How Kumeyaay Indians of Southern California Used Native Plants

Native American Indians across the United States have always known the value of native plants; many native plants were regionalized in their uses, such as the ancient Indian Wupatki people of northern Arizona, although the majority of plants have traditionally been used for medicine, food and clothing. The Kumeyaay Indians used several native Southern Californian plants; these included arroyo willow, lemonade berry and white sage.

Native American Indians in Southern California and Northern Mexico

The Kumeyaay Indians (also known by various other names such as Kumei and Cumeyaay) lived on traditional lands of southwest America for at least 12,000 years, land that today is part of Southern California and northern Mexico; the natural split for the two main Kumeyaay Indian groups, Ipai and Tipai, was the San Diego river. Today, traditional Kumeyaay Indian land is divided by the international border between the United States and Mexico.

Uses of Native Plants by the Kumeyaay Indians

Some of the native plants that the Kumeyaay Indians used are today found throughout San Diego county; traditional Kumeyaay Indians used native plants for:

religious ceremonies
recreational purposes.

Use of Arroyo Willow by Kumeyaay Indians

Arroyo willow (Salix lasiolepis) is a member of the Salicaceae plant family and is native to the lands which the Kumeyaay Indians occupied. Arroyo willow is a deciduous shrub with lanceolate leaves and yellow catkins that bloom in the spring. The Kumeyaay Indians used arroyo willow to make clothing, bedding and bows and arrows; they also used the plant as a pain reliever because the leaves, branches and bark of arroyo willow contain salicin, a chemical component that is similar to the ingredients of modern day aspirin.

Use of Lemonade Berry by Kumeyaay Indians

Lemonade berry (Rhus integrifolia) is a member of the Anacardiceae plant family and is native to the inland area, such as canyons, where the Kumeyaay Indians lived. Lemonade berry is a small, evergreen shrub or tree that has fragrant, pink-white flowers. It blooms in early spring. The Kumeyaay Indians used the berries of lemonade berry to make a tea or added them to soup; the berries are said to have a taste similar to lemons, from where the plant gets it's common name.

Use of White Sage by Kumeyaay Indians

White sage (Salvia apiana) is a member of the common Lamiaceae plant family; it is of the Salvia genus, although Salvia apiana is native to the Kumeyaay Indians' traditional lands. White sage is an evergreen, perennial shrub with aromatic, white-colored leaves; it has white/pink/lavender-colored flowers in the spring. The Kumeyaay Indians valued white sage as an important medicinal plant; they used it to treat respiratory problems, colds and as an antiseptic treatment.

Native Indian Use of Plants

The Kumeyaay Indians used many native plants of the San Diego area much as the Hopi Indians and Pueblo Indians used plants from their traditional lands; the main uses of native plants were medicine, food and clothing. Today these plants are still found in their traditional environment, although they are not as readily used today as they were in the past.