Wild in… Brisbane?: Foraging Fridays

It was 8:20 a.m. and I called Jeff from the car, wailing,

“Today is already a truly bad day, you know why? Because I am such a sleep deprived moron that I took the money you gave me to pay the park fee on San Bruno and instead of moving it from the bottom of my foraging bag to the pocket of my foraging bag, I moved it to the pocket of my other bag that was sitting right next to it. The bag that I didn’t bring with me. So now I’m here at the park entrance and the ranger is here in his truck driving around and so now I have to turn around and drive back to San Francisco in all the rush hour traffic that I saw on my way here.”

Dwarf Ceanothus/ California Lilac

My tirade then continued on to include my absolute despair and exhaustion with trying to night wean Fern, or rather, our failure to night wean Fern. I had spent the last night in the most uncomfortable positions with my boob in her mouth, and when I tried to take it out, tantrums the like of which I have never seen ensued. I was so fed up that I yelled “STOP” at my baby, because, you know, telling a toddler to STOP their emotional experience is totally effective and also the behavior of a truly stellar parent.

California Wood Mint/ Hedge Nettle. A member of the mint family, you can use the leaves in tea...similar to lemon balm.

And so I yelled and sobbed into the phone, all the way back down the mountain, my frustration spiraling all the way out into everything about our lives that feels intractable and frustrating.  When I saw that the rush hour traffic in Brisbane was backed up a mile from the freeway entrance, I abruptly got off the phone and careened my way through the lanes to get onto the side streets. I drove along a torn up industrial road, back towards the mountain, thinking maybe I could wait out the ranger, or at least wait out the traffic in a park somewhere.

Seep Monkeyflower, a rare native. Bee antennae FTW.

I got lost pretty quickly, so when I saw a road sign for “Old Quarry Road” I took it because the words “old” and “quarry” sounded promising. I found myself at a paved trail head, and while I was sure I would encounter nothing but weeds and my stupid self, I blundered out of the car with the camera and set out.

I put out a silent greeting and prayer, telling of how grateful I would be if this walk could somehow salvage the morning. I felt thwarted and angry and was sure I would turn around in under five minutes. Thinking of my friend Shane and what he said to the devas last time he was looking for a special plant, I said, “Show yourself.”

Artemisia vulgaris (Mugwort, Wormwood). This is the plant I really wanted to forage for today, but I have only ever seen it in the East Bay, so I was going up to the mountain to look for something else. Mugwort is used for countless medicinal purposes, including moxibustion in acupuncture. However, I was looking for it for a different reason...dreams. Placed under one's pillow, Mugwort aids in peaceful sleep and vivid (sometimes prophetic) dreams.

And thus it began. First with the Artemisia,

Aside from the definitive leaf shape and unmistakable smell, Mugwort leaves are green on top, dusty grey underneath.

and then one beautiful plant friend after another. Some I know, and some I have yet to identify…

Do you know me? I grow right along the top of the branches of a 6 foot tall shrub...
I'm something...but what? Or who?

I continued up the road until I came upon this

And this

It seems that, after I surrendered to the release of my plan, the mountain found me. Ain’t that the way it always goes?

California Buckeye. Indigenous peoples used the seeds to catch fish! The seeds contain a poisonous compound and were ground and then placed in a damned stream. The seeds were also used for toothaches, but given how poisonous they are, that's probably a bad idea.

I began to ascend the mountain, and despite how tired I was or  how my eyes and nose hurt from allergies, all else was quickly falling away. My heart began to expand, the fatigue being brushed off my shoulders by the wind and the cries of hawks above.

The bay, Daly City, San Francisco

I thought of how it is time for us all to begin the night weaning process in earnest. I have been half sleep-training Fern and half placating just so we all can get some sleep. While things have been shifting…like the nights when I can actually pop her off the boob and she will roll over by herself and go back to sleep or settle for spooning me like a literal monkey on the back….we are not being consistent enough to know if weaning is truly possible right now. It’s also creating enough confusion for Fern that it exacerbates the problem. As my breath sunk down into the mountain with each step, so did the realization sink into me that It Is Time, and night weaning will be a positive step for all of us.

Salvia spathacea/ Hummingbird Sage
A Mission Blue Butterfly...an endangered species, native to the SF Bay Area.

I found my way back down to the original paved trail, noting my shift in consciousness and attention, and simply how much better I felt. I paused along the way to gather some wood mint and mugwort,

Secret stash.

And to take a few more pictures near a sweet community garden before going home.

Red Valerian/ Jupiter's Beard/ Keys to Heaven is in bloom all over the place right now. Red Valerian is not true valerian and has no medicinal properties, but you knew that, right?

I drove back to the city, traffic (and my mind) all clear. Averted plans don’t always have such a pleasant ending, but today at least I felt happy, lucky, grateful. And more than just a little in league with the faeries.

Happy Mother’s Day weekend!


10 thoughts on “Wild in… Brisbane?: Foraging Fridays

  1. Nature has it’s way of showing us what we need. Never forget the Law of Attraction, it will always obey your commands. Use today’s experience as a reminder of what to do the next time you have a morning like this one. Your plan was not meant to be, yet you found what you were searching for.

  2. Your blog is lovely and I think your talent for urban foraging is amazing–and *please* don’t be offended–but I think perhaps you should check your uses for Red Valerian. According to what I’ve read, Jupiter’s Beard is not the same as true Valerian, though distantly related, and has no sedative properties. Have you used it as a sedative?

    I’m no expert and I greatly respect your experience. It is simply something to look into.

    1. thanks kristen! i actually have not used red valerian, and was basically parroting what another herb lover told me years ago. never fear, if i was to use a plant, regardless of how familiar i am with it, i always do extra research first. today’s post was more of a show and tell and lore kind of post. i forgot to put the disclaimer at the end, but that’s why i usually do…my info is not guaranteed to be flaw free!

  3. Hi Mary, we love following your blog and seeing pictures of your adorable little Fern…..Happy Mothers Day!!!!!!!! Are you familiar with the Hawthorn Bush, Crataegus sp.? I believe that may be the flowering shrub you came across on Friday.

    1. you two are brilliant! it’s totally a hawthorne. how exciting…i didn’t even realize they grew in california. and such great medicinal and edible qualities too. thank you!

      and happy mother’s day to you lisa!!!!

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