Yerba Santa

Background & General Info

Yerba santa, or Eriodictyon californicum, is a perennial evergreen shrub belonging to the waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae). It is widely distributed in the western and southwestern regions of North America, especially in California and Oregon—from the California Coast Ranges to the Klamath Range and the Sierra Nevada Range. It thrives profusely in dry areas with sparse vegetation, [1] such as on dry rocky hillsides and ridges below 1600 m elevation; in patches on chaparral slopes, coastal canyons, and forests; along riverbanks; and in some annual grasslands and oak woodlands. [2] Yerba santa can also be found in disturbed areas and early to mid successional communities. [2]

Yerba santa, which literally translates to “holy herb” in Spanish, is also referred to as mountain balm, bear’s weed, gum plant, consumptive weed, and sacred herb. [1] Its fresh or dried aromatic leaves, stems, and flowers are consumed either as a vegetable or as a tea, decoction, or poultice. [3

Yerba Santa - Botany

Normally reaching a height of 3 to 4 feet, the much-branched yerba santa has woody rhizomes and black stems with shredding outer bark. Its thick, leathery, lance-shaped leaves are 4 to 15 cm long, with a glutinous upper surface due to the shiny resin cover; they are dark green above but lighter green underneath and can have either smooth or saw-toothed edges. [2] These pinnately veined leaves are arranged alternately and possess a distinctive balsamic taste. [1] The older leaves of yerba santa frequently appear black because of sooty fungus. The delicate, white to purple, trumpet-shaped flowers grow to a length of up to 8 to 17 mm in branched panicles at the stem ends and bloom from May to June or July. The 2–3 mm, grayish-brown, oval seed capsules or fruits of the plant ripen in September and hold around 2 to 20 small hardened black seeds. [2]

Yerba Santa - History & Traditional Use

For a number of centuries, yerba santa was employed medicinally by Native American healers, and a several Californian tribes such as the Salinan, Ohlone, Miwok, Pomo, and Yokuts exceedingly value it and continue to use it for a variety of medicinal applications. [1][3] The Spanish settlers who traveled to the early lands of California were so taken up and amazed by the plant that they conferred its current name, which means “holy Herb”. [1][3] When this herb was introduced to the Spanish priests of Mission San Antonio de Padua by the Salinan tribe, it became one of three primary medicinal plants utilized during the mission. [3] Yerba santa was once listed as an official medicinal plant in America, and contemporary herbalists even still consider it as one of the best alternative expectorants and decongestants. [4] Compound products from yerba santa have been employed as bitterness-masking agents for some pharmaceutical applications for several years. Eriodictyon californicum has been scientifically researched as an exceptional source of potential leads for bitterness-masking applications; around one third of the molecules isolated from yerba santa have been found to selectively suppress the bitterness receptor hTAS2R31. [5]

Yerba Santa - Herbal Uses

The extract of yerba santa is a broadly used essential emollient and has been prescribed as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antifungal agent. [6] The leaves of this evergreen aromatic shrub are customarily chewed as a substitute for chewing gum. [4] The Eriodictyon californicum leaves and flowers can be turned into a bitter- or sweetish soapy-tasting tea that can be consumed to ease headaches and other symptoms of tuberculosis, and the tea produced from these leaves is advised, especially by the American Indians, to “dry up” excessive, watery mucous secretions due to bronchial inflammations. [3][4] Yerba santa infusions derived from the leaves and flowers can be employed as remedies of fevers, coughs, colds, stomachaches, asthma, and rheumatism pleurisy and as a blood purifier. The Native American group Kawaiisu drank teas from yerba santa rather than water for a month to treat gonorrhea, whereas the Salinan utilized the leaf infusion as a balm for the eyes. The smoked or chewed leaves appear to relieve asthma, coughs, colds, headaches, and stomachaches; the heated leaves, which conveniently stay in contact on the skin, are placed on the forehead to alleviate headaches and other aches and sores. When mashed, the leaves of yerba santa can be applied externally on sores, cuts, wounds, and aching muscles and can also be used to lessen the swelling and alleviate the pain associated with bone fractures. Yerba santa, when used singly or in combination with other herbs, can be used on infected sores of humans and animals, and its branches and leaves can be burned in steam baths to manage rheumatism. [3]

Yerba Santa - Constituents / Active Components

Fletcher et al. (2011) isolated ten flavonoids from yerba santa leaves and screened their potential bitterness-masking activities in a cell-based assay; of the ten, sakuranetin, 6-methoxysakuranetin, and jaceosidin selectively reduced the response to saccharin by more than 50% in hTAS2R31-transfected cells. The other identified compounds include pinocembrin, 4′-isobutyrylhomoeriodictyol, homoeriodictyol, naringenin, hesperetin, 6-methoxyhesperetin, and 6-methoxyhomoeriodictyol, which were differentiated through comparison of their physical and spectroscopic data with literature values. [5] A taste-guided fractionation of methanolic extracts by Reichelt et al. (2010) through high-temperature liquid chromatography resulted in the identification of several novel bisprenylated benzoic acids, such as erionic acids A, B, C, D, E, and F and eriolic acids A, B, C, and D, as well as known flavonoids, including eriodictyol, homoeriodictyol, hesperetin, and chrysoeriol. New compounds exhibiting strong off-flavor characteristics, such as bitter, astringent, phenolic, or woody, were isolated in greater quantities from California yerba santa using fast centrifugal partition chromatography and HTLC. [7]

Yerba Santa - Medicinal / Scientific Research


An activity-based fractionation of yerba santa by Liu et al. (1992) led to the identification of twelve flavonoids that suppress the metabolism of benzo[a]pyrene, a potent mutagen and carcinogen, by hamster embryo cells in tissue culture. Eight of these are active flavanones, namely, 3'-methyl-4'-isobutyryleriodictoyol (first detected based on spectroscopic analysis and alkaline hydrolysis), eriodictyol, homoeriodictyol, 5,4'-dihydroxy-6,7-dimethoxyflavanone, pinocembrin, sakuranetin, 5,7,4'-trihydroxy-6,3'-dimethoxyflavanone, and naringenin 4'-methyl ether. The four remaining are active flavones: cirsimaritin, chrysoeriol, hispidulin, and chrysin. At a concentration of only 10 μg/mL, yerba santa’s cirsimaritin and chrysoeriol had been observed to highly inhibit the metabolism of benzo[a]pyrene, as well as its activation to ultimate carcinogenic DNA-binding metabolites, suggesting their potential as possible chemopreventive agents. [8]

Among the three flavonoids isolated by Ben Sghaier et al. (2011), cirsimaritin exhibited the best antioxidant activity in the ABTS assay, with a Trolox equivalent antioxidant capacity (TEAC) value of 2.04 μM. [9] In the study of Quan et al. (2010), cirsimaritin has been demonstrated to exhibit excellent anticancer effects against the human gallbladder carcinoma GBC-SD cell line, inhibiting the growth of tumor cells; this flavonoid also elicited the generation of reactive oxygen species and triggered mitochondrial apoptosis in GBC-SD cells. Furthermore, the study had reported that cirsimaritin stimulated stress in the endoplasmic reticulum of tumor cells and downregulated the phosphorylation of Akt. [10] The flavonoid chrysoeriol on the other hand has been shown to exert inhibitory effects on the DNA adduct formation of benzo[a]pyrene in human MCF-7 breast cancer cells, which is a chief initiation pathway for cancer. Chrysoeriol selectively suppresses CYP1B1 enzymatic activity, potentially conferring protection against CYP1B1-associated diseases such as breast cancer. In MCF-7 breast cancer cells, 1–10 μM chrysoeriol dose-dependently inhibits the activity of ethoxyresorufin-O-deethylase (EROD) activity and the gene expressions of CYP1A1, 1B1, and 1A2 induced by benzo[a]pyrene treatment and additionally suppresses the binding of benzo[a]pyrene to the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). [11]

The findings from the study of Shin et al. (2015) similarly indicated that Eriodictyon californicum possesses bioactive flavonoids that display antitumor activities, which were evaluated against HCT116 human colon cancer cells. Short-term viability and long-term clonogenicity of these HCT116 colon cancer cells were found to be inhibited by treatment using ethyl acetate extract of yerba santa. Through high-performance liquid chromatography and nuclear magnetic resonance, flavonoids such as rosmarinic acid and luteolin were detected in yerba santa extract; luteolin in particular suppressed clonogenicity, activated caspase-7, and evoked the apoptosis of HCT116 cells. [6]


A very early study published in Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics mentioned a substance in yerba santa plant that is primarily antagonistic against Gram-positive and acid-fast organisms. This active principle, eventually named eriodin, had been prepared in partially purified form by adsorption on activated bone charcoal. [12]

Yerba Santa - Contraindications, Interactions, And Safety

The use of yerba santa as a medicinal herb is generally regarded as safe, but a very limited number of scientific studies have established its safety for human consumption, entailing caution for special populations such as pregnant and lactating women, the elderly, and children.


[1] P. Kaminski and R. Katz, "Yerba Santa: Eriodictyon californicum," Flower Essence Society.

[2] E. E. o. Life, "Eriodictyon californicum: Yerba Santa".

[3] D. L. Immel, "CALIFORNIA YERBA SANTA Eriodictyon californicum (Hook. & Arn.) Torr.," United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

[4] G. L. Tilford, Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, Missoula, Montana: Mountain Press Publishing Company, 1997, p. 170.

[5] J. N. Fletcher, A. D. Kinghorn, J. P. Slack and e. al., "In vitro evaluation of flavonoids from Eriodictyon californicum for antagonist activity against the bitterness receptor hTAS2R31," Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 59, no. 24, p. 13117–13121, 2011.

[6] S. Y. Shin, Y. Yong, D. S. Hong, D. H. Lee, D. Y. Lee and Y. H. Lee, "Identification of flavonoids from Eriodictyon californicum and their cytotoxicity against HCT116 colon cancer cells," Journal of the Korean Society for Applied Biological Chemistry, vol. 58, no. 1, p. 77–81, 2015.

[7] K. V. Reichelt, B. Hartmann, B. Weber and e. al., "Identification of bisprenylated benzoic acid derivatives from yerba santa (Eriodictyon ssp.) using sensory-guided fractionation," Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, vol. 58, no. 3, p. 1850–1859, 2010.

[8] Y. Liu, D. Ho, J. Cassady, V. Cook and W. Baird, "Isolation of potential cancer chemopreventive agents from Eriodictyon californicum," Journal of Natural Products, vol. 55, no. 3, p. 357–363, 1992.

[9] M. Ben Sghaier, I. Skandrani, N. Nasr, M. Franca, L. Chekir-Ghedira and K. Ghedira, "Flavonoids and sesquiterpenes from Tecurium ramosissimum promote antiproliferation of human cancer cells and enhance antioxidant activity: a structure-activity relationship study," Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, vol. 32, no. 3, p. 336–348, 2011.

[10] Z. Quan, J. Gu, P. Dong and e. al., "Reactive oxygen species-mediated endoplasmic reticulum stress and mitochondrial dysfunction contribute to cirsimaritin-induced apoptosis in human gallbladder carcinoma GBC-SD cells.," Cancer Letters, vol. 295, no. 2, p. 252–259, 2010.

[11] H. Takemura, H. Nagayoshi, T. Matsuda and e. al., "Inhibitory effects of chrysoeriol on DNA adduct formation with benzo[a]pyrene in MCF-7 breast cancer cells," Toxicology, vol. 274, no. 1–3, p. 42–48, 2010.

[12] A. Salle, G. J. Jann and L. G. Wayne, "Studies on the antibacterial properties of Eriodictyon californicum," Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, vol. 32, no. 1, p. 121–123, 1951.

Article researched and created by Dan Ablir for

1. Famous Chef Sheds 60lbs Researching New Paleo Recipes: Get The Cookbook FREE Here

2. #1 muscle that eliminates joint and back pain, anxiety and looking fat

3. Drink THIS first thing in the morning (3 major benefits)

4. [PROOF] Reverse Diabetes with a "Pancreas Jumpstart"

5. Why Some People LOOK Fat that Aren't

6. Amazing Secret Techniques To Protect Your Home From Thieves, Looters And Thugs

7. The #1 WORST food that CAUSES Faster Aging (beware -- Are you eating this?)

If you enjoyed this page:

Privacy Policy | Cookie Policy | GDPR | About This Site