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Yerba Santa

  • Eriodictyon californicum L.
  • Eriodictyon glutinosum
  • Hydrophyllaceae
  • Water leaf family

Common Names

herbsBear's weed
herbsConsumptive's weed
herbsGum bush
herbsGum plant (Grindelia robusta L.)
herbsMountain balm

Parts Usually Used


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Yerba santa is an evergreen shrub; it is somewhat branching and grows to a height of 2-4 feet. The stems are smooth and exude a gummy substance. Leaves are 3-4 inches long, distinctively woolly on the undersides, containing a network of prominent veins, and the resinous substance appears as if the woolly fibers have been varnished; upper surface is smooth with depressed veins. The flowers are terminal, appearing in shades of dark lavender to pale shades of lavender to white; forming funnel-shaped clusters at the top of the plant. The honey is amber, with a slightly spicy flavor. Bees love this plant. The capsule fruit is oval, grayish-brown and contains small brown shriveled seeds.

Where Found

Follow the bees and find santa yerba on dry mountain slopes and ridges in the coastal ranges and up into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada from Monterey to Tulare northward.

Medicinal Properties

Aromatic, tonic, stimulant, expectorant

Biochemical Information

Eriodictyol, homoeriodictyol, chrysocriol, zanthoeridol and eridonel. Also free formic and other acids, glycerides of fatty acids, a yellow volatile oil, a phytosterol, resin and glucose.

Legends, Myths and Stories

The name yerba santa (means "Holy weed") was given by the Spanish fathers who became aware of it through Native Americans.

The Native Americans smoked or chewed the leaves for asthma. The taste is peculiar, at first, when chewed, seems rather disagreeable, resinous, and bitter. This taste soon disappears and then tastes sweet and cooling, which is especially noticed when chewing stops a minute, or by drinking a glass of water. One Native American expressed it, "It makes one taste kind of sweety inside."


Native Americans boiled the fresh or dried leaves for colds, coughs, sore throat, catarrh, asthma, bronchitis, hayfever, congestion due to allergies, laryngitis, fever, stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhea, hemorrhoids, kidney conditions, and rheumatism. Externally, Native Americans used the fresh or dried leaves as a poultice for broken or unbroken skin, fatigued limbs, insect bites, sprains, bruises, swellings, sores, poison ivy or poison oak rashes.

Formulas or Dosages

Infusion: 1 tsp. of crushed leaves to 1 cup of boiling water, steep 30 minutes. Take 1 cup per day.

Fluid extract: mix 10 to 20 drops in liquid daily.


Yerba santa should be used in small amounts as too large doses will irritate the kidneys.

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