Eriodictyon californicum (Hook. & Arn.) Torr.
Yerba santa, mountain balm, bear’s weed, gum bush, gum plant, consumptive weed
Yerba santa, Spanish for “holy weed” or “holy herb,” is so named for its alleged medicinal value. The species grows in chapparal and coast redwood forests, on slopes, in fields, roadsides, and woodlands.
Plants: Evergreen shrubs 3-8′ (1-2.5 m) in size. They form clonal colonies. Leaves and twigs are covered with a shiny resin.
Leaves: Leathery, dark green, and up to 6″ (15 cm) long. Leaves have short petioles, and are narrow, and oblong to lanceolate. They may have smooth or toothed edges, and may be dusted with black fungi. They have a woolly network on the leaf undersides, distinctive enough to account for the genus name.
Flowers: A cluster of bell-shaped white to purple flowers. Each flower is ⅜-¾″ (1-2 cm) in size. They appear from April to July.
Fruits: A small capsule, 1/16-⅛″ (2-3 mm) long, containing two to eight small seeds.
Edibility: Sometimes used as a medicinal tea, but not edible to people, and nutritionally poor for livestock.
Medical: From Wikipedia:
The leaves have historically been used to treat asthma, upper respiratory infections and allergic rhinitis. The Concow tribe calls the plant wä-sä-got’-ō (Konkow language). The Chumash used it as a poultice for wounds, insect bites, broken bones, and sores. It was also used in a steam bath to treat hemorrhoids.
The flavonoid sterubin is the main active component of yerba santa and is neuroprotective against multiple toxicities of the aging brain, including possibly Alzheimer's disease.
Today, some use yerba santa for respiratory infections, fever, obesity, and other conditions, but there is no supporting research.
The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service (Eriodictyon sp.)
Eriodictyon californicum description by Thomas H. Kent, last updated 27 Oct 2023.