Calypso’s Kitchen: An Herbal Blog


A page from my great grandmothers native california wildflowers book, circa 1912. She made notes for times she came across these plants. She noted finding fireweed-called here “Willow weed” (Epilobium angustifolium, then E.spicatum) on the Skyline trail in 1914, Northspur in 1920, Lake Almanor and Chester in 1951.

This newspaper clipping was written shortly after WWII and talks about fireweed inhabiting the bombed city of London with its bright magenta flowers, after not seeing it there since the great fire of 1666 which burned through most of the city. Fireweed is native to the northern hemisphere and comes up after fire or other disturbance, hence its name. It is an herb traditionally used for helping the absorption of nutrients in the digestive tract, is anti-inflammatory, astringent and useful in cases of intestinal candida. It can be used for sore throats and congestion, with mild antispasmodic properties. As the first fall rains begin today here in northern california , I pray for all the beings affected by these fires. I pray for people, for the land, for the water and salmon. I pray for rejuvenation in the midst of such tragedy. I pray for the interconnected webs of life underneath it all, emerging through the ash and rubble. #fireweed #epilobium

Melissa officinalis

Remnants of a lime kiln built in the late 1800’s now taken over by Melissa officinalis (lemon balm). Limestone was blasted with dynamite out of the side of a mountain near here from 1876-1919 and was manufactured into lime for building mortar throughout the Bay Area. These giant kilns required continuous burning for days on end, being fed old growth redwood from the surrounding forest that is the traditional territory of the Amah Mutsun Ohlone. Reconstruction of San Francisco ​after the 1906 earthquake added to the already relentless logging of the forests of California, fueling lime kilns and factories, as well as providing lumber for building. Forests that took more than 20 million years to be established and were tended by indigenous people since time immemorial were virtually decimated within a few hundred years, with more than 90% of old growth extracted in California from 1600 to 1960. This lime kiln sits a few miles from any paved road, tucked back into the forest as a stoic relic of its era. Lemon Balm, an herb naturalized from south-central Europe and the Mediterranean covers the kilns’ rock-face with its luscious green stems and bright lemony leaves, claiming this artifact as its own. This resilient herb thrives in wastelands and disturbed soils, converting toxic landscapes into potent constituents and powerful medicine. Lemon Balm has long been used as an aromatic carminative, relaxing spasms in the digestive tract as well as releasing nervous tension. The leaves are used as a mild anti-depressant and sedative, calming stress and anxiety, and uplifting the spirits. They have a tonifying effect on the cardiovascular system, with properties that encourage vasodilation and the lowering of blood pressure. The presence of rosmarinic acid and other polyphenolics support the plants use as an effective antiviral, both internally and externally. It is best to harvest aerial parts just before flowering and for them to be used fresh. As this forest tenaciously breathes air into the world, the interlacing roots of many species work to decompose shadows of destruction, feeding the imaginations and possibilities of collective survival in the future. #SweetMelissa





Rumex crispus

Me and my friend Rumex crispus (a.k.a. yellow dock) hanging out. A “weed” thats naturalized to disturbed landscapes including this converted wetlands that’s become a waste water treatment plant on this unceded Ohlone Territory mistakenly called “Santa Cruz”. Many Rumex species can be used for medicine, food, dyeing and more, but this particular version is from Europe and has traditional use especially in Ireland. The bright, yellow root is harvested in the fall and is indicated for digestive conditions requiring more secretion of bile from the gallbladder, and because it contains both anthraquinone (laxative effects) and tannins (constricting), it has historical use of being used to treat for both constipation and diarrhea. It has also been seen as an Alterative, or blood purifier, that has been used to support skin issues by helping to detoxify the liver. The dried and ground seeds can be dried and ground into bread. The seeds and roots can be used in natural dyeing to produce a yellow/green color. Just wanted to share a bit about this stunning herb that stands more that 5 feet tall in some areas at this moment. This isn’t specific info on harvesting or dosage, just a shout-out to the beauty of wastelands and the resilience of plants. I will be sharing herbal monographs of the many uses of “invasive” plants leading up to some classes I will be teaching at the UCSC arboretum with Elena Staley and Nicole Wong in the summer. We will be focusing on salve making, land tending, natural dyeing and eco-printing.

This morning
in my bad mood
the lofting scent of fennel
forced my mouth
into a smile

cattails wobbling
with their large hotdog tops
waving hello at me
or at least
I wanted to think so

Yellow dock seed heads
stood as bronze torches
erect and high

the birds congregating
and I am not only a witness
but a player
in their game
I have no idea
which part
I am

I walked to the pier
to watch the fisher people
who awoke with purpose
at dawn
to laugh and fish
pole in hand
bait in box
ice in chest
for action

I stood on the wood planks
forgetting all who I am
and a pigeon turned to me
and asked
“what are you doing here?”
And I could have said nothing
but I instead
watched the water
and realized
I had to write