Plant of the Week
Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii (Benth.) Kuntze)
By Forest Jay Gauna
Clinopodium douglasii is a plant of the Lamiaceae, or mint family. This family provides humanity with a wonderful variety of herbs and spices; sage, rosemary, and thyme are members of this family. This plant is closely related to the European savouries, of the genus Satureja, and was previously classified by botanists as Satureja douglasii. Clinopodium means “bent” or “sloping foot,” and douglasii means “of Douglas.” The common name, in Spanish, means “good herb,” and is commonly applied to minty plants like savoury. It was the name of the first Spanish settlement in the area of San Francisco, owing (presumably) to the abundance of this species there.
A plant of the mint family may be easily characterized by its square (4-sided) stems and opposite leaves and often smelling somehow spicy when rubbed. It is a flat plant of low, crawling stems. The flowers are bilateral (having only one line of symmetry). Yerba Buena, unlike some other plants of the mint family, is only sparsely pubescent and the hairs are minute. The ovate to ob-ovate leaves are dotted with oil glands on the bottom surface and are toothed along the leaf edges; from the axil of each leaf comes a small, white flower. This wildflower is found in shady places in forests.
The leaves of this wildflower may be used to make a tea. It also figures prominently in local folk medicine: Mexican, Native, and European Americans have and continue to use it medicinally. It can also be used in cooking in place of other savouries. The oils are also used for perfumes or potpourris.
Please keep in mind that it is dangerous to use plants if you are uncertain about your identification of the plant or about its proper use. The description of the plant above is incomplete and only an aid; only a technical field guide (and the knowledge of how to use it) can be completely trusted to give an exact identification. Before using any unfamiliar plant, do your homework and talk to an expert.