Plant Profile: Yerba Mansa
Also, Known As:
- Lizard’s Tail
- Queue de Lézard
- Swamp Root
- Yerba Mansa
- Yerba Manza
Usually, the yerba mansa, scientific name Anemopsis californica, is depicted as a perennially growing herb. Native to the United States, this herb grows most actively during the spring and summer. The foliage of this plant is green and it produces unremarkable white blooms along with plenty of prominent brownish fruits or seeds. The yerba mansa produces maximum blooms at the onset of spring while the fruits and seeds are produced from the beginning of spring to the end of the season.
The yerba mansa is found growing in stands in marshes and boggy swamps, along river banks. For instance, this herb is found growing naturally along the Colorado River and downstream into some places in Mexico like Chihuahua and Sonora. This plant does not grow very tall and bears smoothed and slightly juicy leaves whose length may vary from 3 inches to 6 inches. The leaves grow right from the base of the plant. The blooms of yerba mansa bear a resemblance to coneflowers. However, unlike coneflowers, the blooms of yerba mansa have white spikes and bracts at their base. Like eucalyptus, this plant is very aromatic. The green foliage of the plant changes to brick red during fall.
The leaves of yerba mansa have a shade of blue and they bear a resemblance to those of spinach. However, unlike the spinach, yerba mansa leaves are heavier as well as thicker, while they feel cool and smooth when touched. During the fall, the leaves of this herb develop reddish and black spots and usually they die completely or wither away in winter.
Yerba mansa blooms have snow-white hue with yellow stamens and pistils that are concealed in white bracts (petal-like modified leaves). These flowers appear in conical one-inch clusters. The flowers of this low-growing plant usually bloom in spring or the middle of summer. The blooms easily become desiccated producing reddish-brown spiky seedpods that remain on the plants for many months.
Yerba mansa plants readily propagate through an asexual method, as their runners give rise to new plants, each having one or several nodes that produce new leaves as well as roots. The white roots of this plant are long and threadlike. When young the roots are brittle and become corky and develop bark that covers them when they mature.
The clean spicy aroma of yerba mansa is the most characteristic attribute of this herb. This fragrance is always in the air when near the plants and is emitted more potently when their leaves are squashed. The aroma released by yerba mansa leaves is somewhat similar to a blend of eucalyptus and wild ginger. In fact, many aromatic elements present in eucalyptus and wild ginger are also found in the yerba mansa leaves.
Plant Parts Used:
Root, bark, seeds.
Indigenous tribes in California, the Great Basin as well as the Southwest – including Kawaiisu, Pima, Wukchumni Yokuts and Paiute, employed the roots of yerba mansa for therapeutic purposes. In fact, a number of Native Americans continue to collect this herb for various uses even to this day. For instance, the people belonging to the Kawaiisu tribe boil the yerba mansa roots to prepare a decoction, which is taken hot internally to treat colds and cough. Similarly, the Tubatulabal inhabiting southern California also drank this root decoction for treating cold. On the other hand, members of the Kamia tribe that inhabited the Imperial Valley pounded the dry yerba mansa seeds in the mortar and cooked the powdered seeds in the form of a mush in a pot and consumed it as a meal. They also baked the powdered yerba mansa seeds in hot ashes to make bread.
Members of the native Yokut community pulverized the dry yerba mansa roots and steeped them in water and drank this water to treat stomach disorders. On the other hand, the Costanoan prepared a decoction from the plant’s roots and used the formulation to treat menstrual cramps as well as to alleviate various types of pain. Earlier, they also prepared a tea from the root of the herb and used it for washing sores. They also dried the whole herb, pulverized it into a powdered form, which was showered over wounds to prevent them from being infected. Cahuilla people peeled the yerba mansa roots, cut them into small pieces, compressed and boiled them to prepare a decoction, which was drunk for curing pleurisy. They also prepared an infusion that was used to treat an assortment of problems, including colds, stomach ulcers, and chest congestion.
Earlier, many Native Americans harvested the root bark of yerba mansa in autumn and boiled it till the color of the resultant solution turned to that of deep red wine and drank it to treat ulcers. They also applied the solution topically to clean open sores. Members of the Moapa Paiute community also boiled the leaves of this herb in large amounts of water and used it for bathing, as they believed that it helped to alleviate sore feet and muscular pains. The Shoshone people pounded the roots and boiled them to prepare a poultice for treating swellings. They also made a decoction that was used in the form of an antiseptic wash.
Yerba mansa roots were boiled to prepare a tea that was drunk to cure a stomach ache, in addition to using it extensively as a tonic for general weakness, especially after suffering from colds. In the Southwest, the Pima prepared an infusion from the dried roots of the herb and consumed it for treating colds. In addition, they chewed yerba mansa roots and swallowed them for treating coughs. The Pima people also prepared a decoction with the dry roots and used it for the same purpose. Early settlers from Spain, who inhabited California, employed yerba mansa in the form of an emolument for treating skin complaints. They also prepared a tea from the herb’s roots for treating blood disorders.
Perhaps the Native Americans were responsible for introducing yerba mansa to the early settlers from Spain, who, in turn, adopted this herb as a sacrosanct remedy having several therapeutic and possibly even some magical uses.
When grown close to one’s house, this herb acts as a wonderful source of medicine and is also believed to offer protective magic.
While yerba mansa was widely used by the Native Americans and even the early settlers, the popularity and use of the herb decreased over the years. However, the herb is gradually gaining in popularity, as present-day herbalists have been using it more for its effectiveness as well as its lower potential toxicity. Some herbalists have even compared yerba mansa to goldenseal – another herb that is used for similar therapeutic purposes. However, compared to goldenseal, yerba mansa is safer and has an entirely different chemistry. The entire plant encloses a number of aromatic compounds while there are others that are only present in its roots. Yerba mansa possesses antiseptic, astringent, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and mildly diuretic properties.
The traditional use of yerba mansa includes treating colds as well as chronic problems related to the lungs, stomach ache, cystitis, and several other health conditions. People who grow this herb in their gardens are able to employ it for its traditional uses effectively. They can collect the roots of the plant fresh and prepare a medicinal tea from them.
Similar to many other herbal teas, the infusion made from yerba mansa roots works excellently when you drink it a few times daily for some days, but not for a prolonged period. The tea prepared from yerba mansa has a spicy flavor and it numbs the senses somewhat. Most importantly, this herbal tea possesses important therapeutic properties and is very refreshing for many people, while there are others who say that the tea has an acquired taste. To prepare the tea, take two to four leaves of the herb or even the whole plant and wash it properly. Chop the plant into small pieces. In fact, if you are using a small yerba mansa plant with tender white roots, you can prepare roughly one quart of tea.
Yerba root infusion can be drunk in the form of a diuretic for treating rheumatic conditions, such as gout, as it helps the body to remove all excess uric acid, which is responsible for the excruciating inflammation at the joints. Internal use of yerba mansa helps to check the development of uric acid crystals inside the kidneys, which, if untreated, may result in kidney stones. The anti-inflammatory effect of this herb makes it a wonderful remedy for arthritis as well as various other inflammatory conditions.
A tea prepared from yerba mansa roots is used in the form of a douche to treat venereal sores, to check excessive bleeding after childbirth and also to treat uterine cancer. In fact, yerba mansa has various different medicinal uses during and after childbirth. Taking a sitz bath with one teaspoon of yerba mansa tincture in about one quart of water facilitates perineum healing following episiotomy or tearing during childbirth. In addition to the above-mentioned attributes of yerba mansa, the herb is also anti-fungal. The dried roots are pounded into powder, which is sprinkled on infected body areas with a view to alleviating diaper rash or athlete’s foot.
Yerba mansa is an extremely resourceful herb, which can be used in different forms – drank in the form of a herbal tea, used as an infusion, and tincture or even dried and taken in the form of capsules. At the same time, this herb can be used topically for bathing infected or inflamed body areas. You can even dry the roots, pulverize it into a powder and use it as a dusting powder or for sprinkling over open wounds and sores.
Yerba mansa is an extremely aromatic and warming herb, with a spicy flavor – similar to those of myrrh and bayberry. This herb is mainly used in the form of a general stimulant for mucous membranes. These attribute of yerba mansa makes it a wonderful substitute for goldenseal (scientific name Hydrastis Canadensis). It has been found that extracts obtained from this herb work on the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and the body’s genitourinary (genital and urinary organs) mucous membranes. Yerba mansa possesses astringent, antimicrobial and stimulant properties that are beneficial for people who are suffering from congested mucous membranes.
In fact, yerba mansa extracts are especially beneficial in treating sub-acute as well as chronic conditions, which involve unsolved imbalances that persist – for instance, chronic cough as well as persistent dampness and mucus in the lungs. When these extracts are used, they work to rush additional blood to as well as stimulate the immune cells in the tissues to facilitate the healing process. The astringent action of yerba mansa helps to augment the integrity of the tissues and controls secretions. At the same time, the stimulating or tonic actions of yerba mansa helps to get rid of the wastes accumulated in the cells and tissues and increase the supply of oxygen and nutrients to reinforce the healing membranes which were not being healed as desired.
Yerba mansa is effective for treating problems related to the sinuses such as head colds that have become sub-acute by bringing out the thick mucus from the congested areas. When yerba mansa extracts are administered in the form of a nasal spray, it helps to alleviate inflammation of the nose as well as the sinuses. At the same time, yerba mansa infusion can be used as a useful gargle, while a throat spray prepared from the herb is effective for treating sore throats. This herb is also very effective for providing relief from indistinguishable irritations in the urinary tract that may give a hint of persisting infection in the genitourinary system.
Growing Yerba Mansa:
Yerba mansa plants thrive well in a shallow watery or damp muddy location having an alkaline soil with high humus content. For best growth, these plants need a warm location and they can endure temperatures as low as -5°C to -10°C. Perhaps, yerba mansa plants are hardiest when their root-stock remains under water. According to another report, the plants can endure temperatures as low as -15°C.
Apart from the fact that yerba mansa plants readily propagate from their runners, one can also grow them from their seeds. It is best to sow the seeds in a greenhouse immediately when they are ripe in summer. Sow the seeds in pots and place them in roughly 3 cm of water. When propagated through this technique, the seeds usually germinate in approximately five weeks. The stored seeds should be sown in a cold frame during the spring.
After the seedlings have grown reasonably big and good enough to be handled, prick them out carefully and plant them in individual pots. Continue to grow the young plants in the greenhouse during their first winter. All the while, ensure that the compost remains damp. You can transplant the young yerba mansa plants outdoors either in late spring or the beginning of summer.
Yerba mansa plants can also be propagated through division during spring.
Components of Yerba Mansa:
Chemical analysis of yerba mansa leaves has revealed that methyl eugenol is the main active compound in this herb. This compound possesses antispasmodic properties and its chemical structure is akin to the compounds present in nutmeg, which is employed to cure irritable stomach conditions.
Medicinal Infusion, Tincture:
Medicinally, yerba mansa is taken in the form of an infusion as well as tincture.
Infusion: Yerba mansa infusion or decoction is prepared by adding 1 ounce of the herb to 1 quart (about 946 ml) of water and boiled. The resultant solution is strained and taken internally in a dosage of one-fourth cup to half cup five times daily.
Tincture: The standard dosage of yerba mansa tincture is anything between 30 drops to 60 drops taken as many as five times daily. Alternatively, this tincture can also be diluted and used in the form of a gargle.
Possible Side Effects and Precautions:
While yerba mansa is safe for use by most people, certain precautions are essential while using this herb. For instance, pregnant women and nursing mothers should stay away from this herb, especially from using products made from its roots. It has been found that the use of yerba mansa root before any surgical process may result in increased level of sedation. In addition, yerba mansa root may also cause drowsiness and sleepiness and, hence, after using the herb or any supplement containing it, one should avoid undertaking tasks that require alertness, such as driving a vehicle or operating any machine.
Before you start using yerba mansa or supplements prepared from the herb, it is important that you consult your physician or any healthcare professional. They will not only enlighten you about the therapeutic benefits of the herb but also warn you about its potential side effects. If you combine yerba mansa with some of the medications you may be already taking, the herb may cause drug interaction or even cause severe side effects.
Harvesting Yerba Mansa:
You can pick the leaves and take cuttings from the yerba mansa just after the plants have established themselves and started reproducing newer ones. However, you should not disturb the roots of the plant for no less than a year. In fact, they should be allowed to grow freely for more than a year before you decide to transplant or harvest them. When the plants become mature, their roots become woody and cord-like, covered with a bark. You can dry the yerba mansa roots in the open air or use them fresh to prepare a root tincture.
Yerba mansa can be used in combination with elecampane and yerba santa to treat persistent mugginess mucus in lungs accompanied by a damp, relentless cough.