Ceanothus Flower


Our mountains sprayed with soap suds? Yes indeed! Ceanothus is our unique “Soap Bush” in Santa Barbara. The flowers create a foamy cleansing suds that rivals the most expensive and natural face cleanser on the market.

ceaonthus 3

Chumash use this lovely flower as a wash for blemishes and for good reason.  The flowers contain naturally occurring sapponins which suds up into a foamy lather.


Two species of Ceanothus (in the Buckthorn family) grace our mountainsides with their blooms: Starting to flower usually in February is Big Pod Ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus).

big pod ceanothus

Its tiny prolific sprigs of white to very light lavender flowers fill the air with a clean fresh scent and dust the mountains with what looks like light snow fall.  A hike on a trail bordered by Big Pod is an unforgettable experience and a delight to the senses. bigpod

After the Big Pod has flowered and is turning to seed the Greenbark (Ceanothus spinosus and also known as California Lilac) begins to bloom soft sky blue to light blue flowers with less scent.


The flowers are tiny, just a millimeter or so, but in large clumps.

Greenbark (known as washiko to the Chumash) is a large bush, 6 to 18 feet tall, with dark green shiny one veined leaves.  The most striking feature of this bush is its olive green smooth bark.

greenbark bark

Big Pod Ceanothus (known as sekh to the Chumash) has very rough grey bark, olive green leaves that are thick and stiff with white flowers and is distinguished from other white and lavender flowered Ceanothus by its alternating leaves (versus opposite.) ).Ceanothus means “spiny plant” in Greek.

big pod 2 ceaothus

Collect the Ceanothus in February and March when in full bloom and use fresh or dried.

ceanothus in dish

To make soap simple rub a teaspoonful or flowers between your hands with a little water until lather is formed.




Timbrook, Jan. 2007. Chumash Ethnobotany.. Heyday Books, Berkely.