Is your body ecology making you sick? Then allow me to introduce Yerba Mansa, a paleoherb and mythical healer that can restore your body ecology in any season, and whose ancient lineage of wisdom goes back innumerable generations.
It is a beautiful day on the Rio Grande, as one might expect in sunny New Mexico with its low humidity and over 300 days of annual sunshine. They don’t call it the Land of Enchantment for nothing and it’s a place where I can breathe… A place where sage, piñon, chaparral and cedar scented air calls me back year after year, as does its medicinal herbs. One of these herbs is Yerba Mansa, a mythical plant of extraordinary beauty growing along the Rio and as enchanted as the landscape itself.
Yerba Mansa whose botanical name is Anemopsis californica, is a perennial herb in the Lizard’s tail family of plants, Saururaceae, named for its tell-tale flower cluster. It is a medicinal herb used traditionally in New Mexico, the knowledge of which has been passed down from generation to generation. I was initially introduced to this plant while living in the Southwest by the late and renowned herbalist, Michael Moore, Founder of the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine. Yerba Mansa continues to be a very important ally in my practice of herbal medicine.
A riparian wetland plant, Yerba Mansa can be found growing in the rapidly dwindling riparian habitats of northern Mexico and the American Southwest. Riparian ecosystem environments are some of the most altered and threatened habitats around the world due to human civilizations settling and building along the rivers.
Yerba Mansa is a paleoherb, a small group of flowering plants having evolved over a very long period of time and one of the first flowering herbs that existed on earth. With iconic large white flowers that bloom in the spring, Yerba Mansa is much sought after for fresh and dried arrangements and emits a spicy fragrance due to its volatile oils. The plant is also used for deer resistant landscaping around bogs and ponds and for ground cover in lawns and gardens. As such it provides an above average per acre gross income for small-scale farmers, but is on the United Plant Savers “watch-list,” as its native habitat continues to decline.
To best understand how this plant works as a medicine we have only to look at the role that it plays in its own living system and where it occurs naturally. In the wild Yerba Mansa’s roots enhance the wet boggy earth by absorbing and distributing water through nearly impenetrable clay like soil. The volatile roots add an anti-microbial and purifying element to the damp, boggy and slow-moving ecosystem of the Rio Grande Bosque, changing the soil chemistry and creating a more favorable environment for the growth of other plants which further anchor and aerate the soil.
The part of the plant most commonly used for medicine is the root and by observing it in the wild we are informed of its similar functions in our own bodily ecosystem. When our body becomes boggy, stagnant, wet and slow moving, a condition in Chinese Medicine described as “dampness,” Yerba Mansa penetrates through that to encourage the flow of stagnant fluids, revitalizing the entire system and using its chemical constituents to change microbial balances in our favor. The concept of dampness is related to a deficiency of the spleen’s function of transporting and transforming bodily fluids and corresponds with the Earth Element.
Earth forms the banks of the river through which the river’s flow is directed, but boggy river banks will eventually wash away creating stagnant pools. Just like in nature, these stagnant pools of fluid in our bodies become fertile breeding ground for microbes. Yerba Mansa dries dampness and safeguards against microbial imbalances and infections. It helps move toxins out and rids the body of excess uric acid, which causes painful inflammation of the joints. It also tones and tightens mucous membranes and is especially useful during cold and flu season.
Yerba Mansa gets its reputation as a mythical herb because of its legendary ability to support a wide array of conditions including: chronic inflammatory conditions so prevalent today; digestive disorders including digestive, intestinal and urinary tract inflammation; mucous-producing colds and flu, sore throats, sinus infections, and fungal infections like athlete’s foot and jock itch that thrive in warm, damp and dark areas.
In a study on cultivating Anemopsis, conducted by Charles Martin, assistant professor at NMSU College of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Science, he is quoted as saying:
“This plant has thrived in environments that cause stress on its system and under stress the plant produces secondary compounds that give it its medicinal qualities. The plant produces these compounds as a protective mechanism, just as the human must be introduced to situations where the immune system will produce antibodies in response to mild infections which in turn strengthen the immune system.”
When we support our immune system, and allow the body to do what it is designed to do rather than weakening it through symptom suppression and antibiotics, we create a healthier and more balanced body ecology. Working more closely with nature by observing its patterns of harmony and disharmony we may discover herbs like Yerba Mansa which, in addition to its strong antibacterial and antifungal properties, supports our body’s ecosystem making us less reliant on drugs.
Native Americans and Hispanics who have used this herb for centuries throughout the Southwest also affectionately call it Yerba del Manso, yerba being the Spanish word for “herb,” and mansa meaning “meek.” There is also some speculation that manso is short for remanso, meaning backwater, the area where the plant thrives.
If it is true that the meek shall inherit the earth, then perhaps, if we humble ourselves to the wisdom of nature, honor the ancestors who shared their knowledge with us, and protect the fragile habitats that give us our medicine like the elders who came before us carrying this herb, then we shall indeed be worthy of inheriting the earth so that we may also pass it down. The next seven generations are depending on it. May it continue…
Parts used: Root
Actions: Astringent, antiseptic, antifungal, antimicrobial, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-rheumatic, tonic
Energetics/Flavor: Acrid, bitter, warm, aromatic, drying
Indications: Chronic inflammatory conditions, digestive disorders, skin issues, urinary infections, mucus-producing colds and sore throats, sinus infections, hemorrhoids, oral healthcare, fungal infections, diarrhea, colitis.
Contraindications: No known contraindications
Preparation: May be used as an infusion, tincture, steam distilled oil, or dried root powder. Extracts best in alcohol and water.
Dosage: Use as directed on label or by your health care practitioner. Tincture can be applied directly to skin for fungal infections. Dental Care: 20 drops of tincture in 2 oz. water and use as a rinse and/or mouthwash for thrush, or yeast infections of the mouth and mouth sores. Nasal Spray, rinse or gargle: 20 drops of tincture in 2 oz. water for sinus infection, nasal congestion and sore throat.
Note: Yerba Mansa’s antimicrobial workings are supported by research that confirms its activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Geotrichim candidum as well as five species of mycobacterium known to cause skin, pulmonary, and lymphatic infections. Recent research also suggests that extracts of Yerba Mansa inhibit the growth and migration of certain types of cancer including two breast cancer cell lines, HCT-8, and colon cancer cells. See references below.
Available as a tincture from Herb Pharm and Artemisia Herbs. I always purchase a fresh supply of Artemisia Herbs’ Yerba Mansa at Cid’s Market in Taos on my regular pilgrimages and herb gathering expeditions back to New Mexico.
Founded in 1992, Artemisia Herbs is deeply informed by the intelligence of the plants themselves and prides themselves in the history of a bioregional, sustainable herbal company that inspires, supports and benefits all those who it reaches. Artemisia carefully blends by hand in small batches, working together to craft products which maintain an energetic integrity from farm to medicine. Herbs are sourced primarily from a family owned farm in Dixon, NM, and backyard growers and wildcrafters who care intimately for the plants they grow and harvest. You can meet them at the Downtown Grower’s Market on Saturdays throughout the Fall in Albuquerque and at the Santa Fe Farmer’s Market year-round. https://artemisiaherbsnm.com/
Learn more about the Earth Element through Thea’s class at Wise Woman University on line at: Indian Summer: Nourishing the Earth Element
Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide by Thomas Avery Garran
The Body Ecology Diet: Recovering Your Health and Rebuilding Your Immunity, by Donna Gates and Linda Schatz
Native Southwest medicine herb could become a New Mexico cash crop: http://newscenter.nmsu.edu/Articles/view/3965
Albuquerque Herbalism: Ecological Herbalism, https://albuquerqueherbalism.com/tag/anemopsis/
Yerba Mansa: An Important Medicine Plant, https://www.voyagebotanica.net/blogs/yerba-mansa-anemopsis-californica/64470019-yerba-mansa-an-important-medicine-plant
Chemotypic Variation of Essential Oils in Medicinal Plant, Anemopsis californica, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2330197/
Andrea L. Medina, Mary E. Lucero, Omar F. Holguin, Rick E. Estell, Jeff J. Posakony, Julian Simon, Mary A. O’Connell, Composition and antimicrobial activity of Anemopsis californica leaf oil, Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 53 (2005): 8694-8698
Robert O. Bussey, Arlene A. Sy-Cordero, Mario Figueroa, Frederick S. Carter, Joseph O. Falkinham, Nicholas H. Oberlies, Nadja Cech, Antimycobacterial Furofuran Lignans from the Roots of Anemopsis californica, Planta Medica 80 (2014): 498-501
Amber L. Daniels, Severine Van Slambrouck, Robin K. Lee, Tammy S. Arguello, James Browning, Michael J. Pullin, Alexander Kornienko, Wim F. A. Steelant, Effects of extracts from two Native American plants on proliferation of human breast and colon cancer cell lines in vitro, Oncology Reports 15 (2006): 1327-1331.
Yerba Mansa Project: http://yerbamansaproject.org/project-overview/
Interview with Dara Saville: https://basmati.com/2017/10/05/chat-healer-dara-albuquerque-herbalism