Eriodictyon specie

If you're in Southern Utah and driving down highway I-15 past Cedar City, just before you get to Leeds or Silver Reef, you come to Anderson's junction. That's where you turn off to go to Zion Park. Anyway, when you get to Anderson's junction, there is an old dance pavilion that was built back in the late 30s or 40s where folks came from all over to dance. Old Mother Nature and old Father Time are about the only ones who dance floor are starting to break up. About the only thing that looks healthy are the weeds that grow abundantly around the old place. I call them weeds so you'll know what I'm talking about. Actually, they are herbs. Yerba santa is the common name of most of these herbs. This means “sacred herb,” or “herb of the saints.” They were called that by the early travelers in the times of Father Escalante and the Indians.

This herb grows from one to three feet tall around this are. The top of the leaves are bright and shiny, as if they had been varnished, but they are kinda wooly on the bottom. That is why this genus or genera is referred to as shiny wooly. The leaf is very narrow and curls into a crescent shape, and the edges are serrated. Yerba santa has tubular, funnel-form blossom that is lavender to white. The flowers bloom from may until July. The plant is very dense and it had a pleasant smell.

The Indians used this plant for many ailments, but mostly for respiratory problems. I heard a story of an early exploring party where one of the men developed a respiratory problem and couldn't go on. After holding the party up for a couple of days, it was decided to leave the sick man there with one of the Indian guides. As soon as the party had gone, the guide picked some yerba santa and made the explorer chew it, and he also made some tea and had him drink it. He then made a poultice with yerba santa and some other herbs on the fire so he would have to breathe some of the smoke. The explorer responded to the treatment, and instead of returning home he caught up with his party and finished the exploration.

Yerba santa is not known very well, as it grows mostly in the Western mountain areas 5,000 feet. It is known mainly as a decongestant for sinus and bronchial problems and as an expectorant to get rid of excess mucus and phlegm in the chest and sinus area. It is also recognized as a bronchial dilator for those who have trouble breathing. Some folks use it for hay fever. Others use it as a blood purifier, as a antispasmodic, a remedy for colds and flu, as a febrifuge to lower fevers, for arthritis, and for a lot of other problems.

Yerba santa has a lot to do with the mucus secretion of the respiratory system. Mucus must be of the proper consistency in order to provide adequate protection. If it is too thin it will leave the tissue more dry and susceptible to germs and pathogens, and it will not provide the proper protection. If the mucus is too thick and heavy, it becomes congestive and constrictive, adding to the respiratory problems that cause asthma, catarrhal accumulations and other ailments.
Some old herb doctors used three parts yerba santa in conjunction with one part gum weed or gum plant, Grindelia robust. They claimed the synergistic action between the two herbs was more effective than just the one herb alone. Use this combination sparingly, as too much gum weed could irritate the kidneys.

In days when many medicines tasted real bad, yerba santa was used to cover up the taste of bitter herbs. When you're out hiking, see if you can find some yerba santa and fin out why it is called “holy weed” or “herb of the saints.”

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