Yerba santa, or eriodictyon californicum, translates to the “saint herb” or the "holy herb". It’s also been called "mountain balm" and "bear plant." Yerba santa is both holy in its name and its powerful abilities.
This sacred herb can be found on dry and rocky slopes. It’s native to California and Oregon, but it thrives in many different habitats including forests and chaparral environments. Yerba santa is a low and shrubby plant, growing from 2-4 feet high. It has a smooth and resinous stem and the leaves are thick, leathery, and yellowish. It blooms small, purple flowers that carry a soft and sweet fragrance. It's pungent, sweet, bitter, astringent, warm, and dry, which make it beneficial for multiple body systems.
Functions and Indications
Yerba Santa is well-known for its affinity for the respiratory tract, but it also supports our digestion, immune system, and skin. It supports our respiratory tract by helping to expel excess mucus and supports the immune system by dislodging irritants and making coughs more productive. It’s especially helpful with a harsh, dry cough and can also help to soothe nagging, spasmodic coughs. Finally, yerba santa can open up the chest and the sinuses.
When it comes to digestion, yerba santa's bitter qualities can help to improve appetite and a sluggish digestive tract. An optimally working digestive tract is critical to skin health, making yerba santa a great herb for thriving skin. Additionally, yerba santa topically soothes skin irritations.
For medicinal uses, the dried leaf is prepared as a short decoction (infused in water) or a tincture (extracted in alcohol and/or water & glycerin). A short decoction is ideal due to its bitterness, which will increase the longer its infused. Decoctions are also ideal when the herb is being used topically to soothe the skin. Tinctured yerba santa is a great vehicle to access the beneficial constituents as alcohol helps to effectively extract them. It can also be made into a syrup, which is great when being used to support a cough. It's just sweet enough to still have a pleasant flavor.
Folklore and Energetics
On a less scientific note, yerba santa has have been known to have feminine energy and to promote physical beauty, especially when bathed in. Tribes in California, Arizona, and Nevada have used it in herb bundle sticks used to smudge for purification and protection for all that is ancient and sacred.
Whether its beauty or breaths, scared yerba santa is here to support and soothe!
Rebecca Younger is passionate about herbs and women's health. She aspires to plant seeds of inspiration within her community about plant medicine and healthier ways of life. She studied Herbal Medicine at Herbalism Roots in Denver and is a certified Doula through the Matrona Foundation. She is the customer journey lead at WishGarden Herbs.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.