Welcome to our ever-growing database for edible, medicinal and useful plants found in Isla Vista! Enjoy educating your taste buds, but please do not take any unnecessary risks if you are unsure about a plant. When collecting edible plants be sure to use your own common sense and always check the listed information to ensure correct location and identification of edible plants. These plants are fed with reclaimed water, so be sure to wash what you collect before consumption!
Table of Contents:
- Bunya Bunya Pine
- Natal Plum
- Strawberry Guava
- Strawberry Tree
Common Names: Bamboo ~ Latin name: Bambusoideae
Description: Bamboo is a flowering plant that is a member of the subfamily Bambusoideae, which is in the larger grass family Poaceae. It is found in a variety of both hot and cold climates. Bamboo forms green stalks that extend upwards, almost vertically, from the ground. The bamboo stalks contain leaves, which are also green. 1 2
Best time of year: Bamboo is evergreen, so it can be harvested any time of the year.
How to collect: To collect bamboo stalk, simply cut a piece off the larger piece of stalk, or remove the stalk from the ground.
Flavor: Bamboo has a very mild flavor, and is often used in cooking for its texture. In different parts of Asia, bamboo is used as a food source, as building material, and as a multifaceted raw material.
Recipes: Bamboo shoot stir fry
WARNINGS: Raw shoots have a chemical called cyanogenic glycosides that is toxic to humans if not destroyed by thorough cooking.5
Fun Facts: Bamboo is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, due to its rhizome dependent system. Some species of bamboo can grow to be 1300’ tall. Bamboo flowers are rarely seen because most species flower every 20 to 120 years.6 Bamboo flowers gregariously, which means that all plants with the same parent plant will spontaneously begin to flower at the same time, regardless of geographic location, and will continue to flower for several years until all of the flowering plants die to make room for the next generation that was just seeded.7
Common Name: Bunya Bunya Pine ~ Latin name: Araucaria bidwillii
Description: The tree exhibits a dark brown, thick trunk and its leaves are a glossy green color, stiff, and pointy. This tree can grow up to a 150 feet tall and culminates in a domed peak. Horizontal branches are arranged in as regular pattern. The seed cones can be the size of bowling balls. Cones resemble coconuts from afar on the tree. It is native to south-east Queensland, Australia.1 2
Location on campus: Along the main bike path in front of HSSB.
Part of Plant that is useful/edible: Nuts inside of the pine cone.
Best time of year: December to March.3
How to collect: The seed cones must be collected and opened within seven days of falling from the tree. Peel off the outside fibers covering the nut before eating.
Edible: Trees on campus may not have cones/may not taste good due to improper climate
Flavor: The taste is sweet and starchy like a chestnut. 4
What it does: Acts as an antimicrobial preventing food poisoning and food from spoiling.5
WARNINGS: When collecting the cones watch for ones that are falling; if hit it they can prove fatal.The leaves/branches are sharp and rather painful to pick up or step on
Fun Facts: Aborigines in the tree’s native habitat in Australia used to make peace between tribes for the harvesting of the seeds without disputes.6
Common Names: Firethorn ~ Latin name: Pyracanth
Description: Firethorn is a shrub that belongs to the family Rosaceae. It can group up to 10-15ft It is native to the area the covers Southwest Europe to Southeast Asia. When mature, the fruits are small, spherical, and red. The flowers on the Firethorn bloom from late spring to early summer.1 2
Location on campus: Firethorn is located just inside the Western entrance to South Hall, and on the South side of Kerr Hall.
Part of Plant that is useful/edible: Berries.
Best time of year: The fruit on the Firethorn matures in late autumn.
How to collect: To collect Firethorn, simply pick the berries off of the shrub.
Edible: The berries are NOT edible without some processing,
WARNINGS: The fruit on the Firethorn is only edible after it has been crushed and washed under running water. If eaten in large quantities, Firethorn fruit can cause stomach pain due to the fact that it is mildly poisonous. No other part of the Firethorn plant than the processed fruit should be eaten.3
Fun Facts: In Britain, Firethorn is an important source of nectar for bees during times when other plants are not blooming.4
Common Names: Ice Plant ~ Latin name: Carpobrotus edulis
Description: Iceplant is a robust perennial succulent shrub that is native to coastal South Africa. The plant is abundant and considered an invasive species on California’s mediterranean coast in which it thrives. The plant grows in a thick and dense mat-like way. Its thick succulent stems grow horizontally and curve upwards. Flowers generally appear in late winter to spring and can be yellow, pink, and purple. The ice plant’s fruit appears once the flower dies back and is edible. The fruit is yellow and fleshy when ripe and resembles a fig or spinning top.
Location on campus: Campus point bluffs
Best time of year: Early spring in California regions
How to collect: Simply pick the fleshy fruit (resembles a spinning top), it will be yellow in color when ripe and can be eaten fresh. The outer layer is astringent and is ideally removed before eating the more jelly-like interior, where the seeds are located.
Flavor: Salty and sour, mildly sweet when riper
WARNINGS: Ice plant grows along bluffs and steep coastal cliffs. DO NOT harvest ice plant close to cliffs.
Fun Facts: Ice plant was introduced in California during the early 1900s for coastal erosion mitigation; the plant still outcompetes many native coastal plants to this day.2 Ice plant can inhibit the natural movement processes of sand dune environments.3 In South Africa the ice plant’s fruit is sometimes referred to as a sour fig.4
Common Names: Lavender ~ Latin name: Lavandula
Description: Purple flower bush with small leaves and circular shape. Small circular shaped/pruned plant with individual stems that have both small purple flowers and small green leaves.
Location on campus: Right side of Student Resource Building in the direction of pardall tunnel but farther behind the building.
Part of Plant that is useful/edible: Purple flowers
Best time of year:
How to collect: Collect the flowers by the stem, if for consumption remove the small purple flowers from the stem after harvesting.
Uses: Used as flavor, garnish, baking ingredient, perfume, house/drawer/clothing fragrance, etcetera.
WARNINGS: Consumption of lavender oil is toxic. Some individuals may be allergic to lavender. Can cause skin irritation in some individuals.
Fun Facts: Thought to help cure insomnia when used in essential oil form for smelling purposes. Lavender is also used for other aroma therapeutic purposes. Lavender oil is also thought to increase hair growth when applied to the scalp. You can collect lavender and dry it for around two weeks for storage, use, or scent. Historically, lavender was used for bathing and scents.1 It is from the mint family.2
Common Names: Lemonade Berry ~ Latin name: Rhus integrifolia
Description: Small red/purple clusters of berries on large green-leaved bushes.Large green bushes with clusters of small purple/red berries and small pink/red flowers that have five petals.
Location on campus: Near/around the lagoon
Part of Plant that is useful/edible: Berries
Best time of year: Spring
How to collect: Pick berries from cluster by hand and clean before consumption. Pick berries when dark red/orange.1
Edible: Berries and leaves
Flavor: The berries have a sour and bitter taste. Similar to the taste of Warheads.
What it does: Relieves coughs and fevers. Tea from the leaves used to treat coughs. Ground seeds drink used to treat fever5
Fun Facts: The Chumash used to make a drink from the berries, hence the name. Leomonade berries taste like Warheads.
Other comments and concerns: The berries are sticky, be aware when picking and handling.8
Common Names: Nasturtium, Indian Cres ~ Latin name: Tropaeolaceae Majus
Low ground cover or climbing vine plant; many branches from vines. Orange or red or yellow flowers; 5 petals. Pale to deep green, rounded, undulating cloud shaped leaves; 8 prominent veins per leaf coming out from a center point on the leaf towards edges.
Location: Often in overgrown areas. Located on campus near Girvetz. Seen in Isla Vista Neighborhood.
Useful Parts: Leaves and Flowers (especially of young plants).
Best time of year: Can bloom all year long. Flowers fade during extremely hot summers or cold winters.
How to collect: Gently pick or cut flowers and leaves from the main stems of the vine.
Flavor: Pungent, peppery, sharp “plant” flavor of leaves and flowers.
Recipes: Can be eaten straight off the plant or added to salad, Nasturtium Pesto, Juice: cough remedy. Dried: powdered ripe buds can be used as a mild laxative. Flowers can be eaten for vitamin C, to help overcome and prevent the cold and flu. Compress/Topically: can be used on small cuts to prevent bacterial infections. Infusion: used for internal infections
What it does: Expectorant: helps clear mucus from lungs (cough remedy). Diuretic: increases production of urine. Aperient: purgative or laxative. Disinfectant.
Chemical Compounds: isobutyl isothiocyanate, glycotropeoline, spilanthol, oxalic acid, vitamin C
WARNINGS: Nasturtium can cause skin irritation. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use this herb. People with kidney, stomach, or intestine problems should not use this herb. The medical community doesn’t recognize the benefits of this plant. Always consult a medicine practitioner before using herbs as medicine.
Fun Facts: The seeds of the Nasturtium plant were used as a substitute for pepper during World War II. Nasturtium means “nose twister” in Latin. This name refers to people’s reactions when they taste it.
Common Names: Natal Plum ~ Latin name: Carissa macrocarpa
Description: The Natal Plum is a shrub that is a member of the family Apocynaceae. It is native to South Africa. When mature, the Natal Plum is oval shaped, and red in color. If the fruit is green, it means that it is not mature. The Natal Plum plant has white flowers.
Location on campus: The Natal Plum is located on the East side of the Thunder Dome, and bordering the bike racks by De La Guerra Dining Commons.
Best time of year: In coastal areas with moderate climates, the shrub that carries the Natal Plum produces fruit year round. 1
How to collect: To collect the Natal Plum, one should simply pull the fruit directly off the shrub.
Edible: The fruit is the only edible thing on the shrub that carries the Natal Plum.
Flavor: The Natal Plum is sweet, but it also has a slight sour taste.
What it does: The Natal Plum is a great source of Vitamin C. Vitamin C increases immunity, improves gum health, and provides many more general health benefits. To get the benefits of the Natal Plum, eat the fruit.
Chemistry: Contains sufficient pectin and acid, facilitating the making of firm gels in jelly
WARNINGS: Make sure only to eat the fruit on the shrub; all other parts of the plant are poisonous except the fruit, including the stems and leaves. There are thorns on the shrub that carries the Natal Plum, so exercise caution when collecting the fruit. 2
Fun Facts: The Natal Plum contains latex, which is used to make rubber. The Greek name for the Natal Plum translates to “keep away from the dog.”
Other comments and concerns: Interesting article from a natal plum enthusisiest
Common Names: Pickleweed, Sea asparagus, American glasswort ~ Latin name: Salicornia pacifica
Description: Pickleweed is a low lying perennial that is located along both the west and east coasts of North America and parts of the Gulf of Mexico.1 It thrives in salty environments with little wave action, which includes shorelines, salt marshes, and tidal flats. Its green stems grow up to 1 meter and have a jointed and notably pickle-esque appearance. Flowering stems produce purple upright flowers.2 3
Location on campus: Around Campus Lagoon
Best time of year: Can be picked year-round. More green during summer with some red hues in fall.
How to collect: Simply pick the green stems off of the plant.
Fun Facts: The name glasswort comes from the plant’s use as soda ash for glass making in the 18th century.5
Other comments and concerns: This plant is located at restoration sites for salt-marshes and wetlands, so be considerate of the fragile and managed environment when collecting.
Common Names: Rosemary ~ Latin name: Rosemarinus officinalis
Description: Short bush with fragrant branch extensions and small flowers. Low-the-the-ground bushes with straight branches covered with small light purple flowers and fragrant branch extensions.
Location on campus:
Part of Plant that is useful/edible: Branch extensions, small purple flowers.
Best time of year:
How to collect: Pick the rosemary by the branch and remove the pieces from the branch to add as seasoning/topping/ flavoring.
Uses: Ingredient, herbal topping, topical, flavor, scent, fragrance.
Recipes: Rosemary potatoes
Medicine: Essential oil/ topical
Fun Facts: Rosemary essential oil is beneficial for hair growth.
Common Names: Sage (common sage/garden sage) ~ Latin name: Salvia officinalis
Description: Sage is native to the Mediterranean region and is a part of the mint family (Lamiaceae). It has purple flowers (other colors may include pink, white, and red) and ovular downy leaves which have a pungent smell and vary in color from green-white to green-gray. The plant generally grows to be 2-3ft high. 1
Location on campus: Near UCSB greenhouse
Best time of year: Sage is a perennial plant and can be collected year-round.
How to collect: Simply pick the leaves off of the plantUses: Aroma therapeutic, spiritual cleansing, scent
Flavor: herbal, earthyMedicine:
Chemistry: Thujone is present in some species and can cause kidney damage, seizures, and other ailments if taken in very large doses.
WARNINGS: Can be toxic in very large doses
Fun Facts: Sage was believed to improve memory and increase mental capacity in medieval Europe.5 Burning dried sage is practiced and believed by some to promote protection in an area (such as a house or shelter)
Common Names: Sour Grass ~ Latin name: Oxalis stricta
Description: This common perennial has yellow flowers with five parts and can grow up to 50-100cm in height. Leaves are alternate and form three heart shaped leaflets, much like a three leafed clover.1
Location on campus:
Best time of year: Blooms usually start in spring continue through fall.2
How to collect: pick leaves or stems to chew on.
Flavor: Sour, but in a pleasant way
Recipes: Sour Apple Spritzer
What it does:
Chemistry: Oxalic acid: gives the plant its sour taste.3
WARNINGS: Oxalic acid is toxic in large doses
Fun Facts: A yellow-orange dye can be made of the plant by boiling it.4
Common Names: Strawberry Guava ~ Latin name: Psidium cattleyanum
Description: The Strawberry Guava is a tree native to Brazil that belongs to the family Myrtaceae. The fruit of the Strawberry Guava is spherical, small (about 4 cm long), and red/purple in color when ripe. It has glossy, green, oval leaves and white flowers with five petals.1
Location on campus: West side of South Hall, South/East side of Harold Frank Hall, and Robertson Gymnasium.
Best time of year: The Strawberry Guava produces fruit year round. Trees on campus produce ripe fruit at different times depending on their location.
How to collect: To collect the Strawberry Guava, simply pick the fruit off the tree.
Edible: The fruit only lasts 1-2 days at room temperature.
Flavor: The Strawberry Guava is sweet, but also has a slight tang. The fruit tastes like its name, with flavors of strawberry and guava.
What it does: The fruit is high in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory effects.2 The Strawberry Guava helps with digestion because it contains a large amount of fiber.3 It helps prevent scurvy because it contains Vitamin C.4
WARNINGS: Only eat the fruit of the Strawberry Guava, as it is the only part of the plant that is edible.
Fun Facts: The Strawberry Guava is also known as cherry guava, purple guava, and cattley guava.5 Strawberry Guava is an invasive species on the Hawaiian Islands. It has invaded hundreds of thousands of acres on the islands and threatens to spread even more. Non-native pigs and birds facilitate its spread when they eat the fruit.6
Common Names: Strawberry Tree ~ Latin name: Arbutus unedo
Description: The Strawberry Tree is a relatively short tree, 15 to 30 ft high. When mature, the fruit of the Strawberry Tree is spherical, small, red in color, and has a rough and bumpy outer layer. The texture is strange on the tongue. White bell shaped flowers grow in small clusters. The bark is a reddish-brown color that peels in the sun. The leaves are green, glossy and serrated. It is an evergreen and often used ornamentally.
Location on campus: There are Strawberry Trees located on the South side of Broida Hall, on the South side of the Humanities and Social Sciences Building, in the Girvetz courtyard, along El Colegio heading West from campus towards Santa Ynez housing, as well as near Webb Hall. They are all over campus.
Edible: The fruit is the only part of the Strawberry Tree that is edible.
Best time of year: The fruit on the Strawberry Tree is best to eat in Autumn, when the fruit matures.
How to collect: To collect the fruit from the Strawberry Tree, one should simply pick the fruit off the tree.
Flavor: The Strawberry Tree fruit has a sweet taste, and has flavors that have hints of strawberry and peach.
What it does: May lower blood pressure and fight against colds.
Chemistry: The medicinal properties of the Strawberry Tree comes from the fact that it contains tannins and Vitamin C.
Recipes: To make the herbal tea, soak the Strawberry Tree leaves in a cup of hot water. Other things like lemon zest can be added to improve the taste.
WARNINGS: Make sure to only eat the fruit on the tree. Underripe fruit can cause nausea. Overripe fruit can cause intoxication
Fun Facts: The tree is related to Manzanitas (aka refrigerator trees). The bark peels because it gets sunburnt! The Strawberry Tree is part of the Coat of Arms of Madrid. The Coat of Arms depicts a bear eating from a Strawberry Tree. The Strawberry Tree was mentioned by Ovid, a Roman poet from the first century BCE, in his work titled Metamorphoses. In Ireland the ballad “My love’s an Arbutus” correlates the strawberry tree and true love qualities
Bunya Bunya Pine