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Edible and Medicinal Native Plant Guilds

What is Permaculture?

“Permaculture is a practical set of ecological design principles and methods for human settlements which can be applied to urban, suburban, and watershed scale. Permaculture principles provide a way of thinking that enables people to establish highly productive environments that provide food, energy, shelter, and other material and non-material needs. The principles are rooted in careful observations of natural patterns and can be applied to all climates and a wide variety of cultures from indigenous to technological.”

– a definition by Penny Livingston-Stark


Permaculture Ethics:

Care of the People

Care of the Earth

Setting Limits to Consumption & Population

Returning the Surplus


Some of Permaculture founder Bill Mollison’s principles…

  • Observation

  • Biological Resources

  • Energy Recycling

  • Every Element Supports Many Functions

  • Diversity

  • Local Focus

  • Work Within Nature

  • Edge

  • Small Scale Intensive Systems

  • Relinquishing Power

  • Appropriate Technology


Plant Guilds and there Functions:


“Guilds are an attempt to bridge the broad gap between conventional vegetable gardens and wildlife gardening by creating plant communities that act and feel like natural landscapes, but that include humans in their webwork. Vegetable gardens benefit only humans, while wildlife or natural gardens specifically exclude people from their ecological patterns. Ecological gardens, using guilds help our developed land to blossom into nourishing places for both humans and wildlife”.

– Toby Hemenway “Gaia’s Garden”


  • The Central Element – Food producing, wildlife supporting, or nitrogen fixing

    • Fruit trees – Apples, Peaches, Persimmons, Plums

    • Nut trees - Oaks, Walnuts, Almonds, Hazelnuts

    • Nitrogen Fixers - Alders, Black Locust

  • Insect and Bird-Attracting Plants (Insectaries) – Lure pollinators and pest predators

    • Carrot family – Dill, Angelica, Chervil, Celery, Fennel, Parsley, Parsnip, Cilantro

    • Aster family – Yarrow, Sunflower, Aster, Calendula, Dahlia, Cosmos, Zinnia, Dandelion, Marigold, Daisy

  • Other great bird, bee, and butterfly plants: Borage, Nasturtium, Lavender, Lemon, Balm, Spearmint, Bergamont, Sweet Alyssum, Nettles
  • Nutrient Bio-Accumulators – Plants with deep taproots to draw up nutrients and minerals

    • Chicory, Plantain, Buckwheat, Burdock, Carrots, Dock, Beets, Dandelion

  • Nitrogen Fixers – Nutrient creation via fungal symbiosis on root nodules

    • Pea family – Peas, Beans, Indigo, Clover, Alfalfa, Lupine, Wisteria

    • Other nitrogen fixing Genus – Ceanothus, Elaeagnus, Hippophaë, Shepherdia

  • Mulch and Groundcover – Perennial soft leafy plants that break down into plant nutrients

    • Comfrey, artichokes, cardoon, clover, nasturtium, rhubarb

  • Grass-Suppressing Bulbs – keep grasses and weeds at bay with a circle of bulbs

    • Daffodils, Camas, Alliums (Garlic, Onions, Chives, Leeks)

  • Habitat Nooks – Attract more birds, bees, reptiles, and amphibians

    • Piles or rocks, stones, logs or brush,

    • Small ponds and water elements (Bird baths, fountains, greywater systems)

Native Plant Communities


  • Coastal Scrub – Strong ocean influence creating shorter ‘soft chaparral’ from a few to 25 miles in from the coast. Year round blooms of showy flowers, shares many species with chaparral, woodland, and grassland regions.

    • Lemonade Berry – (Rhus integrifolia)

    • Yellow Bush Lupine – (Lupinus arboreus)

    • Golden Yarrow/Lizard Tail - (Eriophyllum confertiflorum)

    • Sticky Monkey Flower - (Mimulus aurantiacus)

    • Coastal Sagebrush – (Artemesia californica)

    • Saltbush (Atriplex lentiformis ssp. Breweri)

    • Dune Evening Primrose – (Oenothera biennis)

    • Black Sage - (Salvia mellifera)

    • Figwort - (Scrophularia nodosa)

  • Mixed Chaparral – Largest of California’s vegetative regions from the Coast Ranges to the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the Peninsular and Transverse Ranges, consisting of mainly tough, woody, evergreen shrubs with dense foliage. Hot and dry, sun-facing slopes.

    • Dwarf California Aster - (Aster chilensis)

    • Pink flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum glutinosum)

    • Coyote Brush – (Baccharis pilularis consanguinea)

    • Manzanita – (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

    • Wild lilac – (Ceanothus thyrsiflorus)

    • Chamise – (Adenostoma fasciculatum)

    • Mountain mahogany – (Cercocarpus betuloides)

  • Coast Coniferous Forest – Known for the Coast Redwoods, the most visited and best known of California’s vegetative regions straddling the moist, coastal end of the Mediterranean climate from Big Sur to Humboldt county, at least a mile inland to avoid salt spray. Often isolated in foggy, wind-sheltered canyons, river bottoms, and north-facing slopes. Redwood groves intermingle with mixed evergreen forests, oak woodlands, and chaparral.

    • Huckleberry - (Vaccinium ovatum)

    • California Hazelnut – (Corylus cornuta californica)

    • Thimbleberry – (Rubus parviflorus)

    • Wild Ginger – (Asarum caudatum)

    • Sword Fern

  • Oak Woodland – Quintessential N. California hilly landscape of plains, valleys, and foothills dominated by one or more of 18 different species of oaks. Often associated with Bay Laurel, Madrone, Toyon, and California Buckeye.

    • White Currant – (Ribes rubrum*)

    • Wild lilac – (Ceanothus gloriosus)

    • Wormwood - (Artemisia absinthium)

    • Redbud – (Rhamnus crocea)

    • Woodland Strawberry - (Fragaria californica)

    • Yarrow - (Achillea millefolium)

  • Riparian - Found throughout California in various regions including woodlands, coniferous and mixed evergreen forests, and bordering chaparral. Often including Alders, Maples, and Dogwoods.

    • Blue Elderberry - (Sambucus caerulea*)

    • Mugwort – (Artemisia absinthium)

    • CA Wild Grape - (Vitis californica)

    • Monkey Flower- (Mimulus 'Trish')

  • Mixed Conifer Forest – Higher minmontane regions with cooler temperatures and varying elevations dictating different moisture levels. Often including the largest of the pines, firs, and cedars.

    • Serviceberry – (Amelanchier alnifolia)

    • Snowberry – (Symphoricarpos albus)

    • Wild Lilac – (Ceanothus gloriosus)

    • Hawthorn – (Crataegus monogyna*)

    • Coffeeberry – (Rhamnus californica)


Resources & References


Native Plant Nurseries


Bay Natives – San Francisco, CA

California Flora – Fulton, CA

Yerba Buena Nursery – Woodside, CA

Ploughshares Nursery – Alameda, CA

San Francisco Botanical Gardens – annual plant sales

California Native Plant Society – annual plant sales




Permaculture: A Designer’s Manual

By Bill Mollison

Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture

By Toby Hemenway

California Native Plants for the Garden

By Carol Bornstein, David Fross, and Bart O’Brien

California Vegetation


Family Herbal: A Guide to Living with Energy, Health, and Vitality

By Rosemary Gladstar

Designing and Maintaining an Edible Landscape Naturally

By Robert Kourik

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Natural Remedies

By C. Norman Shealy

The Neighborhood Forager: A Guide for the Wild Food Gourmet

By Robert Henderson

A Handbook of Native American Herbs

By Alma R. Hutchens

Edible and Useful Plants of California

By Charlotte Bringle Clarke

The Wild Food Trail Guide

By Alan Hall

From Earth to Herbalist: An Earth-Conscious Guide to Medicinal Plants

By Gregory L. Tilford

The Ohlone Way

By Malcolm Margolin