The drying days of September create an extended summer as the last wildflowers of the season bloom white and preserve neatly in the sun. One of these common to disturbed roadside berms and headland is Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) which can be hard to differentiate from California cudweed (Pseudognaphalium californicum), except the later has shiny flower bracts and more oily leaves. Both are in the sunflower family with overlapping ranges but Anaphalis seems more prevalent near the coast.
On the headlands Pearly Everlasting looks like a yarrow until you get closer to see the slender leaves and distinctive large pea-sized pearly puffs of flowers. The yellow center of the flower doesn’t show until the petals dry out and open. The stems and leaves are fuzzy but the amount of fuzz depends on whether it grows in sun-exposed spots (more fuzz as sun protection), thus leaves appear gray to green.
Pearly everlasting is collected while the flower is in its tight-pearl stage for best medicine and flower arrangements since it will dry well and keep for two years (thus the ‘everlasting’ quality). This flower, common to temperate North American and Asia was always a part of the traditional medicine chest. Tea made from leaves and flowers is a soothing anti-inflammatory and reduces edema and other swellings. A poultice of the flowers or the whole plant can be applied to burns, sores, ulcers, bruises, swellings and rheumatic joints – or used in a bath for those reasons. Because it has measurable amounts of quercetin, it has a slight antihistamine effect and can be added to nettle tea for allergy relief. An infusion of the leaves can be used as a steam to inhale for the treatment of headaches, while the dried leaves were used by Native Americans to flavor smoking blends, along with mullein and coltsfoot. Combined with yarrow, Pearly Everlasting is useful as an expectorant for the lungs that helps break up mucus and encourage productive coughs. It’s astringent and promotes perspiration (like yarrow), so helps to unplug sinuses and induce sweating for breaking a fever.
Best of all, this cheery plant is safe and generally palatable for all ages and can help treat diarrhea, stomach flu and irritated esophagus. The leaves are host to the caterpillars of the Painted Lady butterfly so you may find their cocoons nearby.