Asteraceae, Sunflower Family
Central and southern California, Baja California
Coastal sage scrub, chaparral, dry foothills
Living Desert Location:
It is an important habitat plant for the endangered California Gnatcatcher.
California sagebrush is not a true sage, Lamiaceae, but actually in the Sunflower family. This plant branches from its base, giving it a rounded appearance. It is a stout, woody shrub that grows from five to eight feet high. Its stems are flexible and wand-like. It is extremely common on lower slopes, alluvial fans and dry foothills up to 2,500 feet. Artemisia californica contains terpenes which make it very aromatic. The juice, or sap, of this plant can cause dermatitis.
The flowers are usually pale yellow, but sometimes red. It blooms August to December. Fruits are resinous achenes and rely on wildfires for seed germination. Burned plants can crown-sprout. It is often claimed to be allelopathic, which means the ability to secrete chemicals into the ground which inhibit other plants from growing nearby.
Native peoples used aretemisia for the treatment of coughs and colds. It is said to help alleviate menstrual cramps in women and to ease labor. The Cahuilla Indian word for this plant is hulvel. Like many sages, California sagebrush can be used in cooking as a spice. California sagebrush is well worth having in the garden for the scented foliage alone; the look and feel of the finely-textured, gray leaves is an added bonus.