With the exception being the poor quality image to the left, images for this plant are unobtainable for reuse without breaking copyright laws. To see a better collection of photos please go to UC Berkeley’s CalPhotos site. Please feel free to contact me with any images that better capture the form of this plant.
Yerba Santa, Holy Weed, Mountain Balm, Consumptive’s Weed and Bear Weed
Distribution and Habitat
E. californicum can be found in Foothills and Mountains, Chaparral, and Redwood forests as well as in urban and cultivated areas below 5,500 ft elevation. Mostly found in Northern California. The species E. trichocalyx is found in Southern California.
Description of Plant
This is an aromatic shrub which sheds bark and has a weedy growth habit. The leaves are alternate and have a leather-like texture and are commonly toothed. The tops of the leaves are sticky while the underneath is a lighter color. Flowers are produced in branched cymes and can be white to purple. The flowers are horned shaped and tubular with five lobes and five stamens. This plant blooms May to July.
It can be propagated by division as this plant grows by rhizomes.
Description of Plant Uses
The Spaniards called this plant Yerba Santa or ‘Holy Weed’.
Today, E. californicum is used by the food and pharmaceutical companies to mask the bitter properties of different foods and drugs. It is also used as a habitat and restoration plant and in fire resistant landscapes.
Tea was made by tearing 2-3 leaves (either fresh or dried) and steeping them in boiling water. Chewing the fresh leaves also produced a refreshing taste in the mouth soon after the initial bitterness dissipated and is said to quench a persons thirst and is therefore valuable on the trail.
Ethnobotany / Medicinal Uses
The plant can be used to cure poison oak rashes. The leaves are boiled and turned into a thick concentrate which is then applied to the skin as hot as the person can bear. After only one application the rash will disappear in only one to two days.
It has also been used as a cure for colds and asthma. The flowers, which appear in Summer, and the leaves were used in teas for stomach aches, sore throats, fever, colds, coughs, congestion, fatigue and rheumatism. It was also smoked like a tobacco plant. The leaves were also warmed as a poultice for sores and aches.
Mashed leaves were applied to areas which were wounded such as cuts and abrasions as well as on areas with broken bones to reduce swelling. It was also used for pain relief. It was used by both the Native Americans and then later adopted by the Spaniards.
Additional Resources or References