Coexisting with nature · Herbology

Austin plant walk with the Wildflower School

Carla and Stephanie, teachers at the Austin-based Wildflower School of Botanical Medicine, led our eager group on an early evening plant walk in the Muller Development in East Austin.

I’ve posted the brief comments they made about each plant, to the best of my ability. Please note that many of these plants have fantastic medicinal qualities, but if you’re new to herbal medicine you should take care to learn more about the plants, the preparations and uses, before diving in. Just as you wouldn’t take a prescription medicine without understanding how it’s used (or get it from a professional), you shouldn’t just pick a plant that you just learned and know just the basics about, and start chowing down on it.



Mahonia trifoliolata (Berberis trifoliolata, Mahonia trifoliata)

This is a great plant to use for the gastric system, and all parts of the alimentary canal. Agarita contains berberine, the same constituent in goldenseal. Usually roots and woody parts are used medicinally, although leaves are also effective. Agarita berries are edible as well. Local herbalists consider this to be one of the best local plants to use for a variety of illnesses, and would have it in their top 10 useful herbs.






Yucca spp.

In the agave family. The root contains saponins, which can be used to make a form of soap. These constituents are  precursors to cortisone and can help with inflammation. The root is edible and can be roasted like a potato. The leaves can be used to make cordage.





wild lettuce
wild lettuce - latuca serriola (less toothed leaves)

Prickly or Wild Lettuce

Latuca verosa and Latuca serriola

Similar in appearance to dandelion but leaves tend to be more upright, and there are prickly spines on the leaf spines. The leaves are edible and can be used raw or cooled. They are very astingent, and bitter, stimulating digestion. Latuca Verosa – called lettuce opium. Has the lobed/toothed leaves. Serriola – less of a toothed leaf. Taken internally, the herb causes secretions from mucus membranes, the latex in stems has a relaxing effect, but care should be taken if used internally in significant quantities or in an herbal preparation because it can cause cardiac issues.



sow thistle
sow thistle gone to seed; leaves look like big dandelion leaves with prickly edges
Sow Thistle - photo taken elsewhere but shows leaves and flower

Sow thistle

Sonchus oleraceus and other spp.

Another dandelion look-alike, although this plant grows much larger than dandelions in Texas. It has spikes on leaves,  and multiple flower stalks, both traits also unlike dandelions. Leaves are edible as raw or cooked greens, and flower buds are delicious sauteed in bacon fat.



red seed plantain
red seed plantain

Red seed plantain

Plantago rhodosperma

All species of plantain have similar qualities and can be used medicinally. Leaves of plant have parallel veins which is unlike look-alike plants and can be used to distinguish it. Often grows in disturbed soils, can take a lot of abuse.

Plant can be used topically. Amazing for tissue regeneration.  Best for insect bites – you can chew up leaf and put the pulp on a cut or fire ant bite. in dried, powdered form plantain is great  in a facial scrub or mask for acne. A plantain poultice can help to pull out splinters. Psyllium husks = plantain seeds. Also called “plant for life.”



hedge parsley flowers
hedge parsley flowers (not the leaves)

Hedge parsley

Torillis arvensis

Looks like so many other things. Not really medicinal. Be careful. Althogh edible, some look-alikes are very poisonous. Makes burrs. Grows up in a stalk.







evening primrose
evening primrose

Evening primrose

Oenothera speciosa

Very safe to use. Typically flowers are used medicinally, and evening primrose oil contains fatty acids that are especially good for women, relieves menstrual cramps.







acacia in flower
flowering acacia tree


Acacia spp

Tree with small  yellow flowers; thorns. In Mimosoideae subfamily, with similar leaves, and is considered a legume. Bean pods can be ground up  like mesquite beans, with similar results.






verbena and lantana
purple flower is verbena/Texas vervain; pink/yellow flower is lantana

Texas verbena

Glandularia bipinnatifida 

Looks a bit like lantana (Lantana camara and spp) but leaves are different. Verbena leaves are fern-shaped, and look like nervous system, while the lantana leaves are oval. Verbena is a good nervine and can help promote calm and relaxation.


(thanks Sam Coffman for corrected identification)




poison ivy
poison ivy climbing up a tree

Poison ivy

Toxicodendron radicans

It tends to grow in places that are disturbed or where there is a lot of human activity. In Austin it is prolific on the greenbelts and on the hike and bike trail. Protective of other plants. Don’t touch, but surely we don’t have to tell you that. It also tends to make blog writers break out into song when least expected.





Englemann's daisy
Engelmannia peristenia or Englemann's daisy

Englemann’s Daisy

Engelmannia peristenia

No immediately known medicinal or edible properties. Just a cool plant we found as we wandered around.




7 thoughts on “Austin plant walk with the Wildflower School

  1. Great pictures and descriptions. You captured the whole essence of our walk! Much more detailed than the notes I made on our walk. Thank You!!! I’ve been out searching for these plants. Today I found latuca (wild lettuce). They said it was edible but they also said too much of the latex could cause cardiac issues. Does that mean you have to watch how much of the whole plant you eat? or only if ingesting the latex? I’ve also been able to find the verbena look alike, sow thistle, plantain and of course the evening primrose. Do you have any evening primrose recipes? I’d love to make something!

  2. Great pics and descriptions, Jackie. One thing on the TX Verbena. That looks like Glandularia bipinnatifida. One of the common names is Dakota False Vervain. So technically, according to botanists isn’t Verbena spp. However, I agree that it is every bit a Verbena (and it’s in the Verbena family of course) a Verbena medicinally, and I know we’ve talked about it that way as well (and used it). It’s one of the 3 different “general types” of Verbenas as Michael Moore classified them, imo… so it’s just a taxonomy misnomer, if anyone’s interested.

  3. Jackie,
    Thanks so much for posting such a great blog on this walk. It was so nice to meet you too:) I’ve been on several nature walks since looking for the said herbs and you’ll never guess where I FINALLY found some…in my mother’s flower bed!!! LOL! She has verbena and lantana growing in her front yard (except hers are a medium pink flower).

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