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Learning the way of the Chumash at Rosemont Preserve

Professor teaches hikers the purported healing properties of plants at the Rosemont Preserve.

July 27, 2013|By Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com
  • Dr James Adams of USC, amongst a field of buckwheat, led a group of about 50 people on a hike at the Rosemont Preserve in La Crescenta. Adams, an expert on herbal remedies, antioxidants and human drug metabolism, talked about the abundant natural resources on the preserve and how they were used by early residents of the canyon.
Dr James Adams of USC, amongst a field of buckwheat, led… (Raul Roa/Staff…)

More than 50 people hiked the Rosemont Preserve Saturday morning to learn about the plants used by the Chumash Indians who once inhabited the area.

Leading them was James Adams, a La Crescenta resident who is an associate professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences at USC and co-author of "Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West."

Adams' family traces back to 17th-century Virginia where they lived among the Native Americans, absorbing knowledge from traditional healers.

"The Indians kept my family alive," he said.

Saturday's event was hosted by Friends of the Rosemont Preserve – local residents who are stewards to the more than seven acres saved last year from future development on the hillside above Rosemont Avenue.

In June of 2012, the Arroyos & Foothills Conservancy obtained the land with nearly $100,000 the public raised and $350,000 more that Supervisor Mike Antonovich pledged in order to use the land for education and recreational purposes.

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For the Chumash, a plant named yerba santa served as antibiotics. Walnuts could be used to dye baskets dark brown, and were an important food source during winter.  

A mugwort plant could benefit women suffering from premenstrual syndrome or help menopausal hot flashes subside, Adams said, by placing a single leaf in a mug of hot water for a mild tea. Fifteen to 20 stalks of mugwort under someone's pillow could aid them in dreaming. Others may chew on the bitter stem to battle drug and alcohol cravings.

 Adams encouraged the group to use a prickly pear cactus plant in a dish, perhaps cooked with onion or garlic.

"These are so good for controlling blood glucose," he said. "So much better than that cheeseburger you were thinking of."

White sage was so prized among the Chumash that they reportedly kept its attributes hidden from anthropologists, Adams said.

Drinking water with a single dry or fresh leaf of white sage could purify the central nervous system, the Chumash believed. A single leaf could be used to make tea to diminish anxiety or agony in people mourning the loss of a loved one or grappling with difficult news such as illness.

La Crescenta resident Stephanie Stonefish Ryan – who grew up in New York and belongs to the Delaware Tribe of Indians, said her family turns to plants for medicine.  "I come from a family where there are healers," she said, who traditionally sing a song before taking from a plant.

For the Chumash, it was tradition to offer a prayer.

"I particularly liked how he was so respectful of the Chumash," Ryan said of Adams, who began the talk with an opening prayer. "That is very much the way."

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Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.

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