Yerba Santa, which also is known as Sacred or Holy Herb, Consumptive's Weed, Bear's Weed, Mountain Bush, Gum Bush, or Mountain Balm, is an evergreen plant that is anywhere from 2 to 4 feet (about 61 cm to 1.2 m) in height. Its primary characteristics are thick, rubbery leaves and lavender-colored flowers. The leaves, flowers, and syrup of the Yerba Santa plant often are used medicinally for various respiratory ailments such as asthma. This plant usually can be found growing in bunches on dry hills in Northern Mexico and California.
The stem of Yerba Santa is smooth and branches out close to the ground. A glutinous resin covers the stem, as well as the upper areas of the plant. The thick, leathery leaves have a dark green color to them. Toughness of the leaves allow the plant to conserve water inside them, thus keeping the plant hydrated in its dry environment.
Yerba Santa flowers are delicate in appearance, and grow in tubular clusters of six to ten each at the top of the plant. Their main source of pollination comes from butterflies. Some people who use the flowers for spiritual purpose believe that the tubular shapes of the flowers emulate the process of the descent of the soul into its deepest origins. The blooming season depends on elevation, which can be anywhere from 2,000 to 3,500 feet (about 610 m to 1.07 km), but it typically runs from May to July.
As an herb, Yerba Santa is used as an expectorant for congestion and coughs, in that it can help in getting rid of phlegm. It also is able to open up the bronchial tubes, which can make it an effective remedy for allergy or asthma attacks. Remedies usually are given in the form of Yerba Santa tea, syrup, tincture, or smoke made from the flowers and leaves of the plant.
This plant originally was used by Native American healers. After many centuries, it began to be used by Spanish settlers. Many Native Americans consider this plant to be among the most beneficial for people who have problems with melancholy, depression, despair, or grief. Spiritually, some believe that these emotions manifest themselves as the respiratory problems that Yerba Santa is used to treat.
The Spanish have used this plant as an altar offering by way of curandismo, which is a form of Mexican magical arts and herbal healing. On an altar, its dried leaves often are mixed with other plants such as Angelica, Sacred Bark, and Blessed Thistle. The offering usually is given to bring spiritual help to a home.