The Doktor Will See You Now

For anyone who wants to get their hands dirty and help beautify Ojai there are great opportunities two weeks in a row.

This weekend the Ojai Valley Green Coalition will be organizing a replanting at Libbey Creek downtown.  From 9:30-12:30 you can help plant and mulch areas that were once overrun by Himalayan blackberry and other nasty naughty non-natives.  Kids welcome, contact David at for questions.

Next weekend join me and our growing crew to help restore the Old Baldwin Road trail head from 10-12.  We will be planting sagebrush, hummingbird sage, nightshade, coyote brush, grasses, wildflower seeds and all sorts of fun stuff all propagated at the OVLC nursery.

Also this weekend our good friend Antonio of Nopalito repute will be giving 2 classes at Theodore Payne.  If anyone goes tell him he owes me 100 bucks.

For this week’s feature I got to chat with everyone’s favorite trail guide/raconteur Lanny Kaufer.  While he wisely waits for warmer weather and wildflowers (alliteration anyone), he is busy at work expanding the behemoth that is Herb Walks.  He was generous to take a few minutes for some anecdotes, musings and some light to moderate shilling.

1.  Seems like Herb Walks has gained a lot of traction the last few years, any particular impetus? Yes, Herb Walks entered the digital age. Last December, I launched a website, with an Events calendar among other things. Shortly after that, I began sending out an e-newsletter to my mailing list and started a facebook page. Ojai Rambler, my favorite blog, has also been very supportive by including my events. The Internet has provided a whole new venue for my brand of shameless self-promotion.

2.  Is there something unique about the Ojai Valley which made you want to spread the “good word”? Ojai is uniquely located in this transition zone between the ocean and the mountains, with remnants of oak woodland criss-crossed by creeks and a river flowing through it. Many different ecosystems are a short drive — or walk — away, each with their associated diversity of plants. So it’s a wonderful area for ethnobotanical study.

3.  Weirdest local plant you’ve eaten. Weirdest experience that comes to mind right away was more frightening than weird. Occasionally, I like to chew on a green seed or two of Sweet Cicely when I can find an abundant patch. It’s an anise-flavored member of the Carrot family that’s not too common around here. The seeds are much larger than most Carrot family seeds that you might be familiar with but they have the same bristly texture as they mature and dry out. The bristles enable the seeds to stick to fur, clothes, socks, etc., making for a very effective dispersal system. One day on the trail by myself, I put one in my mouth that was a little too dry and those scratchy, hook-like bristles immediately starting walking that seed down my throat. Somehow I managed to cough it up to where I could get hold of it and remove it. No telling what damage it could have done on the way down. 

Sweet cicely

Sweet cicely

4.  Best view from a trail in Ojai. Tough question. There are so many and each one has its shining moment at some particular time of day or year. I never get tired of walking into Matilija Canyon to where it opens up, just  before the main creek crossing where the Upper North Fork comes in from the right, the Middle Fork is up ahead and Murietta Canyon is descending from the left as I face west. Looking up to my left, toward the south, I can see those steep canyons going up to the dark-green, north-facing ridge where the majestic Bigcone Douglas-Fir lives. It looks like it could be in Alaska. To the north, the characteristic twisted, topsy-turvy strata of the canyon topped by a long sandstone cliff is straight out of an old Hollywood western. To the west, I’m facing Old Man Mountain and other peaks alng the Murietta Divide. Welcome to the Matilija Wilderness Area!

Big cone douglas fir, endemic to Southern California

Big cone douglas fir, endemic to Southern California

5.  First California native you remember learning. How about the first California native I remember that I later learned? When I was a boy of about 8 growing up in the San Fernando Valley, my best friend lived a block from the Tujunga Wash, a tributary of the L.A. River. In those days it was a vast sandy floodplain, at times lush with riparian natives whose names I now know. One tall, slightly aromatic shrub lodged in my memory banks dominated the landscape that we ran and crawled through. It was Mulefat (Baccharis glutinosa). Growing up in that suburban environment, “the wash” was my wilderness.

Marsh mulefat

Marsh mulefat

6.  What led to the recent herb walk expansion into retail. It evolved organically. When I first started the website I I posted my bibliography of selected books. I soon learned that I could set up an Amazon Associate bookstore that links the visitor straight to Amazon Books. Then, this year I had the great good fortune to meet Dr. Jim Adams, USC Professor of Pharmacology and author, with Cecilia Garcia, of Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West. When I found that his wonderful book was relatively unknown, I realized that it would be great to have copies available for people who go on Herb Walks so I bought a case from the publisher. From there, I decided to set up the Herb Walks Store on the website to sell the book directly online and soon expanded it to include other essential books, herbal soaps made in Ojai, and wildcrafted, aromatic herbal products from Juniper Ridge. We are also making available gift certificates for Herb Walks, the perfect gift for the right person who appreciates an educational, outdoor experience. Uh oh, am I shilling now? Let me know when I’ve crossed the line. My wife Rondia is the Store Manager. The web address is

7.  Herb walk plans for 2013? We’ve had some fantastic special guests the last two years including Julie Tumamait, Dr. Fred Siciliano, Michelle Dohrn, and the abovementioned Dr. Jim. We’ve also branched out from Ojai to Ventura, Santa Barbara, and the Santa Monica Mountains. I plan to add more guests and venues in 2013.

8.  Scariest local wildlife encounter (real or imagined) Besides the Sweet Cicely seed that attacked me, I did have an encounter with a Black Bear. This tale may sound like I imagined it but it’s true. I was camping by myself alongside a small creek in an off-the-beaten-path canyon that feeds the North Fork of the Matilija. I was in my mid-twenties and the although the Tao of Pooh was about 10 years in the future, I had discovered the ageless wisdom in some of the classic children’s books like Wind in the Willows. On this particular day, an Ojai summer scorcher, I was lounging in my camp in the heat of the afternoon reading Winnie the Pooh when I heard a loud crashing sound upstream. It was definitely heading my way so I quickly abandoned camp and hopped across the creek and up a hill to a good vantage point. This was before the 1985 fire so the brush was quite thick. I saw a large Black Bear making his way through it, headed straight for my camp. Finally, just as he got close, the impenetrable brush forced him to detour up the hill on that side of the creek where, after a swift ascent up and out of the brush, he plopped down on his rear end and sat there contemplating his situation. After a while of this Pooh-like behavior, he descended and went back from whence he came, the eventual return of stillness telling me it was safe to inhabit my camp again.


9.  Cool Chumash native plant tidbits that aren’t in the Timbrook book? I was extremely fortunate to meet and be able to study and collaborate with the late Juanita Centeno, the Chumash plant expert and craftsperson who provided some of the anecdotal information in Jan Timbrook’s book, Chumash Ethnobotany. Juanita showed me how to grind up the brown, still-hanging-on-the-plant leaves of Coastal Sagebrush (Artemisia californica) to make a naturally anti-fungal baby powder that was used when swaddling infants to prevent diaper rash. We did a workshop together in Matilija Canyon by a healthy stand of Tule (Scirpus spp.) It’s widely reported by Timbrook and others that the Chumash used the various Tules for thatching their dwellings and sweatlodges. Juanita also taught us how to make a pair of huarache-style sandals. Sadly, though I still remember the basic weaving technique, I have forgotten some of the particulars necessary to repeat the project. I’m hoping to find another of her students — or anyone else —  who remembers or is crafty enough to figure it out. 

Tule sandals

Tule sandals

10. Favorite wildflower trail. As you well know, our local native species flower on different trails at different times of year but for Spring wildflowers (and close proximity to town) I’ll go with the Mariposa Lilies and all the other beauties on the Cozy Dell Trail around April.


Thanks Lanny… If anyone is making Tule sandals I’m a size 10 and a half…..

This entry was posted in Getting Involved, interviews, Ojai, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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