My first experience with yerba santa wasn’t finding it in the wilds or reading about it. It was tasting the powdered herb from a capsule. It was in the 80s and I had adopted Samuel Thomson’s idea that tasting remedies was a good way to understand them. So, I decided to taste the herb myself before reading anything about its history and uses.
Even in powdered form, I recognized its resinous and slightly warming nature, along with some bitterness and astringency. It reminded me of gumweed, a remedy I was already familiar with. I could even feel a bit of the expectorant action in it.
A native to the southwestern United States, the Spanish priests gave it the name yerba santa, because they were impressed with its utility as a respiratory remedy for treating everything from colds and coughs to serious respiratory issues like asthma, pleurisy, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. Yerba means herb; santa means holy or sacred, as in saint.
Yerba santa relaxes constriction in the chest at the same time it loosens and helps to expel phlegm, which makes it a good remedy for asthma. The Native Americans either chewed the leaves or smoked them to ease asthma and other respiratory problems.
Clearing Dampness and Congestion
Yerba santa is best used when there is a lot of mucus because it is a warming and drying expectorant. Matthew Wood says it’s for “Chronic, exhaustive, weak cough, sticky, damp mucus.” He also says it’s a good remedy when the symptoms are obscure as a dose of it helps the picture “become more focused and the solution clear.”
Flower Essence Remedy
Respiratory problems can be linked with unresolved grief and sadness and yerba santa flower essence is specifically indicated when grief and sadness are congesting breathing. I’ve seen this happen many times to people who have lost loved ones and have been unable to fully grieve and release their loss. Yerba santa flower essence eases constricted feelings in the chest and helps a person breathe freely again. So, it helps to work on some of the emotional issues that may be underlying asthma (feeling smothered), pneumonia (deep grief), and chronic cough (needing to get something off of one’s chest).
Yerba santa is also a diuretic and mild urinary antiseptic. Its bitter and aromatic nature stimulates appetite and digestion. It also has mild analgesic properties for easing rheumatic arthritis. You can also gargle with the decoction to help with laryngitis.
Like the gumweed it reminded me of when I tasted it, the astringency of yerba santa makes it a useful topical remedy for insect bites and stings, bruises, sprains, and cuts. It can also be used as a wash for poison ivy.