BEFORE YOU FORAGE: Please enjoy educating your taste buds, but PLEASE DO NOT take any unnecessary risks if you are unsure about a plant and check out our Foraging Guidelines before you interact with any plants. In addition, many plants on this page are NOT edible, so please pay special attention to the map labels and descriptions below to determine which plants are edible and which ones are not.
Edible, Useful, & Medicinal Plants
Welcome to our ever-growing database for edible, medicinal and useful plants found in Isla Vista! Enjoy educating your taste buds, but please do not take any unnecessary risks if you are unsure about a plant. When collecting edible plants be sure to use your own common sense and always check the listed information to ensure correct location and identification of edible plants. These plants are fed with reclaimed water, so be sure to wash what you collect before consumption! This page is constantly being added to, so keep an eye out for new additions!
Click on the icon of the plant you are interested in the table of contents to quickly learn more about its edible or medicinal uses, or scroll down to explore our long list of detailed plant entries.
Table of Contents:
Common Names: Blackberry
Latin Name: Rubus sp.
Spanish Name: Zarzamora
There are 11 different species of wild blackberry in the state of California. Himalayan Blackberry (R. discolor), one of the more common and fruitful in California, exhibits five leaflets that are oval shaped and toothed. Thimbleberry blackberry (R. parviflorus) is the only one of the four weedy blackberries that is non-thorny and non-vining and has a simple leaf as opposed to multiple leaflets. Cutleaf blackberry (R. laciniatus) has five leaflets that are rounder and lobed. California blackberry (R. ursinus) has three leaflets. These brambles grow as vines and produce a sweet blackberry. Himalayan blackberry and Cutleaf blackberry are non-native weeds, whereas California blackberry and Thimbleberry are native, but are considered weeds in certain conditions. The best time of year to collect wild blackberries is in July and August, but plants will differ in the times that they are ripe. To harvest, simply pick the ripe blackberries off the plant, while being cautious of thorns. The plants can live upwards of 25 years, and the spread of their seeds is facilitated by the many animals that eat them.
WARNINGS: Thorny Stems; Poison Oak can look similar to Wild Blackberry: it has three leaflets that are ovular and have lobed margins, and are shiny green in summer, turning shiny red in fall. To tell them apart, blackberry usually has thorns on the vines and fuzzy leaves, poison oak should have neither.
Location in IV/Campus: Various locations in open spaces; massive bush by the FT side of Santa Ynez housing; in the Camino Corto Open Space by the little bridge and spread through the trees
Common Names: Bluedicks, Blue Dick, Wild Hyacinth
Latin Name: Dichelostemma capitatum
The Bluedick is a native, spring perenial of the west coast of North America from Oregon to Baja, and as far east as Utah, that springs up from a edible bulb or corm. It can be found from sea level to 7000 feet throughout most of California, and commonly found in sunny, grassy places and after disturbances. The leaves are very long and narrow, and hug the tall, central stem of the single flower stalk that is tipped by a cluster of blue-purple flowers of six petals that meet in the white and yellow center. The leaves can smell onion-y when crushed. To harvest the corm, keep in mind you should wait until the plant has fully died back for the winter. The corms were a good source of starch in many indigenous diets, either raw, ground into flour, or cooked slowly for sweeter flavor; they were planted in wild gardens, dug up with digging sticks and were known to be eaten more often than acorns by some groups. The flowers are also edible. Gardeners say that these plants are relatively easy (in comparison to other CA bulb plants) to grow from bulb and seed if you want to start a native garden!
WARNINGS: As this is a sparse native plant, be careful not to overharvest by taking only one or two bulbs out of any given patch.
Location in IV/Campus: Bluedicks can be found in the wilder areas of Isla Vista and in the Los Padres National Forest to the North
Common Names: Chickweed
Latin Name: Stellaria media
Spanish Name: Pamplina
For gardeners the world over, chickweed is unwanted and hard to get rid of, but to the avid forager, it’s a mild, tasty spring snack! This invasive Indo-European plant grows as a thick, sprawling ground cover in damp, mostly shady places, usually in areas that have been regularly disturbed by humans. The leaves are rounded tear drops, bright green and no bigger than the nails on your smaller fingers; these leaves grow in pairs that alternate (north-south pair on top of an east-west pair). The small white flowers have five deeply lobed petals that may appear to be ten very small petals. And most importantly, this plant has a very fine line of hairs down one side of the stems (IT MUST HAVE THE LINE OF HAIRS OR IT IS NOT CHICKWEED). You should also be able to gently pull the stem apart and the outer layer of the stem will separate while the inner layer should stretch out. Chickweed purportedly has vitamins A, B, C and D, the elements Ca, K, P, Zn, Mn, S, Cu, Fe, Si (it is comparable with spinach in nutrient content) and has been used in traditional medicine to help with inflammation, digestion, bad skin, and to restore those recovering from bad illnesses, amongst other uses.
WARNINGS: If the plant you’re looking at has red or orange flowers, OR seeps a milky white fluid, OR doesn’t have flowers, it is NOT the right plant--DO NOT EAT IT; Spurge and Scarlet Pimpernel are poisonous look-alikes.
Location in IV/Campus: these plants can be found in many places, especially where it is damp and where you can find other annual weeds
Common Names: Dandelion
Latin Name: Taraxacum Officionale
Spanish Name: Diente de león
As a wild growing plant, it is considered a weed. Dandelion is in the sunflower family and has bright yellow flowers with many small petals (rosettes) or large white seed heads (blowballs or clocks) that develop on long, unbranchd, hollow stems. Its flat green leaves are jagged and develop directly from the root, growing almost parallel to the ground. It has a long white or brown taproot. The entire plant is edible but the flowers and young leaves are mainly eaten and have an earthy, slightly bitter flavor. Dandelion can act as a laxative and a diuretic and can detoxify the body. It is high in vitamins A, B, C, and D, minerals like calcium, iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium. Dandelion can bloom twice a year and are best from spring through fall. To collect, pull directly from the base where the leaves and stem meet the earth (if roots are desired), or pluck individual parts.
WARNINGS: Dandelion may be sprayed with herbicides. Make sure harvest areas are not contaminated and wash well. Dandelion also has lookalikes such as bristly oxtongue, sow thistle and prickly lettuce (most also edible), but precautions should be taken.
Location: Nearly anywhere: grass lawns, dirt patches, cultivated gardens, roadsides and areas that have not been recently mowed or weeded.
Common Names: Fig
Latin Name: Ficus carica
Spanish Name: Higo
Common fig can be easily identified by its large dark green leaves, spanning 10 inches long and 5 inches wide, identified by its greenish, brownish or purplish pear shaped fruit of size 2-4 inches. Each leaf has a deeply lobed shape with between three and five lobes per leaf and are thick and leathery with smooth sides. The Common fig tree can grow up to thirty feet with smooth white bark and droop often as they grow. This tree is native to the Middle East and Mediterranean region. Interestingly, the Fig tree has it's very own symbiotic relationship with the Fig wasp (Agaonidae) who does most of the tree's pollination. Figs are highly nutritious fruits, containing vitamins such as A, E and K all of which aid with vision, skin and blood pressure, respectively. Figs are also high in fiber, which aid digestion and control blood sugar. Figs are great for snacking raw, smoothie bowls, and toppings for yogurt!
WARNINGS: Fig fruit is safely edible, but fig leaves are not in high doses. Fig leaves are also generally advised to not rub on skin due its high latex content and milky sap. For this reason it is advised to rinse the fruit before ingesting. Not all figs are edible, weeping fig (Ficus benjamina), for instance; always make sure to ID the plant before ingesting.
Location: CCBER gardens, Sueno Rd, Campus Green near Physical Sciences Building and Chemistry Building, North Hall courtyard
Common Names: Firethorn
Latin Name: Pyracantha coccinea
Firethorn is a shrub that belongs to the family Rosaceae. It can group up to 10-15ft It is native to the area the covers Southwest Europe to Southeast Asia. When mature, the fruits are small, spherical, and red. The flowers on the Firethorn bloom from late spring to early summer. Berries are edible with an apple-like flavor, and best collected in late autumn. The berries are NOT edible without some processing. In Britain, Firethorn is an important source of nectar for bees during times when other plants are not blooming.
WARNINGS: The fruit on the Firethorn is only edible after it has been crushed and washed under running water. If eaten in large quantities, Firethorn fruit can cause stomach pain due to the fact that it is mildly poisonous. No other part of the Firethorn plant than the processed fruit should be eaten.
Location on campus: Firethorn is located just inside the Western entrance to South Hall, and on the South side of Kerr Hall.
Common Names: Ice Plant
Latin Name: Carpobrotus edulis
Spanish Name: Doca
Iceplant is a robust perennial succulent shrub that is native to coastal South Africa. The plant is abundant and considered an invasive species on California’s Mediterranean coast in which it thrives. The plant grows in a thick and dense mat-like way. Its thick succulent stems grow horizontally and curve upwards. Flowers generally appear in late winter to spring and can be yellow, pink, and purple. The ice plant’s fruit appears once the flower dies back and is edible. The fruit is yellow and fleshy when ripe and resembles a fig or spinning top. Hypothetically, the flavor is salty and sour, mildly sweet when riper; a taste test showed us that the flavor is very bitter and an unpleasant aftertaste persists for some time. Early spring in California regions is the best time for collection. Simply pick the fleshy fruit (resembles a spinning top), it will be yellow in color when ripe and can be eaten fresh. The outer layer is astringent and is ideally removed before eating the more jelly-like interior, where the seeds are located. Ice plant was introduced in California during the early 1900s for coastal erosion mitigation; the plant still outcompetes many native coastal plants to this day. Ice plant can inhibit the natural movement processes of sand dune environments. In South Africa the ice plant’s fruit is sometimes referred to as a sour fig.
WARNINGS: Ice plant grows along bluffs and steep coastal cliffs, as well as all throughout IV. DO NOT harvest ice plant close to cliffs.
Location on campus: Campus point bluffs
Recipes: Fruit can be eaten fresh, Ice plant jam AKA Sour Fig Jam
Common Names: Kumquat, Gold Orange
Latin Name: Fortunella
The kumquat tree is shrubby and compact, standing between 8-15 ft tall. The branches are light green while the leaves are thin, dark green and glossy. Flowers can be white. The tree bears fruit, edible raw, that are oval-oblong or round that are about 1-1.5 inches wide. The peel is golden-yellow to red orange. The flesh can be " extremely mouth-puckeringly" sour, while the skin is not bitter and the seeds are also edible. The kumquat tree are believed to be native to China, since they were first mentioned in Chinese literature dating back to 1178 A.D. Overall, they are perfect for toppings on cereals, oatmeal, and they makes a great zest for salads, and have been used traditionally by Chinese and Vietnamese cultures to help colds and the flu.
WARNINGS: Just make sure to rinse fruit before ingesting whole!
Locations: Sueno Orchard and Phelps road off of Stroke Rd next to the Stroke Ranch ranch apartments
Common Names: Lavender
Latin Name: Lavandula
Purple flower bush with small leaves and circular shape. Small circular shaped/pruned plant with individual stems that have both small purple flowers and small green leaves. The purple flowers taste distinctly floral are used as flavor, garnish, baking ingredient, perfume, house/drawer/clothing fragrance, etc. Collect the flowers by the stem, if for consumption remove the small purple flowers from the stem after harvesting. Thought to help cure insomnia when used in essential oil form for smelling purposes. Lavender is also used for other aroma therapeutic purposes. Lavender oil is also thought to increase hair growth when applied to the scalp. You can collect lavender and dry it for around two weeks for storage, use, or scent. Historically, lavender was used for bathing and scents. It is from the mint family.
WARNINGS: Consumption of lavender oil is toxic. Some individuals may be allergic to lavender. Can cause skin irritation in some individuals.
Location on campus: Right side of Student Resource Building in the direction of Pardall tunnel but farther behind the building.
Common Names: Lemonade Berry
Latin Name: Rhus integrifolia
Small red/purple clusters of berries on large green-leaved bushes. Large green bushes with clusters of small purple/red berries and small pink/red flowers that have five petals. Berries are edible and taste like the tartest lemonade you never wanted to drink (think warheads level of citric acid). Their texture is strangely sticky. In spring, pick berries from cluster by hand and cleaned before consumption. Pick berries when dark red/orange. Both the berries and leaves can be used for thirst avoidance. Berries can be soaked in water to create a drink. The leaves and branches can be used to dye cloth. Relieves coughs and fevers. Tea from the leaves used to treat coughs. Ground seeds drink used to treat fever. The Chumash used to make a drink from the berries, hence the name.
WARNINGS: The bark produces sap that can be irritating to some individuals’ skin, similar to poison oak.
Location on campus: Near/around the lagoon
Common Names: Meyer Lemon
Latin Name: Citrus x meyeri
Spanish Name: Limón
There exist many different varieties of lemons that are edible. Thought to be a cross between the lemon (Citrus limon) and mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), the Meyer lemon is a popular variety and has some unusual features. While light orange in color, the fruit has the distinct oblong shape of a lemon and is about 3 inches in length. Meyer lemons have a slightly sweeter taste than most lemons, but still more closely resemble lemons than oranges in taste. The tree can grow up to ten feet tall and produces fragrant white flowers. The leaves are shiny and dark green colored. The best time of year for lemons is generally in the fall and winter, but older trees may flower and produce fruit at almost all times of the year.3 Lemons can be used in a variety of foods and drinks for flavor, and the peel can be used as “lemon zest” for flavoring. Healthwise, lemons are a good source of vitamin C.
WARNINGS: THORNS; Lemon trees can have branches with thorns of various sizes. Use caution in order to avoid punctures and scratches.
Location in IV/Campus: The Urban Orchard in Storke Plaza, Sueno Orchard
Common Names: Loquat, Bronze Loquat
Latin Name: Eriobotrya japonica, Eriobotrya japonica, Eriobotrya deflexa
Spanish Name: Níspero
The loquat tree is native to China and is widely planted as an ornamental plant in California. Loquats have been cultivated in Japan for over 1,000 years, and the country still produces the largest loquat crop in the world, annually producing around 17,000 tons of fruit! The evergreen, simple, oblong leaves of the tree are large, leathery, deeply veined and dark green. The loquat fruits grow in bunches in the tree and have 2 to 8 seeds. When mature, the fruit is velvety, oval-shaped, and yellow in color, and can be eaten raw. Fruit can range in size from marble to hacky-sack sized. To collect the Loquat, simply pick the fruit off of the tree. Flowers on the Loquat tree bloom in the fall and the tree generally fruits in early spring. Loquat fruits are high in fiber, antioxidants, vitamin a, vitamin c, potassium, and other beneficial minerals. The loquat leaf likewise has a range of health benefits, including blood sugar regulation and anti-inflammatory effects. Another variety of loquat is the Bronze Loquat; this tree produces smaller, darker colored fruit in fall, and is also edible.
WARNINGS: Seeds in the loquat fruit are poisonous and very large. When consuming the fruit raw, spit out or eat around the seeds.
Location in IV/Campus: South side of Broida Hall. Various locations in Isla Vista. Sueño dog park. Across the street from 7/11.
Common Names: Mallow, Cheeseweed
Latin Name: Malvaceae
Spanish Name: Malva
There are many different kinds of mallow growing wild in California, all considered weeds. Annual plants, they come up with the first rains of the season and begin to dig in a thick, woody taproot, allowing them to be seen year round. The fruits, although green and often wrinkled, look akin to small wheels of cheese or flat pumpkins because of their 10-12 wedge shaped sections; each section contains a seed. Leaves are slightly fuzzy and have 5 to 7 lobes, veins radiating from a central point, wavy shallow-toothed edges, and a crinkled appearance, as though someone balled up a piece of paper; they can be very small to broader than a human hand. Grows in a spreading manner, often low to the ground, although some species can exceed 5 feet in height. Flowers are very small; white, purple or pink in color; have 5 notched petals that may appear as 10 petals; grow where the leaves meet the stems. No poisonous look-alikes! Ground Ivy has similar leaves but flowers are very different. It is edible as well. Begin growing after first rain, but can be seen year round. Flower in spring. All parts of plant are edible: Leaves, flowers, stems and fruits/seeds. Soft and hairy at first touch, but a little slimy texture when chewed; very mild taste. The mucilaginous property (sliminess) of the plant makes them soothing for various types of inflammation. Can be used topically like aloevera and cactus by putting on sunburns and inflamed skin13.Can also eat them as a remedy for coughs and colds. Contains calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin C. Other plants in the same family are cotton, hibiscus and okra. The original ingredient of marshmallow, Althaea officinalis, is in the same family! Can accumulate nitrates at levels toxic to cattle. Used as a survival food during war or crop failure. Grows on 6 of the 7 continents.
Location: Any open space, disturbed earth, open field, dirt patches, agricultural areas.
Common Names: Manzanita
Latin Name: Arctostaphylos spp.
Spanish Name: Manzanita (little apple)
The Manzanita is characterized by bark that is reddish to orange in color, waxy leaves, and gnarled trunks. They can grow as shrubs or small trees with a height ranging from a few feet tall to over twenty feet. The manzanita produces bell shaped flowers from winter to spring that range from white to pink. Manzanitas grow on dry coastal slopes and in canyons throughout South western North America. The berries and flowers of the manzanita can be eaten raw or cooked. The fruit can be eaten raw or cooked, but the raw fruit is dry and mealy. The fruit can be dried and crushed into powder and be used in soups, breads, and sprinkled on other dishes. The raw fruit can be crushed raw to make a cider. Native Americans would use the apple-like fruits to create meal and cider.
WARNINGS: Of the 60 Manzanita species, some of the manzanitas are protected, including the A. cruzensis, A. edmundsii, A. Luciana, A. pilosula, and A. refugioensis.
Location in IV/Campus: Manzanita can be found in restoration areas and the Los Padres National Forest.
Common Names: Miner's Lettuce, Miner's Green
Latin Name: Claytonia perfoliata
Miner’s lettuce is an herbaceous annual, low growing with many round, lily-pad-like leaves that surround the pinkish stems. Juvenile leaves start out pointier and in a very different shape than their succeeding stages. Several (or many) very small, white or pale pink flowers bloom in the center of that round leaf, each with five petals. This plant is native to North America and has naturalized in Britain. It is found in damp areas, mostly in the shade of disturbed ground or steep slopes. The leaves are great raw in a salad (along with the stems) or cooked, although beware their bitterness later in the season and it is slightly mucilaginous. Pick the plants in late winter and spring. Miner’s lettuce is very high in vitamin C, A and Fe, and is known to be a diuretic, minor laxative, and has been traditionally used to treat rheumatism. Use it to detox and help the lymphatic system. Fun fact: it’s pollinated by flies! It’s lovely name comes from its use by miners during the gold rush to prevent scurvy. They were also eaten by Native Americans.
Location in IV/Campus: These can be found growing in damp, unattended areas with other ‘weeds’
Common Names: Mugwort
Latin Name: Artemisia douglasiana
Chumash Name: Molush
Mugwort grows to be 7ft tall, but is usually about 4ft tall. The stalks are erect with few branches. The leaves are about four inches long, oblong and divided into at 1-7 lobes. Above the leaves are dark green. Below, the leaves are white from many hairs. Flowers are very small and are hidden by dense leaves. The plant leaves have a very pungent sage smell and bitter taste. Mugwort is found from Baja California to Washington and Idaho and tend grow in riparian corridors and can be found in dry or moist shaded areas and on a variety of soil types. Mugwort is a cleansing herb and highly medicinal with many uses: the leaves can be chewed on but spit out to relieve tooth pain, the leaves can also be used as a hand sanitizer by simply rubbing the hands together with the leaves. Culturally, mugwort leaves and stems are placed under a sleeping pillow to keep evil spirits away and promote good dreams, and have been burned as smudge sticks for energy cleansing. Some indigenous groups would rub their bodies with mugwort after someone died so they would not be haunted. Because dried mugwort is an amazing source of tinder, this plant was used to start fires and even cauterize wounds. Mugwort is best used as a tea for premenstrual, menopausal syndrome, hot flashes, and dysmenorrhea. Use only one leaf, do not add any sugar and drink only one mug a day. Crushed leaves can be rubbed directly onto the skin or made into a wash to prevent and clear up poison oak rashes.
WARNINGS: Mugwort contains many active compounds such as cineole, camphor, linalool and thujone which can induce convulsions and renal damage if ingested in large doses. The recommendation is to use a single leaf to avoid any harmful effect. They tend to grow, albeit conveniently, near toxic plants like poison oak. Mugwort should NOT be consumed by pregnant woman. Be aware: Ragweed is a look-alike that causes extreme cases of hay fever.
Location: Camino Corto Open Space, the path from Commencement Lawn to Depressions Beach, Lagoon Island, campus restoration areas, grows wild often in wetter areas (look for creeks, ponds and seasonal washes/drainage)
Common Names: Nasturtium, Indian Cres
Latin Name: Tropaeolaceae Majus
Low ground cover or climbing vine plant; many branches from vines. Orange or red or yellow flowers; 5 petals. Pale to deep green, rounded, undulating cloud shaped leaves; 8 prominent veins per leaf coming out from a center point on the leaf towards edges. Leaves and Flowers (especially of young plants) are edible. Pungent, peppery, sharp “plant” flavor of leaves and flowers. Can bloom all year long. Flowers fade during extremely hot summers or cold winters. Gently pick or cut flowers and leaves from the main stems of the vine. Expectorant: helps clear mucus from lungs (cough remedy). Diuretic: increases production of urine. Aperient: purgative or laxative. Disinfectant. Contains isobutyl isothiocyanate, glycotropeoline, spilanthol, oxalic acid, vitamin C. The seeds of the Nasturtium plant were used as a substitute for pepper during World War II. Nasturtium means “nose twister” in Latin. This name refers to people’s reactions when they taste it.
WARNINGS: Nasturtium can cause skin irritation. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use this herb. People with kidney, stomach, or intestine problems should not use this herb. The medical community doesn’t recognize the benefits of this plant. Always consult a medicine practitioner before using herbs as medicine.
Location: Often in overgrown areas. Located on campus near Girvetz. Sueño Orchard. Seen in Isla Vista Neighborhood.
Recipes: Can be eaten straight off the plant or added to salad, Nasturtium Pesto; Our Nasturtium Pesto; Juice: cough remedy. Dried: powdered ripe buds can be used as a mild laxative. Flowers can be eaten for vitamin C, to help overcome and prevent the cold and flu. Compress/Topically: can be used on small cuts to prevent bacterial infections. Infusion: used for internal infections
Common Names: Natal Plum
Latin Name: Carissa macrocarpa
The Natal Plum is a shrub that is a member of the family Apocynaceae. It is native to South Africa. When mature, the Natal Plum is oval shaped, and red in color. If the fruit is green, it means that it is not mature. The Natal Plum plant has white flowers, inch long, poisonous thorns and deep green leaves. In coastal areas with moderate climates, the shrub that carries the Natal Plum produces fruit year round. To collect the Natal Plum, one should gently pull the fruit directly off the shrub. The fruit is the only edible thing on the shrub that carries the Natal Plum; it is sweet and delicious if ripe, otherwise the after taste is quit unpleasant. The Natal Plum is a great source of Vitamin C. Vitamin C increases immunity, improves gum health, and provides many more general health benefits. To get the benefits of the Natal Plum, eat the fruit. Contains sufficient pectin and acid, facilitating the making of firm gels in jelly. The Natal Plum contains latex, which is used to make rubber. The Greek name for the Natal Plum translates to “keep away from the dog.”
WARNINGS: Make sure only to eat the fruit on the shrub; all other parts of the plant are poisonous except the fruit, including the stems and leaves. There are thorns on the shrub that carries the Natal Plum, so exercise caution when collecting the fruit. The plant also contains latex in the form of a milky fluid, which is a fairly common allergy so please proceed with caution.
Location on campus: The Natal Plum is located on the East side of the Thunder Dome, and bordering the bike racks by De La Guerra Dining Commons.
Common Names: Oregon Grape, Holly-Leaved Barberry, Mountain Grape
Latin Name: Mahonia aquifolium, Berberis aquifolium
Spanish Name: Uva de Oregon
Holly-Leaved Barberry, also known as the Oregon Grape and Mountain Grape, is an evergreen shrub native to western North America. Its flower is the state flower for the state of Oregon. The plant has dark green, holly shaped leaves, which can sometimes turn red to purple during winter. Its leaves are leathery and glossy, with sharp points resembling small teeth. In early spring, the plant produces clusters of yellow flowers that turn into dark purple/blue, dusty berries that resemble grapes, although it is not actually related to grapes. These berries are quite tart and leaf a bad taste in the mouth, but edible regardless. The shrub generally grows to be about 3-6 feet tall. Native Americans used the bark of the shrub to make yellow colored dye.
WARNINGS: Leaves resemble English holly leaves; English holly produces red berries that are toxic to humans.
Location in IV/Campus: Planter box in parking lot west of Bren Hall. By bike loop on the way to CCBER main offices
Common Names: Pickleweed, Sea Asparagus, American Glasswort
Latin Name: Salicornia pacifica
Pickleweed is a low lying perennial that is located along both the west and east coasts of North America and parts of the Gulf of Mexico. It thrives in salty environments with little wave action, which includes shorelines, salt marshes, and tidal flats. Its green stems grow up to 1 meter and have a jointed and notably pickle-esque appearance. Flowering stems produce purple upright flowers. Can be picked year-round. More green during summer with some red hues in fall. The above ground parts of the plant are edible4 with a very salty taste. Simply pick the green stems off of the plant. The name glasswort comes from the plant’s use as soda ash for glass making in the 18th century.
WARNINGS: This plant is located at restoration sites for salt-marshes and wetlands, so be considerate of the fragile and managed environment when collecting.
Location on campus: Around Campus Lagoon
Common Names: Pindo Palm
Latin Name: Butia capitata
The Pindo Palm is a slow growing palm tree native to Brazil. It can reach heights of around twenty feet. It has a stout trunk leading up to a canopy of dull greyish to green fronds that curve towards the trunk. The fronds exhibit spikes on either side of the main stem structure. The fruit it produces is edible and grows in bunches in its canopy. The fruits are round and pebble-sized, can be yellow and orange-red, and fall to the ground when ripe. The flesh and skin surrounding the seed of the fruit is edible and has a sweet and tangy pineapple-tropical flavor; it is unique to most fruit you have probably tried. The flesh is very fibrey and juicy. The fruits are a good source of carotene and can be used to make jams, jellies, and juices.
WARNINGS: The fruit has a large seed inside; be careful not to bite down with too much force or swallow the whole fruit.
Location on campus: In front of the arts building on the gravel, grass, and bordering the bike racks.
Common Names: Pineapple Guava
Latin Name: Feijoa sellowiana
A flowering tropical evergreen shrub or multi-trunk tree with shiny foliage and white undersided ovular leaves. Stands between 18-25 feet tall and wide. The flower has a sweet pineapple, apple and minty fragrance and looks like a bright pink firework with pink hairs in the center of 4 white to purple-tinged, curled petals. The flowers and fruits are edible. The fruits are light to deep green, round to oblong with a 4-pronged obtrusion opposite the stem. The fruit is safe to eat whole and raw; the skin is tough and bitter but the inside is sweet and almost gooey with small edible seeds. Pineapple guava fruit season is early November to December but can last until early Spring depending on the area. Ripe pineapple guavas will fall to the ground. It has been used in salads in South America, along with chutneys and deserts. The feijoa has no known medicinal properties, but it is sometimes used as a digestive aid and cosmetic exfoliant, and its skin has been studied for its antibacterial properties. This tree is native to native to Southern Brazil and attracts bees, squirrels, and birds. The fragrant aroma is due to the ester methyl benzoate compound in the fruit.
Location on campus: All around IV and campus. Along sidewalks and parking lots.
Common Names: Pineapple Weed, Street Weed, False Chamomile
Latin Name: Matricaria matricariodes
Spanish Name: Hierba de piña
Pineapple Weed is a low growing plant with fine, feathered leaves, and smells of pineapple when crushed. The flowers are small, yellow, composite cones without petals. It grows in many places in both polar hemispheres, typically where the soil is dry, disturbed and otherwise unpleasant for many other plants. The flowers and leaves can be eaten raw or in tea; the flowers can be dried out and ground into flour. It has similar properties to its cousin, Chamomile: helps with relaxation, sleep, digestion and colds. It can also be used as an insect repellent.
WARNINGS: It looks similar to Chamomile, Mayweed and Dog Fennel, although when crushed, Pineapple Weed smells like pineapples. Try to harvest it in places where dogs and chemicals can’t reach the plant. Some people are allergic to this plant.
Location in IV/Campus: These plants can be found most places in Isla Vista and in some weedier areas on campus.
Recipes: Tea, Cookies, Jam
Plantain (Narrow & Broadleaf)
Common Names: Narrow and Broadleaf Plantain
Latin Name: Plantago lanceolata, Plantago major
There are two types of plantain found on campus, the broadleaf and narrowleaf. The leaves are rounded with a point on the end and have slightly jagged or wavy edges. Leaves are usually arranged in a basal rosette, even more commonly with the stockier broad leaf plantain. They have 5-7 parallel leaf veins with a rough texture on both sides and a fibrous root system. When flowering in late spring-fall, plantain grows a long, 8in stalk with tiny flowers. The ripe seeds from this stalk can be collected, ground and made into a flour. The leaves are edible and are best picked when they are young for salads. Older leaves can be soaked in salt water for 4 minutes and cooked like spinach. Broadleaf plantain also has medicinal uses. It can be chewed and placed on stings, cuts or poison oak rashes to ease inflammation.
Location on campus: All around IV and campus in lawns (broad leaf), weed patches, disturbed sites, lagoon island (narrow leaf).
Prickly Pear Cactus
Common Names: Prickly Pear, Cactus Pear, Indian Fig
Latin Name: Opuntia spp.
Spanish Name: Nopal, Tuna
The prickly pear cactus is a common name for the genus Opuntia which represents many varieties of prickly pear cactus, including beavertail and Santa Rita cactus. The cactus is native to the United States and South America but can be found around the world. The cactus has fleshy, flat oval pads, called pencas in Spanish, with defensive spines and smaller glochids, or hair-like spines. The varieties can grow up to 20 feet tall. The pads produce bright and brilliant flowers from late spring to early summer that range from yellow, orange, pink, and red. The flowers grow on the tip of the cactus pads and can grow up to three to four inches wide. After the flower has finished blooming, the prickly pear fruit, or tuna in Spanish, form. The edible fruit is pear shaped and varies in color from green (less sweet) to red (very sweet). The fruit has a sweet taste and the taste changes depending on variety of prickly pear. Many have described the flavor of a prickly pear fruit as melon, strawberry, watermelon, or citrus. Harvest prickly pear fruit anytime from early Spring through late Fall. The pads of the prickly pear are edible and taste like green beans. The younger, greener pads are often harvested and eaten as they have the fewest spines and are more tender. Some Native Americans used the fruit to make candy and chewing gum. Native Americans used the sap from the pads on cuts, burns, and bruises to soothe the wound. Traditionally, the young pads can be used as a laxative and can be used to treat diabetes.
WARNINGS: Be careful of spikes and glochids or the pads and fruit. Glochids will easily fall off from the cactus and imbed in skin and cause irritation.
Location in IV/Campus: Can be found near Fortuna behind the Camino Corto Open Space
Common Names: Rosemary
Latin Name: Rosemarinus officinalis
Short bush with fragrant branch extensions and small flowers. Low-the-the-ground bushes with straight branches covered with small light purple flowers and fragrant branch extensions. Branch extensions, small purple flowers are edible and used as herbal topping, flavor, scent, or fragrance. Pick the rosemary by the branch and remove the pieces from the branch to add as seasoning/topping/ flavoring. It has a strong herbal aroma. Used as an essential oil/ topical. Rosemary essential oil is beneficial for hair growth.
Location on campus: All around IV and campus. Along sidewalks and parking lots.
Common Names: Sage (Common Sage/Garden Sage)
Latin Name: Salvia officinalis
Sage is native to the Mediterranean region and is a part of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It has purple flowers (other colors may include pink, white, and red) and ovular downy leaves which have a pungent smell and vary in color from green-white to green-gray. The plant generally grows to be 2-3ft high. Sage is a perennial plant and can be collected year-round. Simply pick the leaves off of the plant. Used as an aroma therapeutic, spiritual cleansing, scent. The flavor is herbal and earthy with a rather strong scent. May alleviate indigestion, inflammation. May have mild antiseptic and antibacterial qualities. Sage was believed to improve memory and increase mental capacity in medieval Europe. Burning dried sage is practiced and believed by some to promote protection in an area (such as a house or shelter).
WARNINGS: Thujone is present in some species and can cause kidney damage, seizures, and other ailments if taken in very large doses.
Location on campus: Near UCSB greenhouse. Near Manzanita residence halls.
Common Names: Sour Grass
Latin Name: Oxalis stricta
This common perennial has yellow flowers with five parts and can grow up to 50-100cm in height. Leaves are alternate and form three heart shaped leaflets, much like a three leafed clover. We have observed the plant to bloom during the rainy season when it begins to warm up; it needs a lot of water. Pick leaves, flowers or stems to chew on. Tastes sour, but in a pleasant way, although can occasionally be extremely tart. Oxalic acid gives the plant its sour taste. A yellow-orange dye can be made of the plant by boiling it.
WARNINGS: Oxalic acid is toxic in large doses
Location on campus: Found in newly disturbed, wet areas like fields and planters that have gone wild.
Recipes: Sour Apple Spritzer; We made a raspberry flavored tea by soaking chopped stems in boiling water.
Common Names: Strawberry Guava
Latin Name: Psidium cattleyanum
Spanish Name: Guaya fresa
The Strawberry Guava is a tree native to Brazil that belongs to the family Myrtaceae. The fruit of the Strawberry Guava is spherical, small (about 4 cm long), and red/purple in color when ripe. It has glossy, green, oval leaves and white flowers with five petals. The Strawberry Guava produces fruit year round. Trees on campus produce ripe fruit at different times depending on their location. To collect, simply pick the fruit off the tree. The fruit only lasts 1-2 days at room temperature. The Strawberry Guava is sweet, but also has a slight tang. The fruit tastes like its name, with flavors of strawberry and guava. The fruit is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory effects. The Strawberry Guava helps with digestion because it contains a large amount of fiber. It helps prevent scurvy because it contains Vitamin C. The Strawberry Guava is also known as cherry guava, purple guava, and cattley guava. Strawberry Guava is an invasive species on the Hawaiian Islands. It has invaded hundreds of thousands of acres on the islands and threatens to spread even more. Non-native pigs and birds facilitate its spread when they eat the fruit.
WARNINGS: Only eat the fruit of the Strawberry Guava, as it is the only part of the plant that is edible.
Location on campus: West side of South Hall, South/East side of Harold Frank Hall, and Robertson Gymnasium.
Common Names: Strawberry Tree
Latin Name: Arbutus unedo
The Strawberry Tree is a relatively short tree, 15 to 30 ft high. When mature, the fruit of the Strawberry Tree is spherical, small, red in color, and has a rough and bumpy outer layer. The texture is strange on the tongue. White bell shaped flowers grow in small clusters. The bark is a reddish-brown color that peels in the sun. The leaves are green, glossy and serrated. It is an evergreen and often used ornamentally. The fruit is the only part of the Strawberry Tree that is edible. The fruit is best to eat in Autumn, when the fruit matures. Simply pick the fruit off the tree. It has a sweet taste, and has flavors that have hints of strawberry and peach. May lower blood pressure and fight against colds. Contains tannins and Vitamin C. The tree is related to Manzanitas (aka refrigerator trees). The bark peels because it gets sunburnt! The Strawberry Tree is part of the Coat of Arms of Madrid. The Coat of Arms depicts a bear eating from a Strawberry Tree. The Strawberry Tree was mentioned by Ovid, a Roman poet from the first century BCE, in his work titled Metamorphoses. In Ireland the ballad “My love’s an Arbutus” correlates the strawberry tree and true love qualities
WARNINGS: Make sure to only eat the fruit on the tree. Under ripe fruit can cause nausea. Overripe fruit can cause intoxication
Location on campus: There are Strawberry Trees located on the South side of Broida Hall, on the South side of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building, in the Girvetz courtyard, along El Colegio heading West from campus towards Santa Ynez housing, as well as near Webb Hall. They are all over campus.
Recipes: Jam; To make the herbal tea, soak the Strawberry Tree leaves in a cup of hot water. Other things like lemon zest can be added to improve the taste.
Common Names: Wild Radish
Latin Name: Raphanus raphanistrum, Raphanus sativus
Spanish Name: Rabanillo
Wild radish is a common annual weed in the mustard (brassicaceae) family and is native to eurasia. The roots of the wild radish are edible, but are often smaller and less appetizing than radish from the grocery store. Leaves are lobed and tough, and grow off of a bristly stalk that grows up to two feet tall. The leaves can be eaten raw and cooked and are best collected when they are young. Its flowers are edible and have four petals up to about an inch long. Flower colors range from white, pink, purple, and yellow, and can exhibit a streaking pattern. Wild radish hybridizes with cultivated radish, contributing to the range of colors seen in its flowers. Spring and summertime are generally the best time to forage this plant. The seed pods of the radish are also edible. The pods grow off of the stem, have a long roundish shape, and are around one to three inches long and up to ¼ of an inch wide.
WARNINGS: Try to avoid eating these in places where dogs could have urinated on them or where people are spraying pesticides.
Location in IV/Campus: Found in weedy fields intermixed with grasses, and other disturbed areas.
UCSB campus has an astounding amount of botanical biodiversity thanks to a wide range of people from horticulturists and the environmentally minded, to home gardeners and restorationists. Each has had a unique hand in shaping the quirky, beautiful landscape that we see today. Some of these plants are in collections from specific continents, or are meant to reflect native California ecosystems, while still others mind the drought and require little water or were planted as part of the Edible Campus Project so students can get free produce. There are even hidden gems that to most just look like a nondescript plant but to the informed is a window into the mind of the botanist that planted it.
The wonderful Mediterranean climate of Santa Barbara also allows for a massive variety of plants to grow and reproduce, making this the perfect place for an exotic garden collection. UCSB is home to many rare and endangered species. Without further ado, let’s explore them!
Particularly Pulchritudinous Plants
Oddly enough the word pulchritudinous means beautiful! This campus is home to some of the most gorgeous plants you will see in California. I speculate this is because the school uses recycled water on the plants, which means that more water can be used without "wastage". Many plants need a lot of water to grow beautifully, which is why native plants in this state rarely have huge flowers or broad leaves (read: it rarely rains and we are constantly in a drought).
Also known as the Orchid Tree, Butterfly Tree, and my personal favorites: the Camel's Foot Tree and Gorro de Napoleón (Napoleon's Hat). But don't let the name fool you! It is not actually in the Orchid family, but in the Legume family. This lovely plant is native to southern Asia. It has a potentially record breaking method of seed dispersal: it can shoot them as far as 49 feet from the parent tree! The bark, roots and flowers have been used in traditional medicines, not to mention many parts are eaten!
Senna pendula var. Glabrata
The misnomer Easter Cassia, or the more correct Winter Senna, are both common names for this lovely yellow flowering invasive legume. Native to tropical South America, but naturalized in many parts of the world due to its weediness, this showy plant is the bane of many experienced gardeners and the bell of Christmas-time landscaping in warm regions. Find this lovely plant in the courtyard between the Life Science and Noble Hall buildings.
Also known as the African Tulip Tree, Fireball, Flame of the Forest, Fountain Tree, Pickari, Nandi Flame and Squirt Tree; the latter name comes from the strange quality of how nectar can squirt from the flower if squeezed properly. The tree is native to tropical Africa (surprise surprise) and can reach 80 feet tall in its natural range, but is stunted in dry California. It is considered one of the world’s top 100 most invasive species; although this is only seen in wet areas. The flowers are considered “perfect,” which means they contain both male and female parts. The seeds of the yellow flowering tree are infertile and to a graft must be used from another tree to grow a new one. The flowers are a very interesting trumpet shape and the buds look like clusters of animal claws.
The Eschscholzia californica, known as California Poppy, as golden poppy, flame flower, copa de oro (cup of gold), among other names is a deep-rooted perennial and flowering annual plant native to the western United States. It is one of 11 species of poppies that naturally occur in the western United States. The flowers stun many with its brilliant orange, yellow, or cream hue and satiny petals. Native Americans used poppies for a myriad of purposes, including food and medicine. The roots were used as a sedative and analgesic and the petals chewed like gum or candy. However, the California poppy may be toxic when used without sufficient preparation.
Strangely Structured Stems
This section is about all the funky looking plants we have on campus. The wide variety of adaptations seen in plants exist for any number of reasons, and some times for no reason at all! Adaptations can assist in: attracting specific or general pollinators; attracting specific herbivores which will digest their seeds in a way conducive to germination; or scaring away or harming other herbivores; reacting to seasonal environmental disturbances such as fires or floods. There are many other reasons for traits in plants; you name it, some plant somewhere probably has that adaptation. Come explore some of the interestingly adapted plants we have on campus.
Also known as Foxtail, Swan’s Neck or Lion’s Tail Agave. They send their reproductive parts high into the air (10 feet) to protect them from herbivores. Bats are their biggest wild pollinator. Agave are succulents, much more closely related to the Asparagus family than the cactus family. These plants are monocarpic, meaning once they flower they die. Agaves are used to make tequila and syrup. Indigenous people to North America, the Hohokam and Navajo, used agave as food. Agave reproduce via ‘pups’ which are tiny plants the grow from the flower stock, rhizomes and along the main trunk of the plant.