Mule Fat aka Baccharis salicifolia has both male and female plants. They can be distinguished easily by their flower clusters. The female plants have flowers that look like delicate little paintbrushes. The male plant has larger, broader flower heads with spikey looking stamens protruding from them. This plant needs very little rainfall and is common in riparian areas. In our area it is a fairly common plant and can be found along most of our hiking trails. This perennial shrub can grow as high as 12 feet.
The Native Americans believed that Mule Fat leaves would cure baldness. They also used the leaves in eyewash and to cure chills. The sticks from the shrub were used to start fires as they have a low ignition temperature. They also used these sticks for spindles and shafts for hand-drills.
Other names for Mule Fat are Seepwillow, and Water Wally.
The name “Mule Fat” has a very interesting history. Prospectors would lead their mules down to the creeks and rivers and tie them to the mule fat shrubs that grew in the riparian areas. The prospectors would leave to spend their days panning for gold. Meanwhile, the mules would browse on the leaves of the Mule Fat. The Mule Fat leaves would make the mules bloat. When the prospectors would return, their mules would be FAT. By morning time, when the mules and the men would head down to the creek again, their mules would be thin again. And the process would repeat itself, day after day. That is how Mule Fat got its name.