Book Report

Kumeyaay Ethnobotany: Shared Heritage of the Californias. Written by Michael Wilken. 2017. 281 pages. $29.95.

Although the title of this book seemed a little daunting at first, it is interesting, quite readable and full of Baja information. It also has beautiful color photos taken by Deborah Small, along with easy to follow maps and native designs.

Ethnobotany is the study of a region's plants and their practical uses through the traditional knowledge of the local culture and people. In this case, the people are the Kumeyaay tribe, natives of Northern Baja and part of Southern California.

Detailed plant descriptions focus on 47 native plants, with information about their ancient and modern cultural uses. These photos and comments can be helpful to scientists and botanists, and are also an excellent research tool for non experts, like tourists, hikers, walkers, and nature lovers. You can use this section to identify plants and learn more about the history of Northern Baja.

We can read the long ago accounts of the area, as recorded in diaries, notes and correspondence left by the first European missionaries and explorers (some as early as the 1700s), and then see them contrasted with native accounts of that time and, now, in accounts by modern researchers. To me, the book highlights an exciting comparison and connection between present ecology and ways and wisdoms of the past.

The first chapter gives us information about the prehistoric landscapes of the Kumeyaay region, and information about prehistoric weather. The first explorers writing about this area discovered that the climate was changing from late Ice Age 'cool and moist' to a more arid, desert climate. Findings from those ancient times, and knowledge of the native lifestyle in that area, are pretty much limited to observation of pottery shards, small projectile points and remnants of basket making. Although there had been contact for many years between the natives of the Californias and the Europeans, the first sustained contact between them began in 1780.

The book is well organized, with nine chapters, references for further research, an appendix and an index. It is printed on slick paper with colored photos, and each description and photo adds additional facts to the reader's knowledge about the historical and modern value of native plants found in Baja, their uses throughout history and their present day uses.

There is, of course, also a disclaimer, stating that this book is not meant to be a medicinal plant guide, but rather an account of which plants the natives of that area have historically used for food and medicine. The book ends with pages of references for those who wish to research this subject further. I believe this book is a great addition to any area library.

Copies ofKumeyaay Ethnobotony can be purchased at my bookstore, El Caballo Blanco, in Loreto. Email me