Awaswas Wart Remedy: Poison Oak

Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is a woody shrub in the sumac family. All parts of the plant produce an oil called urushiol, which causes an allergic reaction in most people. Photo courtesy of  Vivienne Orgel.

Poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) is a woody shrub in the sumac family. All parts of the plant produce an oil called urushiol, which causes an allergic reaction in most people. Photo courtesy of Vivienne Orgel.

The Awaswas*, the native people indigenous to the Santa Cruz area, could recognize hundreds of plant species and knew a variety of uses for each one. The land surrounding the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and the adjacent Pilkington Creek are home to native plants that the Awaswas frequently used. Here are three examples of these native plants that had important uses for the Awaswas and other California Indians:

Poison Oak

If you have ever experienced the unrelenting itch of a poison oak rash, then you may be surprised to learn that California Indians (and it’s assumed the Awaswas) had many uses for this notorious plant. Some records say that the native peoples would eat a small piece of the very young leaf in early spring to prevent the poison from affecting them for the rest of the year (We do not recommend trying this at home as it could be extremely dangerous).

It was purportedly also used as a remedy for warts, persistent sores, and even skin cancer. Some California Indians used the plant’s black juices for tattooing. Others used the leaves to wrap bread and the branches to weave baskets.

Poison oak leaves an unforgettable rash.  This lobed leaf can be in colors of green and red. Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Elf

Poison oak leaves an unforgettable rash. This lobed leaf can be in colors of green and red. Photo courtesy of Elf.

Read the rest of the story to see the other two plants that were heavily used by the Awaswas. Read it here at MobileRanger.com.

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of a tour all about Pilkington Creek by the Santa Cruz Museum of Natural History and Mobile Ranger. You can download the free mobile app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond at www.mobileranger.com.

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Julia Gaudinski


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