.
“I’m interested to learn what you can and can’t eat and what everything does,” Lesovsky said. “I wish I had started earlier because there’s so much to learn.”
Elderberry trees are also useful. The bark is toxic as well as the unripe berry, but when ripe, the fruit is delicious and vitamin rich. Europeans and Middle Easterners used elderberry flowers to treat the flu because it causes sweating, which breaks the fever and was believed to block the path for the flu virus to enter the body.
“When flu season starts I just stock up on elderberries instead of getting a flu shot,” Broen said.
Broen said that people create “dream pillows” by placing mugwort leaves under their pillows, close enough to be able to smell them while sleeping. He said that he and his partner have slept with mugwort under their pillows and have had incredibly crazy dreams since.
The Majestic Oak is a live oak tree in the center of the path of the gardens. Oaks are considered live because the leaves stay green through the winter. Majestic has been standing longer than the garden itself, Broen said, and he believes it is 300 years old. Broen said that oaks are commonly called the trees of life since animals and people rely on them for food and shelter.
Hodges said he has walked at the Garden several times but is still always learning new things.
“It’s always different. Times of the year bring different weather and herbs to emerge which changes,” Hodges said.
“It’s not just the herbs for me, I’m a nature boy. I immerse myself in the whole experience,” Hodges said.
Tyler Evains can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.