Description and Habitat of Yerba Santa
There are several species of Yerba Santa, all native to the western United States. Eriodictyon californicum grows throughout California, southern Oregon and Baja California. It is frequently seen growing at roadsides in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Eriodictyon angusticum is found in Arizona and southwestern Utah. All species are well adapted to dry, hot climates with little rainfall. Yerba Santa grows as a bush, ranging from 6 to 8 feet in height. It has thick, lance shaped leaves that are coated with a sticky, aromatic resin, and small, pale blue or lavender flowers.
Yerba Santa has been traditionally prized by many Native American tribes as a medicinal herb. The Spanish priests, who learned about Yerba Santa from the Native Americans, named it Holy Herb because of its many healing properties. Other common names are Mountain Balm and Bear Plant.
It is best to collect Yerba Santa in the spring and early summer. The medicinal properties are primarily found in the leaves. When drying Yerba Santa, make sure there is plenty of air circulation around the leaves, because due to their sticky resinous nature, they may stick together and become moldy.
Medicinal Properites of Yerba Santa
Yerba Santa is a powerful expectorant, as well as a decongestant and bronchial dilator, making it useful for respiratory congestion due to colds, flu, bronchitis and hay fever, in addition to helping to relieve asthma symptoms. It can be used to treat mild urinary tract infections, and helps to reduce inflammation and decrease excess fluid. Externally, the fresh leaves of Yerba Santa can be made into a poultice and applied to treat abrasions, cuts, bruises and sore muscles.
Yerba Santa’s anti-inflammatory property also makes it useful as an external treatment for poison oak rash. A simple poison oak remedy can be made by combining one cup of a strong infusion of Yerba Santa, a half cup of vinegar and one and a half tablespoons of salt. Other herbs such as mugwort, grindelia and horsetail can be included in the infusion.
For internal use, make a tea by infusing a rounded tablespoon of the crushed, dried leaves in a cup of boiling water, let steep for at least ten minutes, and strain. Yerba Santa can also be made into an alcohol tincture, which is usually taken by adding 10-30 drops to a glass of water. The fresh leaves of Yerba Santa can be chewed. They have a strongly pungent, spicy flavor with a sweet aftertaste.
Contraindications and Cautions
There are no known contraindications for Yerba Santa. This information is for educational purposes only. If you have a health concern, see your health care provider.
Duke, James A. The Green Pharmacy Herbal Handbook. St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 2000.
Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West, Santa Fe, Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2003.