The Kumeyaay Garden at Cabrillo National Monument
The Kumeyaay were adept at creating tools and other goods from their natural surroundings. They excelled in the production of fine coiled baskets made from agave, deer grass and sumac. The fiber of the yucca plant was woven into rope, and sandals were made for their feet. The Kumeyaay formed and fired ceramic clay pots using the natural materials found here on the coast and mountains. They knapped local quartz and obsidian into knives and projectile points. They chipped shells of mussels and abalone to make fishhooks and beautiful jewelry. Abalone shell (mother of pearl) was an especially valuable trade item.
The Kumeyaay burned the land (pyro diversity) to improve habitat for game animals such as the native rabbits. Native people implemented prescribed burns that augmented the diversity of landscapes by helping to create a patchwork of heterogeneous habitats containing plants at different stages of succession. The freshly charred landscape created a healthy soil medium for the next season’s grasses and perennials. The Kumeyaay used pyro diversity because it allowed them to implement harvesting techniques that involved the bulk collection of food, cordage, basketry material and other kinds of raw material.
The Kumeyaay were seasonal hunters and gatherers, arriving here on the coast in the spring to gather lemonade berries, giant kelp, shellfish and an abundance of native plant seeds from chia to black sage. They hunted wild game such as rabbits, which were then smoked and carried in baskets for their long journey into the mountains for the winter.
The Kumeyaay gardens here at Cabrillo will showcase:
Giant Wild Rye
Information about each of these and how the Kumeyaay used them are described below:
California buckwheat was used as a mixed drink to ease the pain of irregular menstruation, rheumatism, headaches, and stomach problems. It was used as a mouthwash to strengthen gums and teeth. It was also used as a soothing eye wash and could be used to bathe in.
Lemonade berry fruit was collected, pounded, dried, sorted, and eaten. It made a refreshing drink when the berries were soaked in water. The bark was brewed into a tea for drinking following childbirth.
Coastal sagebrush leaves were used to remedy headaches, while inhaling the steam from boiling leaves helped patients with paralysis. The leaves were dried and smoked. The plant was used for ritual purification, for example, after a funeral. The wood was used to make fore shafts of composite arrows, to construct windbreaks around dance grounds, and as firewood. This plant was also used as a mosquito and flea repellant, medicine for colds and infections, and to mask the hunter’s odor while hunting.
California scrub oak acorns were harvested and eaten. The wood was utilized for crafting bows, arrow fore shafts, and thatching needles. The galls, caused by insects, were ground and used as an antiseptic.
Toyon, also called Christmas berry or Holly berry, fruit was harvested, then toasted or dried and mashed. The leaves were brewed and used as a painkiller. Shoots of the hard wood could be used to make various utensils, such as arrow and harpoon shafts, bows, awls, wedges, scrapers, digging sticks, cradle frames, pestles, pegs for tomols, game sticks, balls, and headdress pins.
Prickly-pear cactus fruit, flower buds and pads were eaten. The thorns could be used as tattoo needles and to pierce ears. Artisans prepared the fruits for use as paints and dyes. Toasted pads of the cactus could be used for splints.
Shaw’s agave stalks were used as fuel for fires. The fibers were used to make nets, fishing line, brushes, cordage, bowstrings, sandals, and weaving. The flower stalks were used for eating.
Black sage leaves were used to season food and as a soak for the flu or arthritis. The seeds were also ground into a meal and eaten.
Barrel cactus buds were boiled and eaten. The flesh of the cactus could be eaten raw or boiled. The spines from this cactus were used for fishhooks. The top would be cut off and used as a bowl while the fluid inside would be used as emergency water. The barrel cactus was also used for a roasting vessel.
Wild cucumber seeds were made into a paste and used by pregnant women, and they were used as a purgative for babies and children. The seeds were used to make necklaces and baby rattles. The seed was ground and used for face paint; oil from the seed was used in rock art. A mixture was also used to help with wounds, cataracts, inflammation, and urinary problems. It was also used to cure baldness. The leaf was used to help hemorrhoids. They also ground the root and used it to stun fish.
The leaves and the stems of ladyfingers are edible and were used as a water source when water was scarce.
Broom baccharis was used as a broom to sweep as well as thatching roofs on structures. The leaves can be used in a tea to cure stomachaches and to ease coughing.
Laurel sumac leaves were boiled and used to bathe women at the time of childbirth.
Bladder pod seeds were pulverized and used as a condiment. The flowers were boiled and were used in food.
California sunflower’s sticky buds and flowering heads were used for respiratory, skin, urinary, and digestive ailments such as asthma, bronchitis, kidney problems, bladder infections, poison oak inflammations, and general cuts, sores, and swellings. It is useful as an antispasmodic and expectorant because it relaxes bronchial passages, clears mucus, and desensitizes the bronchial nerve endings, making breathing easier. It was used as treatment for poison oak inflammations because it increases surface blood supply to skin tissues and contains antimicrobial agents.
The new shoots of giant wild rye were made into a tea to treat venereal disease and eyesores. The wild rye was also used to construct various structures as well as for bedding. The seeds were also a food source.
The flowers of bush mallow were used as cordage. The roots of the mallow plant are used for soothing and healing stomach ulcers. The roots are rich with mucilage that relieves swelling and inflammation in wounds and sprains. Teas from Mallow can help with mouth sores, stomachaches, heartburn and gas.
California Indians and Their Environment by: Kent G. Lightfoot and Otis Parris
Kumeyaay A History Text Book, Volume 1 Precontact to 1893 By: Michael Connolly Miskwish
Last revised 15-Sep-15