On Thursday, June 24, we took a fieldtrip to one of the regional parks in Riverside. Rose Ramirez, Joe Moreno, and I helped Tongva elder Barbara Drake gather yerba mansa and elderberries. We potted the salvaged yerba mansa plants, and will distribute them to Native American elders and others as part of the Preserving Our Heritage Native Foods Project. Lori Sisquoc and Barbara created the project about a year ago. If people have gardens, we’re encouraging them to grow more of the highly medicinal and beautiful yerba mansa plants. With sufficient water, yerba mansa will multiply.

Barbara dug out the first yerba mansa with a digging stick to honor the traditional Native American manner of respectfully gathering the plant. After that, we used shovels and trowels. We transferred the yerba mansa to plastic pots, and Barbara put a little pinch of tobacco in each of the pots. She described it as “putting a prayer in the pot.”

The leaves are used for medicine as well as the root, but the root is considered more powerful, according to Barbara. Yerba mansa root tea is used as a spring tonic. The root also can be chewed to relieve a sore throat, and a powdered root poultice can be applied to wounds.

Yerba mansa grows in wetland areas, some of the most endangered habitats in our region. It is definitely not a drought-tolerant plant.

In the photo above, a member of another species obviously likes the taste of the yerba mansa leaf and perhaps ingests it for medicine.

In April, I took a class with John Slattery, a Tucson herbalist of Desert Tortoise Botanicals, and we learned to make a tincture from the leaves. We also tried eating the fresh leaves, which I thought were indeed quite tasty. According to John, they’re great for the immune system.

In the Sonoran desert bioregion where John practices, herbalists use yerba mansa for gum and sinus intections, arthritis, urinary tract infections, diarrhea, and other digestive complaints.

We also gathered elderberries. Barbara advised us to pick the bluest, bluest berries. She recommended NOT eating very many raw berries.

Barbara suggested that when we returned home, we “cook them up and mash them to get the juice out, and them boil them down to make a syrup. You can use any sweetener that you want. If you eat a lot of the elderberries raw, they’ll give you a stomachache. So it’s better if you cook them” into jam, jelly, syrup, or wine.

Barbara also gave us an alternative approach if we couldn’t process the berries right away. The berries can be dried really easily. She spreads them out on an old window screen to dry, and places the window screen on a couple of sawhorses. When she’s ready to reconstitute the dried berries, she just puts a cup of water over them, mashes the berries and boils the juice down, and makes a syrup from the cooked berries.

Along the park trail, we saw this swallowtail butterfly alight upon a thistle plant. Barbara and Margie, the park ranger, do not think that it’s a native thistle, but according to Barbara, “it’s good. All those green ones we can eat. You just boil it up until it’s tender, and then just pull the top off, and the inside is like an artichoke. You eat the little tiny heart inside.”


Posted by deborah small

11 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Here Is What I Like and commented:
    I took pictures of these, and didn’t know what they were, so this post was helpful.

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  2. There are some Yerba Mansa on our (my boyfriend & I) walk, and thought they looked interesting so I took some pictures. This is interesting information, and glad I came across it. There are also elderberry trees along the walk. My brother is into herbal plants, and told me I could eat it. I waited until the colors were dark, then took a bunch (not as in a lot, but as in a bunch / gathering / grouping) off the tree and ate them. I don’t know how much is a lot, but I had no problem with a stomachache. Interesting tasting, but not too bad.

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    1. I think yerba mansa is such an amazing plant! That’s great you have a chance to observe it on you walks. And re elderberries, glad you enjoyed them. folks do warn not to eat too many raw. I have a couple of elderberry trees in my yard, but the birds manage to enjoy them before the berries get dark enough for me to eat them.

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  3. I enjoyed reading more about Yerba Mansa .We grow it at our organic farm Animas Creek Honey & Herb farm “Home of the Yerba Mansa Gardens” in Caballo New Mexico. It is an amazing plant !

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    1. deborah small July 12, 2013 at 8:29 am

      Hi Cindy and Dallas, I just looked at your website.

      Best of luck with your new Yerba mansa endeavors. I agree that it’s one amazing plant! And I really like your tea combinations.

      I’d love to visit your farm sometime in the future.

      Your fellow yerba mansa devotee, Deborah Small

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  4. Very interesting article. I didn’t realize that the leaves could be utilized raw. I will have to take a nibble next time I encounter one of these plants here in Albuquerque. I also loved your attentiveness to the leaf that had already been nibbled on by some other creature. What a great detail to be mindful of. Thanks.

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  5. […] be full of flowers, so I’m expecting ours to be more prolific in the future. The plant was/is collected by Native Americans and is popular with herbalists — it’s often compared to Goldenseal — and […]

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  6. Thank you! I’m doing a report/presentation for a Natural Medicines class on Yerba Mansa. I borrowed some of your pictures (they were the best I could find out there!) and cited you for them. I enjoyed your blog about it too!

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    1. Hi Mary, Thanks for letting me know. Good luck with your presentation! Deborah

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  7. Good info. Realized that just a ways from our house was a huge field of Yerba Mansa and was it fragrant. It was amazing. I wonder how to use the root or leaf… would making a tincture with the root be the best and using the leaf as a tea?

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  8. thank you for the info. I a new to the art of herbalism and was given a yerba mansa plant. I now know what to do with it. thanks

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