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.”