The haunting smell of sagebrush is iconic for anyone who has spent time outdoors in the west. There are many different species, and though they go by different names (sagebrush, sagewort, wormwood) the smells are all similar. It’s a pungent, spicy fragrance that speaks of campfires and starry nights and open spaces.
Coastal sagebrush (Artemisia californica) is the only shrubby sagebrush in Marin; the species grows only in California and Baja. You can usually find it along the coast or in chaparral communities. It has narrow, linear leaves that sometimes branch like the tines of a pitchfork. The flowers are unobtrusive–small yellowish-green or reddish-green discs. The smell is classic sagebrush.
Historically, some tribes used a tea made from Coastal sagebrush as a female tonic. It was used to induce menstruation, as well as to ease and recover from childbirth. Women drank the tea at the start of their cycle, and it was fed to one-day-old newborns to cleanse their system. It was also used to treat colds, headaches, and to desensitize those suffering from hay fever. Dried leaves were smoked in a mix with tobacco, and used in sweathouses. Bundles of sagebrush branches were hung along trails leading to shrines. The wood was also used for arrows, fire sticks and windbreaks.
Dusky-footed woodrats love to eat it.