June 14, 2007
It is estimated that in Mendocino county alone, the illegal cultivation of marijuana is a five billion dollar a year industry. Teenagers write sorrowful letters to local papers bewailing the situation where a straight A student struggles to have enough money for clothes, while their near drop-out peers, already employed at $30 an hour to trim buds, are driving around in gigantic new trucks. Indeed, when many of my friends heard of our move to Mendocino, they asked, “You gonna grow pot?”
The answer is always no. However, I have recently discovered another weed which might prove quite lucrative in the future. Yerba Santo, the holy weed. Used in a variety of methods such a direct chewing or steeped as a tea it is widely hailed to relive respiratory problems, such as asthma and bronchitis. It can be applied directly to inflammations to ease hives, rashes and swelling or combined with other plants can be used to make a salve to alive these symptoms. Until I read this, I had more interesting names than holy weed reserved for the thousands of yerba santo plants littering the area around the cabin, which could miraculously re-grow in days after clearing an entire area. We have thousands of these plants.
In my Guerrilla Camping articles, many often commented on my avoidance of the topic of foraging. The reason has been because there are dozens of authoritative books on the subject with great illustrations and written by experts with a profound understanding of poisonous look-alikes, seasonal uses and a vast catalog of plants they understand. My foraging and wildcrafting abilities are narrow, yet regularly grow as I find myself living in new places, exposed to new flora. In short, I don’t want somebody to read something I write and then go and poison themselves with a poisonous fennel look-a-like.
One interesting piece of wildcrafted lore is that whenever one finds a poison in the wilds, you will find it’s antidote within fifty paces. So when I read that Yerba Santo, combined with a weedy yellow flower called San Francisco Gum Weed, is an excellent southing agent for the rashes of poison oak, I banged my head against the table. Of course! I have thousands of poison oak plants and thousands of Yerba Santo plants.
Yerba Santo, the ubiquitous weed up here is actually quite useful and grows out of control. The weed is sold, dried and powdered, online for $40 a pound, and 365 capsules (presumably a year’s supply) sell for slightly less. Yet my interest is in preparing a poison oak salve for the use of my WWOOFers, my guests and myself. Should it prove effective, I might try to prepare it for sale at the farmer’s market, combining it with Aloe and other soothing agents.
The lesson is this: before you go ripping plants out of the ground in hopes of growing something profitable, find out what earth has given you first. It will be easier (or unnecessary) to cultivate, will grow within the confines of your available water and soil condition and hopefully someday, when somebody asks what I do, I’ll be able to blow their minds by saying, “I grow the holy weed”. . .