The Medicinal Plant of our Past ,Present and Future
Yerba Mansa - Fire and Water
Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica) grows in alkaline wetlands in New Mexico, Arizona, and California.
Its family, Saururaceae, has only one other member - the Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus), of Eastern and Midwestern wetlands.
Its bluish-tinged leaves resemble spinach but are thicker and heavier, and feel smooth and cool to the touch.
They become spotted with red and black in the fall, and often die back completely in winter.
The snow-white "flower" is actually a conical one-inch cluster of tiny yellow stamens and pistils hidden among white petal-like bracts (modified leaves).
Flowers bloom in spring or midsummer, and the dry, prickly reddish-brown seedpods persist for several months.
Plants propagate freely by runners, each with one or more nodes bearing new leaves and roots.
Roots are long and cordlike, white and brittle when young, becoming corky and covered in brown bark as they age.
The most distinctive feature of this plant is its clean spicy fragrance that hangs in the air over growing plants and is released when the leaves are crushed.
The smell is a bit like a combination of wild ginger and eucalyptus, and several of the aromatic constituents in these plants are present in Yerba Mansa.
MEDICINAL USE: Native Americans probably introduced this plant to early Spanish settlers, who adopted it as a revered remedio with many medicinal and even magical uses.
Grown near the house, its presence was a source of "good medicine" and protective magic.
Among modern herbalists it is gaining importance for its usefulness and low potential for toxicity. It has been compared to goldenseal, an herb with some of the same uses, but Yerba Mansa is safer and its chemistry is different. Some aromatics are present in the entire plant, and others are found only in the roots. The plant is a mild anti-inflammatory, astringent, mild diuretic, antiseptic, and anti-fungal.
EXTERNAL: The cold leaf tea has a cooling anesthetic effect. A soothing wash for blisters, insect bites, poison ivy, sunburn, and ringworm.A poultice can be made from the leaves.I simmer the whole leaves in water for approx .15 minutes,then using the tea leaf water along with the whole leaf ,I make a poultice and apply this to sore muscles/aching areas.The relief that I have experienced is phenomenal .
INTERNAL: Traditionally used for colds and chronic lung problems, cystitis, stomachache, and many other conditions. If you grow your own, you can use it in the traditional and most effective way: as a tea made from the fresh plant. Like many herbal teas, it works best when used a couple of times a day over a few days, not every day. The taste is spicy, numbing, and overwhelmingly medicinal....a refreshing comfort for some people, but an acquired taste for others. Use 2-4 leaves per cup, or the entire plant, washed and chopped. A small plant with young white roots will make about a quart of tea
Grow Your Own Yerba Mansa
yerba mansa is easy to cultivate if you live within its range (USDA Zone 8 & 9)..
Several well known native medicinal plants have become endangered through over-collecting, and many more are threatened by loss of habitat.
All are "national treasures" with ecological and cultural importance as well as medicinal value. Some are easy to cultivate!
By growing them in your garden, NOT "wildcrafting" (harvesting in the wild), you can help preserve them and learn about them while you enjoy their beauty and medicinal benefits.
PLANTING & WATERING:
Plant directly in the ground in a naturally wet area or in a small protected depression that is easy to water. Planting in a large plastic container will reduce water use and make it easier to dig the roots. Bury the container to keep the soil at a normal temperature and protect the plastic.
Fill the container with ordinary desert soil mixed with a little composted wood mulch. If you plant in full sun in midsummer, for the first few weeks you may need to cover the container with shadecloth during the hottest hours to prevent scorching. Your transplant will probably wilt or "shock", and leaves may die off. Just keep it flooded with water and soon you will see new leaves and thin red runners. By this time the soil should be kept damp, but the plants do not need to be submerged. Eventually the plants will grow to fill the container or wet area. Once the entire soil surface is shaded with leaves, water use will drop, since less is lost to evaporation. A patch that has reached this stage can be allowed to dry out completely before watering. Water the plants if the leaves begin to wilt. An established container-grown patch may need watering once a day in very hot dry weather, but only once a month or even less in winter. Overwatering causes the plants to develop giant leaves and swarms of tiny hairlike roots with little aroma. Such plants are pretty but are nearly useless as medicine and are very susceptible to heat and drought damage. For more usable and "natural" plants, it's better to let the patch lose a few leaves to drought stress, or even die back altogether in winter.Yerba mansa is a very pretty plant when used as a groundcover under the canopy of trees.
Leaves and cuttings can be taken as soon as the plants are established and producing them. Roots should be left to grow for at least a year (preferably longer) before transplanting or harvesting. Old plants develop woody, cordlike roots with brown bark. These can be air-dried or made into a root tincture.
DISCLAIMER: This information is based on personal experience. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any illness, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Do your own research. Herbs are neither completely benign nor ineffective. They are not used in the same way as prescription drugs and are not a substitute for them.