Using garlic and onion makes good sense any time of year

While the winter is traditionally called “cold and flu season,” did you know there is no scientific evidence for this assumption? The usually reliable, well-researched, and equally entertaining Straight Dope examines this question and the various theories. In any case, and at any time of year, there are lots of good reasons to use garlic, both internally and externally. A very thorough article from lists and explains “39 Health Benefits of Garlic.” I think you’ll find it informative and useful.

Unfortunately, garlic is not native to Southern California or anywhere in the U.S., for that matter. The only place you’re likely to find it growing wild is near a cultivated garlic field. We are blessed, however, to have at least one related plant, Red-Skinned Onion (Allium haematochiton), that I’ve found in the Santa Ynez Mountains between Ojai and Santa Barbara. Wild onions are much more common in wetter climates such as in the High Sierras where you are likely to run across fields of them.

Red-Skinned Onion (Allium haematochiton). Photo by Keir Morse.

Red-Skinned Onion flower (Allium haematochiton). Photo by Keir Morse.











Onions and garlic are both in the Alliaceae family, commonly known as the Onion and Garlic Family. They are not identical biochemically but they do share many of the same healing and anti-bacterial properties. Both can be grown in backyard gardens almost anywhere; in fact, I recently planted some since they do better in the winter around here. And just like that,  I’ve brought this post full-circle for you writers who notice such things.

Here’s a related HerbBlog post on garlic from 2013.

Seaside photo shoot starring Crystalline Iceplant

Iceplant Mandi Nunez

When it comes to photos shared with me by Herb Walks participants, I have an embarrassment of riches. Here’s a beautiful shot of Crystalline Iceplant (Mesembryanthemum crystalline), the true “ice” plant, as you can see in this photo taken by Mandi Nuñez on the Seaside Wilderness Park Herb Walk on July 23, 2016. The crystalline icing really is made of water, stored in glistening bladder cells for this drought-tolerant native of Africa and the Mediterranean that is naturalized in our coastal sand dunes. Like other plants of the Coastal Strand plant community — think Pickleweed and Saltbush — that have adapted to growing in saline soil, it excretes salt onto its leaves (mostly in those bladder cells) giving it a pleasantly salty and slightly sour taste. The thick leaves and stems have the odd texture of olives. Thanks for sharing, Mandi!

Adventure Pass Victory for Free Access

view of Sespe from KSWC

View of the Sespe from Johnston Ridge Trail looking east toward Sespe Hot Springs.                           Photo: Keep Sespe Wild Committee

Alasdair Coyne, the unstoppable founder and director of Keep Sespe Wild Committee (KSWC), shared this good news for hikers in his June newsletter. The entire article is reprinted below. Kudos to Alasdair and KSWC for the years they put into fighting for our right to free public access to undeveloped trailheads. You can subscribe to the newsletter or, even better, become a supporter of their work at


After two years of negotiations, a settlement was finally signed in June between the U.S. Forest Service and the four plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Adventure Pass forest fee program, as administered by the four Southern California National Forests. The result is that forest visitors may now enjoy free access to undeveloped forest lands, even when their favorite trailheads are next to car campgrounds & picnic areas.

This is the culmination of twenty years of activism against forest fee programs, beginning with 1996’s Recreation Fee Demo Program, the brainchild of a group of corporate interests, including Disney, which sought to commercialize Americans’ relationship with their federal public lands. Citizen outcry was swift and strong from Washington, Oregon, California, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Colorado and beyond. A bipartisan coalition of Western (and N.H.) legislators worked to roll back the Fee Demo Program, and when its successor fee program, the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act (FLREA) was passed by Congress in 2004, the new law expressly prohibited the U.S. Forest Servive from charging fees for access to undeveloped public lands.

The U.S. Forest Service, however, just kept right on charging fees wherever they wanted to – including for access to undeveloped areas. Citizen opposition
to this egregious situation led to a lawsuit filed in federal court in Tucson, where a judge ruled in 2012 that the agency had to guarantee free public access to those undeveloped areas. This ruling was binding in nine western states – but, guess what, the U.S. Forest Service (beyond Arizona) kept right on charging those fees that were prohibited, and ticketing cars without passes. So a new lawsuit was filed, based on the Tucson case’s clear precedent, against the four Southern California National Forests’ Adventure Pass fee program.

In 2014 federal judge Terry Hatter ruled in favor of free public access to our enormous local acreage of undeveloped forest lands, and a settlement process began. But the U.S. Forest Service was still not about to surrender willingly the money stream coming in from Adventure Pass fees (which were meant to go to local facility improvements, though these rarely manifested).

In the end the plaintiffs in the lawsuit put in countless hours visiting and photographing 66 car campgrounds & picnic areas adjacent to forest trailheads in Southern California, and making suggestions as to where it was viable to place signage for free trailhead parking. In some cases, due to narrow roads, etc., this has meant a short walk to the trailhead. The Dept. of Justice attorneys representing the U.S. Forest Service understood that this was the only way to meet the letter of the FLREA fee law and to reach a settlement with plaintiffs.

The U.S. Forest Service will begin to place signage designating the free trailhead parking this summer, and they say they will not enforce Adventure Pass compliance at those 66 sites (mostly in the Angeles Forest) until the signs are up. They will also bring their websites up to date with this new situation.


In Los Padres Forest the only site to see changes according to the new settlement is Piedra Blanca Trailhead in Rose Valley north of Ojai –gateway to the middle Sespe. You may say, quite rightly, that this site is only a trailhead and no camping is allowed. However, the settlement allows for signed and free parking before you enter the current parking area. We are fortunate that all other forest access trailheads in the Ojai Ranger District are already fee free.

In Santa Barbara County, the Paradise Road access will remain under fee control at the concessionaire kiosk, whether you are camping or just hiking. The concessionaire agreement is a legally-binding document for a specific time period that does not allow for modifications. On the whole, the settlement is of major benefit to the public.


Tarrah’s Artful Herbal Notes

With so many events and so much going on outside in Nature these days, it’s been hard to find time for blogging. I have to take a minute, though, to acknowledge these beautiful and informative notes sent to me by new Herb Walks friend Tarrah Toland. She attended the Foraging Walk and Primitive Herbal Brewing with Pascal Baudar, her first event with me,  on April 30. It’s not surprising that she came away from that day inspired. Still, I was blown away by the notes she sent afterwards. Are you inspired now, too, to take your notetaking to another level?

(POSTSCRIPT: There is one small error that I saw which I can’t help correcting. Our local species of Mugwort is Artemisia douglasiana. Other than that, great job, Tarrah!)


Tarrahs notes small

Explore Ojai: Foraging & Pixie Mixology Demo with Matthew Biancaniello and Lanny Kaufer

a1afce55-38ca-4894-9644-c5b3ec199a95My 40th anniversary year of Herb Walks continues with an invitation to participate in a very special herbal event featuring a celebrity guest. On Sunday, April 10, I’ll be joining renowned Los Angeles cocktail chef and author Matthew Biancaniello for Explore Ojai: Foraging & Pixie Mixology Demo. This creative collaboration is the brainchild of the Ojai Visitors Bureau and includes — in addition to Matthew and me — Friend’s Ranch (of Ojai Pixie tangerine fame), organic herb producer Earthtrine Farm, and Azu, one of Ojai’s premier restaurants.

The link in bold in the paragraph above will take you to all the details but, basically, it includes a foraging walk, Pixie tangerine picking, harvesting of organically-grown herbs, and a cutting-edge cocktail mixing demo with Matthew Biancaniello, followed by a cocktail and tapas reception.

I’m honored to be included and hope that some of you will join us .

Good news in the plant book world!

McAuley coverBig news for Southern California native plant students! For the first time in years, Wildflowers of the Santa Monica Mountains by Milt McAuley is available brand-new exclusively in the Herb Walks Store. Believed to be out-of print and sold only by used and collectible book sellers, a few remaining copies of this classic work were offered to us by the publisher so that we could pass them on to you at the original price of $19.95. Last I checked, it was selling new for $46.50 on Amazon. As a certain presidential candidate would say, “This is HUGE!”

On a related note, one of our most popular books, Field Guide to Common Plants of the Santa Barbara Foothills and Southern California, has been reduced from $17.95 to just $12.95. It was a deal at the original price. Now it’s a super deal! field guide

Wondering what to plant under Oaks?

in our front yard

Hummingbird Sage and Yarrow under the shade of a Coast Live Oak in my yard.

I’ve been enjoying my holiday break and I hope you have, too. Today I was reminded by one of my Herb Walks friends that, with the rainy season approaching, now is the time to plant drought-tolerant native plants. She asked what to plant under Oak trees. My yard is mostly under Coast Live Oaks (Quercus agrifolia) so I’ve had good results with Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) as a low-growing flowering plant. I sparingly water the Hummingbird Sage to keep it green all year. Native California Yarrow (Achillea millefolium var. californica) provides a drought-tolerant ground cover in the same bed.

Toyon berries provide color and food in the winter months.

I also have two established Toyon trees (Heteromeles arbutifolia) that require no water at all after their second summer and produce flowers and berries that the birds love. I also dry the berries for a chewy snack with a cherry-like flavor.

Hollyleaf cherry

Hollyleaf Cherry (“Islay”)

Like commercial cherries, Toyon is in the Rose family, as is our native Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia). Also known by its Spanish name “Islay,” Hollyleaf Cherry prefers some sun but will grow in the shade of oaks as well. The cherries are edible and the plant can be grown as a shrub, tree or hedge, making it extremely versatile. Furthermore, it is proven to be resistant to Armillaria mellea, the dreaded Oak Root Fungus.

Here is a link to an excellent article on what to plant under Oaks by Ron Singer, the Nursery Manager for the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy.

Here is a link to an article on plants resistant to Oak Root Fungus by Robert D. Rabe, Department of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Berkeley.

I look forward to seeing you on the trail again in 2016 as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Herb Walks. Happy New Year!

CNPS Native Plant Sale in Ventura this Saturday!

CNPS plant sale 11-21-2015

Armillaria Root Rot


Armillaria mellea, also known as Honey Fungus or Oak Root Fungus, causes Armillaria root rot on Coast Live Oak (Quercus agrifolia) and other trees. In advanced stages, it pushes up mushrooms at or near the base of infected trees. Other symptoms appear as discolored foliage, reduced growth, and dieback of branches in the crown of the tree. Eventually, the tree will die.

According to Wikipedia: “Trees become infected by Armillaria mellea when rhizomorphs growing through the soil encounter uninfected roots. Alternatively, when infected roots come into contact with uninfected ones the fungal mycelium may grow across. The rhizomorphs invade the trunk, growing between the bark and the wood and causing wood decay, growth reduction and mortality. Trees that are already under stress are more likely to be attacked but healthy trees may also be parasitized. The foliage becomes sparse and discoloured, twig growth slows down and branches may die back…A growth of fruiting bodies near the base of the trunk confirms the suspicion of Armillaria root rot.”

Summer watering and watering closer than 6 feet from the trunk are the major causes of Oak Root Fungus. Fortunately, there are a number of Armillaria-resistant native trees and shrubs that can be planted near Oaks, including one of my favorites, Hollyleaf Cherry (Prunus ilicifolia). Here is a handy list of some common garden plants showing whether or not they are resistant or susceptible to Armillaria. (Thanks to Chase Agricultural Consulting for compiling the list.) I hope you find it useful.

NOTE: This fungus is edible and was once classified as Agaricus, the same genus as the common button mushroom found in produce sections of markets.

Planting & Watering Guide for California Native Plants

native planting ovlc

I just got home from this year’s Fall Native Plant Sale at the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy’s native plant nursery where I picked up 4 plants and a package of wildflower seed. I know. Some of you are asking why I didn’t tell you about it BEFORE it happened and now it’s over. Well, actually, I did. It was on the calendar in the October newsletter. But here’s the good news in case you missed it. While I was there I learned about their new online publication, “Planting & Watering Guide for California Native Plants.” It’s short,  easy to read, and has good photo illustrations. The page includes a handy downloadable watering chart. Now is the time of year to get those natives going in your garden so they can benefit from the winter rains.