Yerba Santa: At a Glance
Yerba santa is a unique herb made from the leaves of the yerba santa shrub, part of the waterleaf family. It has several other names, including eriodictyon, consumptive’s weed, bear’s weed, gum plant, tarweed, and mountain balm.
Yerba santa can add an unusual balsamic flavor to foods and beverages. It is also a common herbal cough syrup additive, as its pleasant taste disguises other less palatable medicinal remedies.
More than just a delicious herb, yerba santa is thought to have its own healing properties. The leaves are high in mucilage, an edible substance that helps the plant store the water and food it needs to survive in its harsh, dry environment. Mucilage forms a protective film in the human body, which relieves irritated mucus membranes.
Yerba santa stays freshest when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry environment.
Cooking with Yerba Santa
Fresh yerba santa leaves have a bitter taste and an unpleasant leathery texture. While grazing livestock and wildlife don’t mind them, yerba santa leaves are much better dried because they develop an appealing balsamic taste.
Traditionally, yerba santa is boiled down into tea. Add a teaspoon of yerba santa to 8 ounces of boiling water. Let your tea steep for at least 30 minutes to dissolve the resin that coats the leaves. While yerba santa has a very pleasant taste on its own, you may like to add honey for some extra sweetness. While there’s no caffeine in yerba santa, the herbal tea is a mild stimulant.
When taking yerba santa for medicinal purposes, you can use alcohol to extract the maximum benefits from the dried herbs. Add 3 teaspoons of yerba santa to a cup of vodka, brandy, or an alcoholic spirit of your choice. Tip the solution into a Mason jar. Let the mix steep for at least a month, shaking it twice daily. Then strain the solution into dropper bottles. Natural health practitioners recommend taking one dropper filled with the solution three times a day, as required.
Yerba santa also makes a great seasoning. Simply sprinkle the herb directly onto meat or into sauces and stews to add its unique flavor to your dish. The fresh leaves also make a great substitute for tamale wrappers in your favorite Mexican meals.
Yerba Santa: History and Origination
Native Americans who lived in the areas where yerba santa grew wild, such as the Chumash and Cahuilla people, were the first to harness its spiritual and medicinal powers. They burned the herbs to increase their psychic powers, honor their ancestors, protect their health, and ensure their safety.
These Native American tribes also ate the shrub’s leaves or infused them in hot teas to treat coughs, colds, tuberculosis, and asthma. The leaves were used either fresh or dried. They were often ground down into a powder to break up mucus or used in a lotion to reduce fevers. A poultice of fresh yerba santa leaves was spread over bruises to reduce their severity. These sticky, fresh leaves were even used to seal wounds, much like a bandage. A topical application of fresh, young leaves was thought to ease the symptoms of rheumatism.
When Spanish priests settled in these regions, the Native Americans shared their wisdom with them. Impressed by the herb’s medicinal benefits, the priests called the herb “yerba santa,” the Spanish words for “holy weed” or “holy herb.”
Cultivation of Yerba Santa
The yerba santa shrub is native to the southwestern parts of the United States, including California and Arizona, and the northern parts of Mexico. It will happily grow in a variety of different habitats, including coastal redwood forests, shrubby chaparral areas, and arid mountain slopes.
While yerba santa is an evergreen plant, its leaves are typically harvested in the early summer, when their resin content is highest (the more resinous the leaves, the more potent the herbs). Yerba santa leaves grow to around 6 inches long. Once harvested, the leaves are dried immediately for preservation.
Yerba santa grows best in dry conditions, although it doesn’t seem to mind whether it is in the shade or full sun. It prefers sandy soil with good drainage. When fully grown, yerba santa shrubs typically stand between three and 10 feet tall.
While mature yerba santa are hardy, young plants require some care. Experts suggest planting yerba santa seeds in a greenhouse in the spring and keeping them in this indoor environment for at least their first winter. Once a yerba santa seedling is established, it can be replanted into a larger pot in the late spring or early summer.
About Our Yerba Santa
Our yerba santa is proudly sourced from farms in the United States of America. This means that, when you choose Burma Spice yerba santa, you’re also supporting our local farmers and their work.