[Dixielandjazz] Thoughts on Yerba Buena

Dan Augustine ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu
Thu Oct 14 09:34:13 PDT 2004

DJML and others--
     Regarding the tribute ('tea') concert to Lu Watters in San 
Francisco on October 23rd, i started thinking again about the name of 
the band, Yerba Buena Jazz Band, so i did a little research.  I had 
always, in the back of my mind, suspected that 'yerba buena' was a 
reference to marijuana, but that is apparently not the case. 
However, one should not put it past some musicians to make such an 
inference, especially since marijuana is also referred to sometimes 
as 'tea'.

    "In 1835, the first dwelling on the present site of San Francisco
     was erected by Captain W. A. Richardson, an American who had been
     appointed harbour-master by the then Mexican government.  It was
     a modest canvas tent, a ship's foresail supported by four redwood
     posts.  Captain Richardson named the settlement Yerba Buena,
     meaning 'good herb or wild mint', the popular name of a fragrant
     mint that grew in great profusion throughout the Bay region, and
     from which Californians brewed tea.  Surrounded as it was on three
     sides by water, swept each morning by the salt breezes and the
     mists from the sea and covered in sunshine from the largely rain-
     free skies, the settlement must have had something of the tang and
     freshness of the wild mint which gave it its earliest name.  The
     name of the settlement was changed to San Francisco in 1847."
         (_Emperor Norton's Hunch_ by John Buchanan, Hambledon
          Productions, Middle Dural, New South Wales, Australia, 1996)

    "Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii, Lamiaceae) is a sprawling
     aromatic herb of the western and northwestern United States,
     western Canada and Alaska. Another local name for this plant is
     Oregon tea, referring to its use as both a medicinal and
     refreshing tea. Its name, an alternate form of hierba buena,
     which means "good herb" was given it by the Spanish priests of
     California.  San Francisco, California was named Nova Albion by
     Sir Francis Drake, around 1780. On July 9, 1846, Captain John B.
     Montgomery renamed it Yerba Buena after this plant. It was finally
     renamed San Francisco, after Saint Francis of Assisi, on January 30,
     1847."  "Synonyms: Satureja douglasii, Micromeria douglasii"
         (Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia,

(It is interesting that both Captain W. A. Richardson and Captain 
John B. Montgomery are both given credit for naming the settlement 
Yerba Buena.)

    "Described by Linnaeus in 1831 from collections made in the
     Presidio by Chamisso around 1816, yerba buena is common and
     widespread, being usually found in shady, moist places from
     coastal bluffs to foothill woodlands."
    "Yerba buena is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), and one
     of a group of plants commonly known as savory. The savories have
     long been considered to have healing powers. Leaves of this
     aromatic herb were used by native Americans and early settlers to
     brew a pleasant tea to cure stomach ailments, for reducing fevers,
     and for treating eye infections and colds. It is widely believed
     to be an effective tonic for the digestive tract, as are many of
     the mints, and to have antiseptic properties. Branches of the herb
     were tossed on the fire to create an aromatic disinfectant.
     Indigenous peoples wrapped the stems and leaves around their
     heads to treat headache, and used it in skin washes to treat
     rashes and prickly heat. Even today, because of its pungent
     oils, it is commonly used in toothpaste and soaps.
        Savories also have a reputation as aphrodisiacs. In the first
     century A.D., the Roman naturalist and writer Pliny the Elder
     gave the herb its name "Satureja," a derivative of the word
     "satyr," the character from Greek mythology who was half-man,
     half-goat, with an insatiable sexual appetite. According to lore,
     the satyrs lived in meadows of savory, thus implying that it was
     the herb that made them passionate. In more recent times, the
     noted French herbalist Messeque claimed savory was an essential
     ingredient in the love potions he made for couples."
        (YERBA BUENA (Satureja douglasii) by Mike Wood,

     Buchanan also notes (page 59) that "Bob Helm had come up with the 
name Yerba Buena Jazz Band....".  And perhaps Helm knew that San 
Francisco was once named Yerba Buena, so that the band's name refers 
to the old name for the city, not to the plant.

     Wouldn't it be nice, and appropriate, if the Lu Watters tribute 
included some Yerba Buena tea?


**  Dan Augustine     Austin, Texas     ds.augustine at mail.utexas.edu  **
**        "Luck is the residue of design."  --  Branch Rickey         **

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