A cure for just about anything can be found in many of the 50 or so plants at the Malki Museum’s Ethnobotanical Garden. You can also feed a family, roof a house, or diaper a baby with various parts of these plants.

The Malki Museum is the home of an ethnobotanical garden which contains only botanical species used in the daily life of the Cahuilla. It was built and nurtured by dozens of volunteers in response to numerous requests for information about how the Cahuilla Indians utilized plants for food, medicine, clothing, housing, tools, and arts. This unique garden acts as a living illustration to the book Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants, by Katherine Siva Saubel. Her mother, who was a Cahuilla medicine woman, taught her the traditional plants and their uses, which Katherine later wrote down with the help of anthropologist Dr. Lowell Bean. The information from this book is used in the self-tour guide for the garden. The term Temalpakh is a Cahuilla word meaning “from the earth.”

The garden was re-designed in 1994, and the new demonstration garden, covering roughly ¼ of an acre, replaced a smaller garden. It incorporated full grown plants from the smaller garden, including jojoba, manzanita, sugarbush, elderberry, desert willow, and ribbonwood. Many of the major plants used by the Cahuilla are represented, and all of the plants are drip-irrigated.

Other remarkable features of the garden include a massive collection of mortars and pestles arrayed along the dry streambed, the occasional visiting roadrunner, and the amazing views of Mount San Jacinto to the south and Mount San Gorgonio to the north.

Here are some of the plants and their uses by the Cahuillas:

Barrel Cactus

Buds are eaten, usually after parboiling. The interior liquid provides an emergency water substitute, and the body of the plant can be hollowed out and used as a cooking vessel.


Buds are cooked and eaten or stored. Large seeds are ground into meal to make mush.


Plant gum heated and applied to the chest can relieve pain.

California Fan Palm

Fruit clusters are eaten fresh or dried in the sun. Dried fruits are ground into flour for mush. Fronds are used for home siding and roofing. Frond stems make cooking utensils, and leaves are used for sandals.

California Sagebrush

It’s boiled into a tea for easing childbirth and postnatal recovery. Fresh or dried leaves are chewed to relieve cold symptoms.


High in nutrition, parched and ground chia seeds are used for mush or cakes. Mush is used as poultice on infections.


Excellent wood for tools. Poultice made from boiled leaves and bark relieves swelling caused by muscle strain.


A medicinal tea, made from stems and leaves, cures colds, chest infections, and bowel ailments and is used as a general health tonic. Creosote solutions heal open wounds and draw out poisons.

Desert Willow

Wood is used for house frames, granaries, and bows. The bark provides fibrous material for cloth and nets.


The berries are eaten fresh or dried and also are a source of basket dye. Boiled blossom tea cures fevers, upset stomachs, colds, and the flu.

Honey Mesquite

Blossoms and green and dried pods are edible and rich in food content. The pods are ground into meal for cakes. The tree trunk makes wood mortars. Small limbs make excellent bows. Mesquite wood makes a hot, durable fire. Mesquite gum is used as an adhesive.


The seeds are eaten fresh or ground into a powder for a coffee-like drink.


Acorns are ground, drained with water to leach tannic acid and usually made into mush.


Berry seeds are ground into meal to make mush or cakes, or sun dried and stored for future use. Leaves steeped in water make a tea to cure diarrhea or poison oak rash. The wood burns hot and makes long-lasting coals. Branches are used in house construction.

Horsetail/Mormon Tea

Tea made from twigs purifies the blood and clears the system helping to cure kidney stones and dysentery. As a cleaning pad, it has its own cleaning agent.


Roasted and shelled nuts are eaten whole or ground and made into mush. Pine pitch is used as a face cream. Bark is a roofing material.


Leaves are used to make a beverage that relieves ulcers and cures colds and chest ailments.


Tree limbs and branches are used in house construction.

Wild Buckwheat

Steeped flowers make a drink that cleans out the intestines. Leaves growing near the roots are used as a laxative. A tea made from the leaves cures headaches and stomach disorders.