yerba mansa

Anemopsis californica

Yerba Mansa is an important native plant in the Bosque ecosystem and is also a central medicinal herb in many southwestern traditions. 5

Yerba Mansa is a plant of extraordinary beauty as well as an invaluable herb in the medicine cabinet. Its uniqueness is obvious at first glance and so it is not surprising to learn that Yerba Mansa is the only plant in the genus Anemopsis and one of only six plants in the family Saururaceae. Its growing habit is to create large dense stands formed both through seeding and spreading its 'lizard tails', or stolons, which root at each node. Its white petal-like bracts reflect a haunting iridescent glow in the desert sunset illuminating a palate of otherworldly colors. Yerba Mansa's elegance is indeed unique amongst desert plants and has been a force holding my heart to this land for many years. As the plants move through their growing season, red splashes begin to appear on their leaves, bracts, and roots. By autumn, most of the plants are entirely deep, earthly crimson with some sheltered patches holding onto green leaves. Yerba Mansa's transformation occurs in tandem with the entire riparian forest as fall colors emerge everywhere revealing the seasonal beauty of New Mexico's desert valley and exposing views of the Sandia Mountain backdrop.

Enchanted by its singular beauty, I have worked with this plant lovingly for years. It is my personal medicine that finds its way into many of the formulas I make for myself. Simply experiencing the Yerba Mansa aroma sends comforting healing signals throughout my being. After harvesting, the aroma of the freshly chopped roots fills my house invigorating me every day. Indeed this plant contains several active constituents including methyleugenol (55%), thymol (13%), piperitone (5%) (1), as well as sesamin (2), and asarinin (3), all contributing to Yerba Mansa’s many useful herbal actions within the body. It is anti-inflammatory, broadly anti-microbial, astringent, diuretic, anti-catarrhal, and tonifying to the mucous membranes with a particular affinity for the digestive, respiratory, and urinary systems. As an anti-inflammatory Yerba Mansa helps the body to excrete uric acid through diuresis and provides effective support for arthritis and other rheumatic complaints. Yerba Mansa’s antimicrobial workings are supported by research that confirms its activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Geotrichim candidum (4) as well as five species of mycobacterium known to cause skin, pulmonary, and lymphatic infections (2). Recent research also suggests that water, alcohol, and ethyl acetate extracts of Yerba Mansa (all plant parts, but especially the roots) inhibit the growth and migration of certain types of cancer including two breast cancer cell lines, HCT-8, and colon cancer cells (5, 6, 7). Among Yerba Mansa's most powerful attributes are its abilities to tone and tighten the mucous membranes similarly to Goldenseal and the manner in which it moves the waters and energy of the body. In its wild habitats Yerba Mansa enhances the wet boggy earth by absorbing and distributing water and adding anti-microbial and purifying elements to the damp and slow-moving ecosystem. Once a colony is established, it alters the soil chemistry and organisms, creating an environment more favorable to the growth of other plants by acidifying and aerating the soil (8). It functions similarly inside the ecosystems of our bodies by regulating the flow of waters, encouraging the movement of stagnant fluids, moving toxins, and inhibiting harmful pathogens, while warming and stimulating other sluggish functions in the body. With this combination of attributes that invigorate the overall health of an organism or ecosystem, Yerba Mansa is an herb with a wide array of applications including chronic inflammatory conditions, digestive disorders, skin issues, urinary infections, mucus-producing colds and sore throats, sinus infections, hemorrhoids, oral healthcare, fungal infections, and many others.

Yerba Mansa has a long history of use in the Southwest. Dr. W.H. George of Inyo County, California was the first eclectic physician to extol the virtues of Yerba Mansa in 1876. He and another physician Dr. Edward Palmer described its prominent, almost legendary, role in the long-standing folk medicine practices of Native American and Mexican people of Southern California and Sonora, Mexico. He also recognized Yerba Mansa’s stimulating effects on the mucous membranes and its effectiveness on treating nasal catarrh, rhinitis, and sore throats. He prepared a nasal spray, which he reported caused copious nasal secretions that moved the mucous and relieved the congestion (9). J.A. Munk, a physician from Los Angeles, later revealed his nasal spray recipe in 1909: fill a two ounce tincture bottle with 5 to 30 drops of Yerba Mansa tincture, 1 dram of glycerin, and the rest with water (9). Physician Herbert T. Webster described other common turn of the century uses of Yerba Mansa including its usefulness for bowel complaints, diarrhea, colitis, urinary issues, gonorrhea, ulcers, wounds, bruises, coughing, and consumption as well as its alterative properties (9). By the middle of the twentieth century the pharmaceutical industry was beginning to undermine mainstream botanical medicine and Yerba Mansa’s use gradually retreated back to traditional herbal practices in Native American, Mexican, and Hispanic communities.

Extracting best in alcohol and water, I like to prepare roots both as tea and tincture. Make sure your roots are from a clean location as Yerba Mansa, like most wetlands plants, is known to absorb arsenic (10) and heavy metals (11) from its environment. (Another good reason to be growing Yerba Mansa on farms and in backyard gardens!) While I have heard some people make the case for preparing it as an infusion, I much prefer it as a decoction. The decocted roots retain their aroma nicely and impart a rich earthy flavor to the water that is unlike that of any other tea I have ever tasted. Raising the cup to my mouth, I have already received a medicinal effect before the first sip hits my tongue. To breathe in the aromatic vapors creates an automatic response; a shift in my core being that comes from the deeply soothing comfort only Mother Earth can provide. Each sip of tea spreads the restorative warmth throughout my body delivering its healing properties to the very depths of my soul. Although not quite as fulfilling on the sensory level, the tincture is another powerful preparation that I use often. In my experience, it is best prepared using freshly dried root and 60% to 75% alcohol. Some people may like to add a small amount (up to 10%) of glycerin to prevent any precipitation in the tincture. It combines well with many other herbs for an endless variety of formulas. Ground roots are also a useful addition to herbal healing clays for wounds and to body powders for diaper rash, athlete's foot, and the like. While the leaves have more subtle medicinal properties and can be made into infused oil for salves and creams (12), I find them to be very mild compared to the roots. I use them mainly as poulticing leaves for skin inflammations and mulch in my garden. A tea prepared from leaves has also served as a traditional remedy for colic in babies and a nighttime fever reducer (13).

Endnotes:

1 Ramesh N. Acharya, Madhukar G. Chaubal, “Essential oil of Anemopsis californica,” PHARM SCI 57 (1968): 1020-1022.

2 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.

3 L. V. Tutupalli, M. G. Chaubal, “Constituents of Anemopsis californica,” Phytochemistry 10 (1971): 3331-3332.

4 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.

5 Catherine N. Kaminski, Seth L. Ferrey, Timothy Lowrey, Leo Guerra, Severine van Slambrouck, Wim F. A. Steelant, “In vitro anticancer activity of Anemopsis californica,” Oncology Letters 1 (2010): 711-715.

6 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.

7 Severine Van Slambrouck, Amber L. Daniels, Carla J. Hooten, Steven L. Brock, Aaron R. Jenkins, Marcia A. Ogasawara, Joann M. Baker, Glen Adkins, Eerik M. Elias, Vincent J. Agustin, Sarah R. Constantine, Michael J. Pullin, Scott T. Shors, Alexander Kornienko, Wim F. A. Steelant, “Effects of crude aqueous medicinal plant extracts on growth and invasion of breast cancer cells,” Oncology Reports 17 (2007): 1487-1492.

8 Michael Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West, (Santa Fe NM: Museum of New Mexico, 1989) 133-134.

9 Wm P. Best, “ Anemopsis californica: a pleasant, non-poisonous mucous-membrane remedy,” National Eclectic Medical Association Quarterly 12 (1921): 619-629.

10 Lizette Del-Toro-Sanchez, Carmen Zurita, Florentina Gutierrez-Lomeli, Melesio Solis-Sanchez, Brenda Wence-Chavez, Laura Rodriguez-Sahagun, Araceli Castellanos-Hernandez, Osvaldo A. Vazquez-Armenta, Gabriela Siller-Lopez, “Modulation of antioxidant defense system after long term arsenic exposure in Zantedeschia aethiopica and Anemopsis californica,” Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 94 (2013): 67-72.

11 M. M. Karpiscak, L. R. Whiteaker, J. F. Artiola, K. E. Foster, “Nutrient and heavy metal uptake and storage in constructed wetland systems in Arizona,” Water Science and Technology 44 (2001): 455-462.

12 Richo Cech, Making Plant Medicine, (Williams OR: Horizon Herbs, 2000) 241-242.

13 Michael Moore, Los Remedios, (Santa Fe NM: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990) 83.

Written by Dara Saville, Founder and Primary Instructor of Albuquerque Herbalism, Director of the Yerba Mansa Project 6

www.albuquerqueherbalism.com
http://albuquerqueherbalism.com/yerba-mansa-project/

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  1. (c) albuquerqueherbalism, all rights reserved, uploaded by albuquerqueherbalism, http://www.inaturalist.org/photos/2133940
  2. (c) albuquerqueherbalism, all rights reserved, uploaded by albuquerqueherbalism, http://www.inaturalist.org/photos/2133809
  3. (c) albuquerqueherbalism, all rights reserved, uploaded by albuquerqueherbalism, http://www.inaturalist.org/photos/2133842
  4. (c) albuquerqueherbalism, all rights reserved, uploaded by albuquerqueherbalism, http://www.inaturalist.org/photos/2133877
  5. Adapted by albuquerqueherbalism from a work by (c) Wikipedia, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anemopsis_californica
  6. (c) albuquerqueherbalism, some rights reserved (CC BY-SA)

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