Yerba Santa, is called "sacred Herb" by the Cumash Indians in California, and grows in the arid hilly areas of northern New Mexico, California, and Oregon. It is also known as Bear's Weed, Consumptive Weed, Gum Bush, and Mountain Balm. It is in the Hydrophyllaceae, or water leaf, family and regulates the water element in the body. As such, it is excellent for emotional and soul blockages and helps to release grief, despair and melancholy, which can be held in the heart and lungs.
Several other herbs also carry the distinction of being honored as "sacred Herb". It is known to be a bringer of spiritual blessing to a home if placed on the altar with a mixture of other herbs which also carry a name with "Holy" or "Blessed." Add to dried Yerba Santa some Holy Basil (Tulsi), Blessed Thistle, Cascara Sagrada, and Angelica. Matthew Wood writes, "The sanctity of psychic space is the internal property, which Yerba Santa guards."
The shrub-like plant grows to a height of from 2 feet up to 8 feet. Its white to deep blue, five-petal fluted flowers top a smooth stem in clusters. The thick yellowish leaves are covered lightly with a black resin. They are gathered in the spring and early summer and dried for medicinal preparations. They can be smoked or tinctured in alcohol, or made into an infusion. It makes a good syrup for coughs. Taken internally, it supports healthy mucosal lining and respiratory function. In Chinese meridian medicine, it is good for the lungs and spleen.
Containing flavones, it is also known as an antioxidant, boosting the whole system and counteracting fatigue. It cleanses the blood, tones the nervous system, and stimulates the mind. It works well in combination with Grindelia. Yerba Santa is, also, used for gastrointestinal issues. It is a digestive aid, improving appetite and overall digestion. Externally, as a poultice, the leaves can be crushed in a loose weave cloth, like gauze, placed in a shallow dish, and steeped in boiling water for ten minutes. Placed on the chest, it soothes tight and congested breathing. Then, the water can be drunk as an infusion. Native Americans used an infusion as a wash to help with fever. It has also been used externally to soothe mosquito bites, rashes, bruises, wounds, and sprains, the sticky leaves being used for bandages.
When burned in sacred ceremony, Yerba Santa nourishes and protects that which is wild in one's self. It can be burned when in need of encouragement and courage. Extracts are used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food, and as a flavoring in beer. It helps to disguise the unpleasant taste of quinine. It has a sweet, slightly bitter taste and has been used as a mouthwash.
There has not been a lot of good research done with humans, so most of our information has been gleaned from traditional and folk usages. It is generally regarded as safe (GRAS). The wide expanse of treatments gives a picture of the ubiquitous nature of the properties of Yerba Santa.
To make an infusion, take 1 ounce of herb and place it in a quart Mason jar and fill to the brim with boiling water. Let that steep for at least four hours (overnight is better) and strain off the liquid. You can make a tea by steeping a teaspoon in a cup of boiling water for ten minutes. Some people may have an allergy to Eriodyctyon. It may interfere with the processing of certain drugs in the body so that the level of drugs can increase in the blood stream, causing serious harmful reactions. This can also affect other herbs and supplements. It is best to take separate from pharmaceuticals.
Prema Rose Retired Midwife, Author and Freelance Writer, Filmmaker, Holistic Health Practitioner