Yerba Santa – Fire Follower & Phlegm Fighter

First published Juen 29, 2018

Yerba santa – Eriodictyon californicum – is native to California and Oregon.

Its common name is Spanish for “sainted weed” or “blessed herb.”

Native people are thought to have educated the early missionaries about plant uses.

Habitat

This sun-loving plant generally grows on east or south-facing slopes. It can be found near Douglas-fir, Madrone, Ponderosa Pine, Jeffry pine,  Black, Blue, and Canyon live oaks.

Life Cycle

Seedlings and new growth – spring
Blooms – May through June
Seeds Form – late summer
Drops Seeds – fall

After two years, the plant produces rhizomes, a shallow underground stem system that helps it spread.

Fire Follower

Yerba santa produces hardy seeds. They can lay dormant for ten years or more, waiting for a fire or ground disturbance to germinate.

Glutinous resins produced by the leaves make them shiny. The resins are flammable.

Animal Feed & Honey

Black-tailed deer will eat Yerba Santa leaves early in the growth cycle when the resins are sweet. Seed capsules are consumed by small animals and birds.

Honey made from Yerba Santa flowers has an amber color and a spicy flavor.

Soil Stabilization

Yerba Santa’s shallow root and rhizomes control and stabilize soil erosion.

Human Uses

Commonly called consumptive’s weed, Yerba santa branches and leaves were historically burned in steam baths to relive tuberculosis symptoms.

Leaf compounds, included in cough medicines, dilate bronchial tubes and function as an expectorant – an agent that brings up and expels phlegm.

Yerba santa has also been used to for;

  • headache
  • colds
  • stomachache
  • asthma
  • hay fever
  • rheumatism
  • pulmonary and bronchial congestion
  • blood purifier

Applications

Leaves can be used fresh or dried in tea.

Fresh leaves can be applied to the skin (they stick). They can be rolled into balls and sun-dried. Chewing them (bitter at first, then sweet) is a natural mouthwash.

Mashed leaves can be spread over cuts, sores, and to relieve aching muscles.

Responsible Harvesting

Harvest light green, new-growth leaves from early to late summer. Only take a few from each plant, leaving the root systems intact.

 

If you liked this post, you might also like – Native Plants for Healing the Land

Resources:

Calflora – Yerba Santa

Encyclopedia of Life – Eriodictyon californicum

click on the image to see Yerba Santa Life on the Creek art

The School of Forest Medicine – Yerba Santa the Holy Herb

USDA National Resources Conservation Service – Yerba Santa Plant Guide PDF

USDA Forest Service – Yerba Santa

WebMD – Yerba Santa

Wikipedia – Eriodictyon californicum

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