Salvia columbariae Benth.
Lamiaceae (Mint Family)
Annual, simple or branching below, 1-5 dm. tall, +/- cinereous with
mostly retrorse hairs; lvs. mostly basal, finely pubescent, oblong-ovate, the
blades 2-10 cm. long, 1-2 pinnatifid into toothed or incised divisions, the
petioles ca. as long; upper lvs. reduced; fls. in capitate glomerules, these
1-3, subtended by rounded, glabrous or hispidulous, colored, awn tipped bracts;
calyx 8-10 mm. long, purplish, arcuate, the middle spinose tooth of the upper
lip suppressed; corolla blue, 12-16 mm. long, upper lip small, emarginate, lower
with small lateral lobes and larger middle lobe +/- 2 lobed; nutlets tan-gray,
+/- mottled and dorsally flattened, ca. 2 mm. long.
Common in dry open disturbed places, below 4000 ft., occasional to 7000
ft.; Coastal Sage Scrub, Chaparral, Creosote Bush Scrub, etc.; inner Coast
Ranges, Mendocino Co. s., throughout s. Calif.; to Utah, Ariz., Son., L. Calif.
Latin, salveo, the verb to
save, because of medicinal use. The
species name from columbaria, a plant
in the old world, genus of Scabiosa.
Rare in the study area, having been found in only two locations, one on
the Castaways bluffs and the other on the trail from the Delhi ditch easterly
toward Jamboree Rd. The latter
habitat was destroyed in early 1987 with the construction of an equestrian
trail, several feet wide, which required quite a bit of grading. In 2001 and
2002 the land around the new Interpretive Center was seeded and Salvia
Columbariae was in the seed mix; the same is true for areas along the bluffs
going toward 23rd St. S. columbariae is occasional now in the area. (my comments). Seeds may be eaten raw, or
parched and ground into flour. A
good, although mucilaginous, beverage may be made by mixing 1/4 cup of the flour
in cold water and stirring vigorously. A
spoonful of whole seeds may be soaked in a glass of water for 15 to 20 minutes
to make a flavorful beverage, especially when a little sugar and lemon juice are
added. The seeds were a favorite of
the South West Indian tribes. Pinole
was a staple food widely used by the Indians; it was a fine flour made by
grinding Chia, Tansy Mustard or many of the grasses and annual flowering plants.
It was eaten dry or in some form of mush.
(Bauer, page not recorded).
The tiny chia seeds, rich in mucilage and oil, are famous from very
ancient times, a staple food of the Pacific Coast and Mexican Indians, even
having been a cultivated crop of the latter.
The original "chia" of the
Aztecs was Salvia hispanica. The
Indian method of harvesting the seeds was to beat the heads with a paddle over a
flat basket. A single teaspoon of
seed was reported to sustain a man on a 24-hour, forced march.
A seed or two was placed under the eye to alleviate eye strain, the plant
was also used to neutralize alkaline water
(Dale 137). Chia seeds swell in the stomach so the
person who has eaten them feels as if he has eaten a lot.
(lecture by Charlotte Clarke, author of Useful and Edible Plants of California, April 1987).
The debate over the extent and impact of aboriginal burning has been a
long one, and there is still little agreement as to the degree to which the
Indians partook in burning. Some
tribes are known to have used fire frequently to improve seed crops such as chia
and grazing for game animals and to clear brush to facilitate hunting.
For other tribes there is little or no information. In San Diego County, most data indicates that the
Indians (Kumeyaay, Juaneno, Cupeno, and Cahuilla) primarily burned grassland
areas, both for improved seed crops and to improve the quality of grasses used
to make baskets. Though there are
vague reports of when the Indians burned, it is generally agreed that most of
their burning was done during the late summer and fall.
Whether they waited for or avoided critical fire weather periods is not
known. (Dunn, Anthony T.
"Fire History in San Diego County".
FREMONTIA, A Journal of the California Native Plant Society. October 1986 p.26). For additional information on wildfires
see Bloomeria crocea,
Phacelia tanacetfolia, Eriophyllum
confertiflorum and Lolium perenne.
The seeds have been for centuries an article of economic importance to
the aborigines and their descendants. Dr.
Rothrock writes that among the Xlahua races of ancient Mexico the plant was
cultivated as regularly as corn, and was one of their most important crops.
The Chumash Indians of the Santa Barbara area used Chia seeds as a major
food, constantly mentioned by Harrington's Chumash consultants and many other
historical sources. The seeds also
had medicinal uses. Other species
of Salvia seem to have been much less used. (Timbrook, J. "Chumash Ethnobotany: A Preliminary
Report". Journal of
Ethnobiology, Dec. 84, 141-169).
The Cahuilla, Indians of the Colorado Desert, the San Bernardino and San
Jacinto Mountains, practiced plant management by burning over of Chia stands
periodically to facilitate the next season's growth. (Bean and Saubel 137).
Above all else, Sage tea will decrease secretions, from sweating,
salivation and milk secretions to mucous secretions of the sinuses, throat, and
lungs. It is the best herbal
treatment for decreasing lactation during weaning in either animals or humans, a
cup before each meal as long as needed. (Moore,
Medicinal Plants of
the Mountain West 143).
Spanish Californians made a fine drink by mixing a teaspoonful of ground
seed in a glass of cold water for a few minutes, often adding sugar and lemon
juice. (Sweet 53).
A genus of over 500 species, widely distributed in temperate and warmer
regions; some cultivated as ornamentals or for flavoring.
(Munz, Flora So. Calif.
Flora So. Calif. lists var.
columbariae but no other vars. The
1993 Jepson Manual lists only S.
columbariae and includes var. ziegleri
within the species. Roberts in his
1998 Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Orange County, California
includes var. columbariae. I have
eliminated var. columbariae from my
data sheet. (my comments).
Hickman, Ed. 728; Munz, Flora So.
Calif. 536; Roberts 27.
March-April 86 # 18,19,20; Oct 02-Mar 03 #13,14.
Identity: by R. De Ruff,
confirmed by F. Roberts.
First Found: April 1986.
Computer Ref: Plant Data 101.
Have plant specimen.
Last edit 12/26/04.
March Photo March Photo