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Yerba Santa

Eriodictyon californicum

Herbs gallery - Yerba Santa



Common names

  • Bear's Weed
  • Consumptive's Weed
  • Gum Bush
  • Mountain Balm
  • Tarweed
  • Yerba Santa

The yerba santa is a muggy aromatic shrub that grows round the year. The shrub normally grows up to a height of eight feet or 2.5 meters and bears slender spear shaped leaves. The leaves of the yerba santa shrub are green and glossy on the upper side and covered with fine white hairs underneath. The shrub bears whitish or blue colored flowers in bunches that resemble the trumpets.

Interestingly, the early Spanish settlers in America, who learnt about the herb's therapeutic benefits from the Native Americans, named the shrub yerba santa meaning the holy weed. According to convention, the Native Americans permeated the leaves of yerba santa in hot water and took the substance to treat ailments like coughs, colds, sore throats, asthma and mucus. While the infusion prepared with the yerba santa leaves was also used as a wash or bath to alleviate fever, poultices prepared with crushed leaves of the shrub were applied externally to treat different types of pains. Incidentally, the Eclectic Medical Journal published an article on the uses of the yerba santa in 1875, while, in 1894, the shrub was listed in the Pharmacopoeia of the United States granting the approval of its therapeutic use.

Parts used

Leaves.

Uses

As aforementioned, yerba santa is an undersized perennial shrub that is native to the arid hilly regions of southern California as well northern Mexico. Natives of America either smoked or chewed the yerba santa leaves in the form of a cure for asthma. In effect, this shrub continues to be used by aficionados for bronchial congestion, hay fever and asthma. Yerba santa offers several other health benefits too.

Yerba santa is known to ease irritating cough, facilitate in clearing phlegm from the chest as well as alleviate congestion caused by allergies. In effect, yerba santa may be employed either in the form of a dehydrated herb or an extract. In order to use a dehydrated herb, blend one tablespoonful of yerba santa in 8 ounces of tepid water and consume one cup (250 ml) of the solution every day. Yerba santa actually denoted the ‘holy weed' and the Spanish missionaries gave this name to the herb when the Native Indian tribes introduced them to the several health benefits offered by it. Besides being effective in treating problems related to the bronchi, yerba santa has traditionally been employed in the form of a tonic to increase appetite as well as a digestive stimulant.

In earlier times, yerba santa was also utilized in the form of a poultice to treat acne and sores. Native tribes in America also employed this herb in the form of an anti-inflammatory agent as well as to cure colds, rheumatism and allergic reactions. New studies undertaken with yerba santa have brought forth as many as 12 latest flavonoids, which have demonstrated potential as being anti-cancerous, and it is believed that this shrub may also possess chemo-protective attributes.

The yerba santa is a fragrant herb with an enjoyable sweet taste. The herb is considered to be a precious expectorant (a medicine that cures coughs) and is used to cure ailments like tracheitis, bronchitis and asthma. It is also useful in treating all similar respiratory tract disorders.

Herbal medicinal practitioners recommend the yerba santa or medicines prepared with it or its extracts to treat bronchial and laryngeal problems. In addition, in combination with other herbs such as Grindelia robusta, yerba santa is also effective in curing insistent pulmonary infections, hay fever and asthma. The use of the herb is also recommended for treating disorders like hemorrhoids (painful varicose veins in the anus canal) and also for catarrh of the gallbladder. The herb is widely used as a bitter tonic as well as a balsamic expectorant and mostly to cover up the horrible experience of quinine. While aromatic syrup prepared with the herb is best to use with quinine, many people smoke the yerba santa leaves to treat asthma.

Yerba santa is a well-known home remedy from the south-western region of North America, where people regard this herb to be particularly effective in the form of an expectorant. In fact, yerba santa forms an active ingredient of several patented cough remedies. The leaf of this tonic herb, which has a pleasing aromatic taste, helps to bring out phlegm and also reduce fevers. In fact, a steam bath prepared using the branches and leaves of yerba santa has been traditionally used to cure rheumatism. A bitter tea prepared with the leaves of yerba santa has also been utilized in the form of an astringent stimulant as well as an invigorating soothing or healing expectorant. In addition, a decoction prepared with yerba santa leaves has been employed in the form of a rinse for painful areas and tender exhausted limbs. The leaves of this shrub can be rolled to form balls and dried up in the sun to prepare a natural mouthwash. Subsequently, these dried leaf balls of yerba santa are chewed. Initially, they have a bitter or astringent taste, but this flavour soon changes into sweet taste akin to drinking sugary water. Generally, the leaves of yerba santa are picked during the summer, dried out and stored for use when needed afterward.

Other medical uses
Culinary uses

In addition to its therapeutic utilities, yerba santa also has culinary uses. The fresh leaves of this shrub are chewed for their energizing flavour as well as to ease thirst. The fresh or dried up leaves of the herb may also be used to prepare a sweet, fragrant tea. An extract obtained from yerba santa leaves is also employed in the form of a flavouring agent in sweets, baked foods, soft drinks and ice cream.

Habitat and cultivation

The yerba santa is indigenous to the California and Oregon regions in the United States and is also found in the northern parts of neighbouring Mexico. The herb grows naturally and thrives on arid mountain slopes. The yerba santa normally grows at altitudes of approximately up to 4000 feet or 1200 meters above the sea level.

In order to flourish well, yerba santa needs to be grown in a place receiving total sunlight as well as a sandy soil with proper drainage. This shrub is unable to endure the climatic conditions in the relatively colder regions of North America, but is able to put up with temperatures as low as roughly -5ºC. Perhaps this shrub thrives best when it is grown against a wall receiving full sunlight. In case the plant needs to be pruned, you ought to maintain it within limits and early spring or summer is probably the best time to carry out the pruning. It is advisable not to cut the wood back that is over two years old. Yerba santa is extraordinary for the coating of a resin akin to varnish, which swathes the upper surface of the leaves. The undergrowth of yerba santa is extremely fragrant.

Yerba santa is propagated by its seeds that are sown in a greenhouse in spring. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently to be handled, prick them out individually and plant them in separate pots. It is advisable that you grow the young plants in a greenhouse at least for their first winter and plant them in their permanent positions outdoors during the later part of spring or early summer next year.

Constituents

The five main elements of the yerba santa comprise phenolic bodies, flavonoids (eriodictyol), homoeriodictyol, chrysocriol, eridonel and zanthoeridol. Chemical analysis of the yerba santa has further confirmed that the herb contains free formic and other acids, glycerides of fatty acids, yellow colored unstable oil, a phytosterol, some amount of resin, volatile oil, and some glucose. The herb is balsamic and sweetish to taste and later unpleasantly pungent, but not sour. The substance reminds one of dulcamara (a homeopathic remedy prepared from the woody nightshade) and is used to enhance the secretion of saliva. The herb has an aromatic essence and bears leaves that are fragile when dehydrated, but supple in a warm and humid atmosphere. The Eriodictyon Californicum has been officially approved by the United States Dispensary for medical use.

Side effects and cautions

People taking yerba santa for therapeutic purposes or intend to take it ought to be aware of the herb's potential adverse effects. Yerba santa is strictly prohibited for pregnant women as well as nursing mothers. In addition, use of this herb may have an effect on the absorption of iron as well as other minerals by the body.

How it works in the body

Yerba santa encloses chemical compounds, which are believed to slacken off mucus present in the chest and, at the same time, augment the flow of urine.

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