Salvia columbariae Benth.


Lamiaceae (Mint Family)





                                               April Photo


Plant Characteristics:  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.


Habitat:  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.  March-June.


Name:  Latin, salveo, the verb to save, because of medicinal use.  The species name from columbaria, a plant in the old world, genus of Scabiosa.  (Dale 131).


General:  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.  (Parsons 302).      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. 534,535).      Munz, 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).


Text Ref:  Hickman, Ed. 728; Munz, Flora So. Calif. 536; Roberts 27.

Photo Ref:  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