Yerba santa is a sticky-leafed evergreen that is native to the American Southwest. It was given its name ("holy weed") by Spanish priests impressed with its medicinal properties. The aromatic leaves were boiled to make a tea to treat coughs, colds, asthma, pleurisy, tuberculosis, and pneumonia, and a poultice of the leaves was applied to painful joints.
Unlike many medicinal herbs, yerba santa actually has a pleasant taste. It has been used as a general food flavoring and in cough syrups to disguise the bad taste of other ingredients.
Yerba santa is often used for the treatment of the common cold, as well as chronic respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma. Unfortunately, there is no meaningful scientific evidence to indicate that it is effective. About the most that can be said scientifically is that one of its constituents, eriodictyol, might have mild expectorant properties.1
Topical yerba santa has been recommended as a treatment for poison ivy.2
Yerba santa tea may be made by adding 1 teaspoon of crushed leaves to a cup of boiling water and steeping for half an hour. However, many of its resinous constituents do not dissolve in water, and for that reason alcoholic tinctures of yerba santa are commonlyh used.
Yerba santa is on the FDAs GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list for use as a food flavoring. There have been no reports of significant side effects or adverse reactions,3 except for the inevitable occasional allergic reaction. Nonetheless, safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease has not been established.
1. Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, MO: Facts and Comparisons; 1991: Yerba Santa monograph.
2. Tierra M. The Way of Herbs. New York, NY: Pocket Books; 1990:254.
3. Review of Natural Products. St. Louis, MO: Facts and Comparisons; 1991: Yerba Santa monograph.
Last reviewed December 2015 by EBSCO CAM Review Board Last Updated: 12/15/2015