Native Herbs to Forage and Grow

Humans have foraged plants and herbs for aeons. Plants have many uses, but the title says “herbs” – so we will stick to those. Herbs are used for food, medicine, as glue, to eliminate pests, to help with acquiring food (e.g., fish stunning herbs), for dye, in rituals, as cosmetics, and sometimes – simply to keep around because they look pretty and smell good (as ornamentals). So many uses!

Using Herbs

Humans are not alone in using herbs as healing plants; a number of animal species are now known to consume certain plants when ill.    Some birds add pest repelling herbs to their nests, flying great distances out of their territory to collect the material.  Rodents will harvest certain plants when ill. Then there is that plant that gives many cats a pleasurable buzz….  But that said, humans are the only creatures that appear to store herbs for future use.    (drying herbs – to come)


Southwest Herbs

The Southwestern USA is rich in plant life, in part because we have these awesome sky islands and canyons, and a plethora of various habitats for plants to grow in. Many of these plants could be considered “herbs” even though you may have never considered them as such.

Father Kino savor-the-southwest-kino-statue

Those of you following this site know that one of my books is “Father Kino’s Herbs, Growing and Using them Today.“    If you don’t know him, Father Kino is a local hero here in Southern Arizona, a sort of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. all rolled into one. Back in the 1680’s in Mexico City, he made a real pain of himself arguing against slavery, so he was basically exiled to this area. The Viceroy of New Spain in Mexico City sent him up here in the hopes that the Natives would kill this troublesome priest, but instead he rode into our history books as a hero. There is a statue of him in the U.S. Capitol Building, which was unveiled on Arizona Statehood Day – February 14, 1963.

This fact might give you a glimpse into the mind of the writer as she tries to come up with a topic for the day…. 😉

Father Kino first arrived in in the region in 1687.  Not only did he prevent the natives from being taken into slavery, he welcomed the Natives’ traditional plants – both foods and herbs – into the Missions that he established.    At the time this was shocking!    He allowed these heathen, pagan, unholy plants on Mission grounds!

Native Southwest Herbs

I told you that story to tell you this one.  In my book I only had space for 24 European herbs and 24 native herbs that are known to have been grown and/or used in the Kino missions.    I have discussed some of these native herbs on this site already, and will be writing about more of them as 2024 progresses.    The list is here to give you some food for thought as you hike and perhaps forage around the region.


Better yet, Perhaps consider some of these for spring planting around your homestead. Since this is mostly a food site, I won’t get into the whole “native plants are best adapted to the location,” and “native plants help restore pollinator habitat,” those discussions are over on Gardening With Soule.

Why These Herbs are Beneficial

It is not just plants and “animals” that need to be in tune with the world around them. Humans are part of nature, and we need to be tuned into the natural habitat of the place we live. We can best be in tune with the nature around us when we consume the foods and herbs of the world around us.

This is a very subtle thing, and is argued against by people living in ivory towers located in concrete jungles, but feet on the ground people can report feeling better when they do, in fact, have physical contact with the earth that they live on. I would argue that it is not just the outside of the body that needs to contact the earth but the insides as well. Yes, you are what you eat.


So as you connect with your local world, consider these herbs. Do watch for posts about them in the months to come. I will try to remember link to them here in case you are reading this in the years to come.

Father Kino’s Native Herbs – to Grow and Forage

Links to using the plants are in bold.  There are also occasional more general articles about foraging these plants.  For those I refer you to our Forage page.  It is specifically about foraging and also includes links to our YouTube channel @savorthesouthwest.  The page is listed on the website menu.

Scientific names are listed to remove all doubt as to the species being discussed.  This is especially important when using herbs (more here).  Incorrect identification can be a life or death issue.

encelia-brittlebush-useful-savor-soulealoysia – 2 species
includes: (Aloysia lycioides = Mexican oregano) & (Aloysia wrightii = vanillo, Wright’s beebush)
amaranth    (Amaranthus species)
Arizona wormwood (Artemisia ludoviciana ssp. mexicana)
brittlebush (Encelia farinosa)

broom baccharis, desert broom (Baccharis sarothroides)
chiltepin (Capsicum annuum var. aviculare)
chinchweed (Pectis papposa)
creosote bush    (Larrea tridentata)
desert lavender (Condea emoryi, was Hyptis emoryi) savor-the-southwest-desert-lavender-flowers-cooking-savor-southwest
desert mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum)
elderberry – see Mexican elderberry
epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides was Chenopodium ambrosioides)
ephedra (Ephedra species)
globe mallow (Sphaeralcea ambigua)
hierba de la golondrina (Euphorbia maculata or Euphorbia serpyllifolia)
hopbush, desert hops (Dodonaea viscosa)

jojoba  (Simmondsia chinensis)
lavender – see desert lavender
mesquite (Prosopis species → have been broken up into different species)
Mexican elderberry (Sambucus mexicana)
Mexican oregano – see aloysioa
prickly poppy (Argemone mexicana) flowers-poreleaf-savor-the-southwest-grow

selaginella, resurrection plant (Selaginella species)
slender poreleaf (Porophyllum gracile)
sweet marigold (Tagetes lucida)
vanillio – see aloysia
wild rhubarb, sorrel (Rumex species)
wormwood – see Arizona wormwood
yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) = cover image

How to Use Desert Herbs – About 100 NEW copies left!

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today   The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $20!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!

Legal Notes

© Article copyright Savor the Southwest // Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.


The authors of this website have researched the edibility of the materials we discuss, however, humans vary in their ability to tolerate different foods, drinks, and herbs. Individuals consuming flowers, plants, animals or derivatives mentioned in this blog do so entirely at their own risk. The authors on this site cannot be held responsible for any adverse reaction. In case of doubt please consult your medical practitioner.

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