YERBA MANSA (Anemopsis californica) | Ethnobotany & medicinal uses

Anemopsis californica – Ethnobotany & medicinal uses


I learnt most about Yerba Mansa from Michael Cottingham, New Mexico based herbalist. He is working on a book dedicated entirely to Yerba Mansa. (Help him raise funds for the upcoming book discussing the Ethnobotany, history, medicinal uses, cultivation & conservation of Yerba Mansa. )

Michael Cottingham notes that one of the most significant aspects of Yerba Mansa is the very strong anti-inflammatory effect that the plant extracts demonstrated for hundreds of years. It is much needed in countries where millions of people suffer from chronic and acute inflammatory diseases every year, like in the United States.

Yerba Mansa is very aromatic, the roots especially are said to be reminiscent of a cross between camphor and eucalyptus (Moore, 1989). The plant has a distinct musty, spicy scent that is easy to recognize once you smelled it. The tinture made from root has a very strong, earthy taste.

Cultivation & propagation

Yerba Mansa can be found throughout the Western United States living near hot springs, especially if there is a alkaline mire nearby.

Researchers are working on finding a way to protect the ecologically threatened plant from depletion by habitat loss and urban development.

Charles Martin, a researcher at New Mexico State University’s Sustainable Agriculture Science Center, has found a solution. He has made yerba mansa a viable agricultural crop for New Mexico’s small farmers.

“As far as I know, our center is the only place in the U.S. conducting production research (on yerba mansa),” Martin said. “We targeted native herbs in an effort to find alternative crops for small farmers that are drought-tolerant and have a built-in pest resistance, and yerba mansa is an ideal plant that meets that criteria.”

The only limiting factor in growing yerba mansa is water. It is gaining attention as a goldenseal substitute and if it becomes widely used, cultivation is the only way to ensure a steady supply.

The herb is on the “to-watch” list by United Plant Savers, a Vermont-based organization dedicated to protecting native plants used as folk remedies.

Etimology & Ethnobotany of Yerba Mansa

The name Yerba Mansa has been debated, but the word “Yerba” in spanish means herb, and the feminine form of the spanish word manso means tame, tranquil or calm.

Wherever there was a mission or Native American encampment (forced or otherwise) in the Southwest, Yerba Mansa was growing around and for all the people whoever lived in the Southwest, it was the most relied upon of all herbal medicines for the diseases and illnesses that afflict human kind, including bacterial infections, viral infections, colds, influenza, tuberculosis, syphilis, and many others. Yerba Mansa was the most used herb for all these conditions.

Yerba Mansa has a rich ethnobotanical history of usage amongst native cultures including the Pima, Mayo, Yaqui, Mexican, Chumash, Shoshone, Apache and basically all native and non-native peoples who lived in close relationship to the land in the Western United States. It is one of the most important of all medicine plants.


The medicinal uses of Yerba Mansa are immense.

In Medicinal Plants Of The Desert And Canyon West, the author Michael Moore writes:

“Everybody who has lived where Yerba Mansa grows has used it as a medicine. It was used in standard practice medicine with some frequency up until 1920 or so, especially amongst Eclectic and Homeopathic physicians.”

Moore continues, “When inflammation resulting from irritation, injury, or infection continues past a certain point, the engorged capillaries lose some of their cohesiveness. This breaks down the quality of the gelatinous starches (mucopolysaccharides) that hold tissue cells into compact masses, thwarting the healing that the initial irritation made necessary. The tissue go from the “hot” of acute (repairing) inflammation to the “cold” of subacute (nonrepairing) congestion. So, Yerba Mansa is used for slowly healing boggy conditions of the mouth, intestinal and urinary tracts, and lungs. It is astringent to the connective tissues that form the membrane structure, but it stimulates better fluid transport, helping to remove the exudates that prevent repair of the irritation that began the whole mess.”

Here is a list of uses compiled from clinical experience (Michael Cottingham use of Yerba Mansa 1990-2014), Michael Moore, Eclectic references, and others.

  • Acute early stages of herpes, topically. Extract, Tea, or diluted essential oil.
  • Subacute head cold with thick mucus. Extract or Tea
  • Acute pharyngitis, returning after almost healing.
  • Chronic pharyngitis with pale, relaxed mucosa.
  • Chronic or subacute rhinitis.
  • Acute sinusitis with ulcerations (as a nasal spray). (Tea or Floral Water)
  • Chronic sinusitis with inflammation, catarrh, stuffy heat.
  • Chronic sinusitis with edematous turbinates, relaxed and purplish; or with thick ropy mucous, frontal headache.
  • Chronic tonsillitis with ulcers (also as a gargle).
  • Intrinsic humid asthma with moist cough.
  • Chronic bronchitis with profuse secretions.
  • Acute cough, moist, persistent.
  • Cystorrhea.
  • Acute cystitis/urethritis with mucus in urine; or with inflamed urethral opening.
  • Chronic anorexia with colon, rectal catarrh.
  • Chronic colic with catarrh.
  • Recuperating from diarrhea.
  • H Pylori, Acute, subacute, bacterial infection, Leaf Tea
  • Dysentery, for concurrent mouth sores.
  • Acute gastritis with catarrh.
  • Acute gastritis, recuperation.
  • Gastroenteritis with mucus hypersecretions.
  • Gastroenteritis, recuperation.
  • Hemorrhoids, painful, extruding.
  • Hemorrhoids, painful, extruding, with constant throbbing pain (internal and external).
  • Nausea after eating.
  • Shigellosis, recuperative period.
  • Gastric or duodenal ulcers, slow healing.
  • Subacute or chronic ulcers with vomiting or spitting of ropy mucus.
  • Vomiting, in general.
  • Abscess, acute, local (topically).
  • Fissures, general orificial (external).
  • Rectal fissures (sitz bath).
  • Anal fissures (sitz bath: 8 fl oz strong decoction in bath at a time).
  • Skin ulcers, in general (external).
  • Topical in arthritis.
  • As a bath for arthritis.
  • Arthritis, diuretic.
  • Anti-inflammatory in arthritis.
  • Muscular pain, in general.
  • Leukorrhea, supportive to local itching and pain.
  • Acute prostatitis, with discharge and inflammation.
  • Acute vaginitis (sitz bath).
  • Subacute vaginitis, or with Bartholin gland cysts (as sitz baths).
  • Subacute vulvitis (as a sitz bath).
  • Infant teething, with cold sores or stomatitis (rubbed on gums).
  • Nutritional malabsorption in poor absorption in ileum of bile acids, fat soluble vitamins, intrinsic factor or B12.
  • Lyme Disease, adjunct therapy, for chronic inflammation, fluid drainage, joint pain, digestive stagnation, specific antibacterial for Borrelia burgdorferi, and other Borrelia species.
  • Cervical and Uterine Cancer, a steam distilled essential oil of the roots, in salve, and oil. Also drinking the tea or using the fresh root extract (See National Institute of Health Report, Phytochemistry, Feb 2008: 69(4): 919-927)

Parts used as Medicine

The entire plant of Yerba Mansa, can be used as a medicine. In general, the roots are stronger than the leaf, and the roots contain more of an array of essential oils, at least a larger percentage of oils.

Yerba Mansa is used as a fresh leaf extract, fresh root extract, dry leaf extract, dry root extract. (Alcohol extracts)

Yerba Mansa, dry leaf or dry root is used in teas, salves, oils, baths, etc.

Dry root powder is used to cover wounds, and has been used as a root powder paste and applied to skin cancers.

Ethnographic information on yerba mansa is consistent. A variety of people from different cultural backgrounds and geographical areas have been interviewed and researchers report similar or related uses again and again: treatment of wounds, cold and flu symptoms, pain and inflammation, as well as lung, circulatory, urinary, and digestive tract ailments (Swank, 1932; Wyman and Harris, 1947; Bean and Saubel, 1972; Bocek, 1984; Moore, 1989; Artschwager-Kay, 1996; Davidow, 1999). Both aerial and root/rhizome tissues are used medicinally; Hippocratic screening of Anemopsis tissues demonstrates that root/rhizome, with a minimum lethal dose of 316 mg/kg, is more potent than aerial parts which showed no lethality even at the maximum dose administered 1 g/kg (Tutupalli et al., 1975). Tea made from A. californica leaves and roots is used to treat uterine cancer, ease menstrual cramps, induce conception, and staunch excessive bleeding after childbirth (Bocek, 1984; Artschwager-Kay, 1996); as a treatment for other gynecological conditions including yeast infection, and vaginitis (Moore, 1989; Davidow, 1999); or to treat venereal sores and ulcers (Bean and Saubel, 1972).

Three distinct chemotypes based on the essential oil composition of roots and rhizome extracts of Anemopsis califormica were identified. Specific bioactivity against uterine and cervical cancer cell lines was demonstrated with steam-distilled oil of Anemopsis root tissue. These results support the traditional, cultural use of Anemopsis extracts to treat uterine cancer.”
It was also concluded that a synergistic effect might be present between the thymol, piperitone and methyleugenol oil compounds.


  • Acharya R.N., and Chaubal M.G., “Essential Oil of Anemopsis californica.” Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 57 (6): 1020- 1022. American Pharmaceutical Association, 1968.
  • Felter, Harvey Wickes and John Uri Lloyd. King’s American Dispensatory Vol. II. Sandy: Eclectic Medical: Publications, 1997.
  • Moore, Michael. Los Remedios: Traditional Herbal Remedies of the Southwest. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1990.
  • Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989.
  • Wood, Matthew. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley: North Atlantic, 2009.
  • Kay, M.A. Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, 1996.
  • Tucker, S.C. “Initiation and Development of Inflorescence and Flower in Anemopsis californica (Saururaceae).” American Journal of Botany 72 (1): 20-30. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 1985.
  • Notes of Michael Cottingham


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