Yerba santa (Eriodictyon glutinosum and Eriodictyon californicum) is a short evergreen shrub that grows in dry, hilly areas of California and Northern Mexico. The plant, part of the Hydrophyllaceae family, grows in clusters and is approximately 3 ft (1 m) in height. The smooth stem and thick yellow leaves are covered with a resin, and the plant has blue flowers that cluster together in groups of six to 10. The leaves are 2–5 in (5–12 cm) long. The plant contains chrysocriol, eridonel, eriodictyol, formic acid, glucose, glycerides of fatty acids, homoeriodictyol, resin, tannic acids, tannins, volatile oil, and zanthoeridol. The leaves should be gathered in the spring and early summer.
Yerba santa, which literally means sacred herb in Spanish, has been used for centuries for a variety of illnesses, such as bronchitis, colds, coughs, diarrhea, and stomach aches. The Spanish came to know of its medicinal value through Native Americans, who either smoked or made infusions of yerba santa. The herb, also known as bear's weed, consumptive's weed, gum bush, and mountain balm, is still primarily used for respiratory congestion, either from acute asthma, colds, or coughs. Yerba santa has also been found effective for a number of symptoms, including gastrointestinal disorders and fatigue. When used externally for bruises, mosquito bites, or sprains, yerba santa can be applied as a poultice. The herb also used as a tonic to cleanse the blood, tone the nervous system, stimulate the mind, and control the appetite. It is also believed to enhance the action of other herbs when used in combination. It has a sweet, slightly bitter taste.
Yerba santa is best known for its use in respiratory conditions, especially when there is a lot of mucus stuck in the body. It is considered one of the best decongestants, working as an expectorant by breaking up thick mucus and facilitating its expulsion from the body. For acute colds and coughs with upper respiratory and sinus congestion, yerba santa is extremely helpful. As a muscle relaxant, yerba santa works well for asthmatics as it dilates the bronchial tubes and allows air to flow more easily into the lungs. For asthma, yerba santa is often smoked in a pipe, for instance.
At the onset of a cold, especially when there is a cough or bronchial irritation, yerba santa can eradicate or at least alleviate the symptoms.
As a sialagogue, a substance that promotes salivation, yerba santa helps digestion. The excess saliva production
Because yerba santa is a stimulant, it reduces fatigue and curbs the appetite.
For a yerba santa infusion, take 1 tbsp of the fresh or dried leaves to 1 c of boiling water and let it steep for 10 minutes. If a tincture is taken, then one dose should be from 10–30 drops, taken four times a day. If dried leaves are used, then the tincture is best with an alcohol base.
Yerba santa should not be taken by women who are pregnant or nursing. It is also an herb that should not be used by people who are suffering from chronic gastrointestinal disorders. As a stimulant, it should also be used sparingly by those who have sleep disorders or bouts of insomnia.
As a stimulant, yerba santa may cause sleeplessness and contribute to a lack of appetite.
When it is taken internally, as an infusion, tincture, or in capsule form, be aware that yerba santa can affect how iron and other minerals are absorbed into the body. Those who tend to be iron deficient may want to supplement their diets with iron while taking yerba santa. It is best to consult with a physician or other health practitioner before attempting to self-medicate.
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Tierra, Michael. The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books, 1980.
Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal. http://www.botanical.com.
Herbal Dave Homepage. http://www.herbaldave.com.
Thrive Online. http://www.thriveonline.com.
Katherine Y. Kim