Elixirs Manzanita Grande
Lynn Osburn © 2013




Arctostaphylos patula L. Manzanita


Manzanita Grande lives on the bank of Pond Lake in Shaman Grove. This giant “little apple” tree is over twenty feet high and forty feet in diameter. The Manzanitas of Shaman Grove begin flowering in the midst of winter around the first of February.

The humming birds guard them when the flowers are ripe sticky sweet and deliciously fragrant. The bees solitary and colonial buzz about happily collecting pollen. A host of native creatures populate the biospheres under the protective domes of the Shaman’s Manzanita Grove.

Every creature happily shares the abundance of nectar and nutritious pollen in this mystical place during the winter. I gathered blossoms right alongside them, humming birds occasionally hovering about my head checking me out and bees too. And the Spirit of the Shaman’s curious presence was happy. The Spirit of that Medicine Man orchestrates the water flow of Hidden Creek running beneath the land.


“Manzanita has been used in Europe and America as early as the 13th century. Leaves are harvested in late summer. Native Americans used the plant for food, leaves were for smoking, berries were eaten raw or ground into a meal for porridge. Cider and jelly were made from the berries.

[Manzanita was] Used as a tobacco substitute or additive.

A strong decoction of the leaves, applied warm externally was used to treat poison ivy and oak, rashes, and shingles. Berries and leaves are used to relieve bronchitis, kidney ailments, dropsy, and female disorders.”

Source: http://medicinalherbinfo.org/herbs/Manzanita.html




Manzanita flowers in Shaman Grove


“Manzanita is a handsome plant, with fairly thick, ovate leaves, and quarter inch long, beautifully-shaped small hanging flowers, reminiscent of a tapered Japanese lantern or Grecian urn, and having the most wonderful creamy pink color, though coloration varies to almost pure white. These flowers are in their prime in April and early May (depending upon elevation), and last only a few weeks. They are followed within a month by the feature for which the plant is named... the small red berries. These fruits are much like tiny apples in texture and are sweet, providing good deer browse. They can also be boiled into a nice-tasting jelly. The ‘little apples’ can also be collected and dried and can be blended with other berries and nuts as a survival food. The Spanish word ‘manzanita’ means little apple.

“This is one of the most beneficial local Southwest herbs … The most active constituent in Manzanita is called arbutin. This chemical constituent must be taken with others in the plant as a whole plant form, so that it can be absorbed as a complex (whole) into the bloodstream, where it is broken down into a series of chemicals: hydroquinone, glucuronide, and hydroquinone sulphate. These new compounds, which are excreted in the urine are antibacterial, antisceptic, and antimicrobial. ”

Source: http://www.desertbloomherbs.com/monographs/man.html



Various species grow on dry slopes in Coastal Ranges and Chaparral and is usually found below 5,000 feet elevation in most of California. There are forty-three species of Manzanita throughout California and most of these were used as food sources by natives.

Coastal mountainous regions of California have the densest populations of the plant. From this area, they radiate south and eastward to Texas. Typically, a mid-mountain plant throughout the southwest.



Phenolic glucosides: arbutin, methylarbutin and hydroquinone; tannins: caffeic acid, gallic acid, catechol and ellagic acid; triterpenoids: uvaol, rusolic acid, lupeol, alpha-amyrin, beta-amyrin, erythrodiol and oleanolic acid; anthocyanidins: delphinidin and cyaniding; quercetrin and quercetin.


Medicinal Uses:

·                     Poison Oak: Manzanita berries were made into a tea and applied as a lotion for relief from poison oak.

·                     Dropsy, Bronchitis and Colds: A mixture of both the leaves and the berries was used for relief from dropsy, bronchitis and sever colds. Some sources say that this tonic is too strong to be taken internally.

·                     Stomach Problems and Weight Loss: A tea was made from the leaves of the Manzanita for stomach relief. It was also used to reduce fat.

·                     Rheumatism: A tea was made from the leaves of Manzanita for a bath to aid in Rheumatism.

·                     Headache: Manzanita leaves were boiled down into a yellowish-brown extract which was used as a wash to stop certain types of headaches. A tea was also made for the same purpose.

·                     Sores: The Concow Indians chewed the leaves of the manzanita and applied the thick pad produced as a poultice on sores.

Manzanita inhibits lower urinary tract bacteria that thrive in alkaline urine. In the presence of alkaline urine, arbutin, a main constituent of Manzanita, is broken down into hydroquinone and subsequently is responsible for the plant’s antibacterial qualities, Escherichia coli, a typical urinary tract pathogen, thrives in alkaline urine. In the presence of normal acidic urine, or Manznita acidified urine, the bacterium finds attachment to cell walls difficult. Combining the use of Manzanita or most other Health family urinary tract acidifiers such as Madrone or Cranberry’ with diet changes that include more animal source proteins, along with limiting simple carbohydrates, can promptly resolve alkaline urinary tract infections.

Manzanita is also a urinary tract astringent. The plant’s tannin complexes responsible for this tone lax urinary tract tissues by imparting a local tightening effect. Use when there is dragging urinary pain in combination with dribbling of urine and mucus discharge.

As a post-partum sitz bath, Manzanita is useful in tonifying and soothing vaginal and cervical tissues. Since Manzanita is moderately inhibiting to Candida albicans it is well worth combining topical applications with internal use of Desert willow, Trumpet flower, or Trumpet creeper.



Lower urinary tract infection with alkaline urine

Vaginitus with or w/o Candida involvement

As a post-partum sitz bath.



Manzanita may have a vasoconstricting effect on the uterine lining, so it is contraindicated during pregnancy. The plant’s tannins can have an irritating effect on gastric mucosa and the kidneys; limit consecutive use to two weeks. With the addition of most mallow family plants, i.e. Globemallow and Marshmallow, or Cornsilk length of usage can be increased.

Other Uses:

The fruits are edible; although seed filled and mealy, they have an apple-like taste. They are good for making jams and jellies.


Source: Herbal Medicine of the American Southwest: A Guide to the Identification ...

 By Charles W. Kane



Description of Plant Uses:
A. uva-ursis and possibly another variety of manzanita was smoked as the Indian tobacco known as kinnikinick.

Manzanita is Spanish for “Little Apple”. The name is very appropriate as the red berries look like miniature apples. The Spanish settlers were known to pick the fruit of the manzanita while still green and was used to make a soft drink and/or jelly.

The natives of California used this fruit in many ways. It was usually used when red and ripe and collected by beating the shrub to drop the berries into collecting baskets. They were eaten raw or cooked, crushed for beverages and made into jellies.

The pulp is dry and sweet when ripe and was reduced into a fine powder, separated from the seeds and skins, and mixed with water. This concoction would usually stand for a few hours and made into a favorite drink. Ground berries were also steeped in hot water, the flavor resembling that of cider.

Dry seeds were ground into a fine flour and was usually made into a mush. The flour was also sometimes shaped into thin cakes and were baked on top of hot ashes. It was also eaten dry as pinole.

The green fruit has a high acidity but was known as a thirst quencher.

The flowers were steeped for tea.

Berries were also collected in large quantities and dried to be used for winter.

Several of the Indian tribes would celebrate the ripening of the Manzanita with a harvest feast and dancing.

The wood was also used by the Cahuilla Indians for utensils and pipes.

Sprouts of Manzanita are commonly seen in areas molested by fire.

Many animals eat the foliage and fruit of the Manzanita. Birds, bears, and other animals are known to eat the ripe berries. Goats and some other animals sometimes eat the plants foliage. It was used as an indicator of wild game including deer, coyotes and mountain sheep. Manzanita also provides shelter for birds and other small animals.







I took my Mazanita blossom harvest to Knew Helm, my lab and immediately put them into a stainless steel kettle that is part of my Mongolian still set up. Enough clear 80 proof Virgin Island rum was poured over them to cover the harvest by about 2.5 inches, 8.75 liters in all. The blossoms and the rum cohabitated for seven days at room temperature. 

A most beautiful red tincture was poured off and the blossom massa was pressed to get all of the tincture out.  I kept a bottle of this simple tincture for my medicine cabinet.



The rest of the Manzanita tincture was poured back into the Mongolian still kettle, and the Spirit collection vessel was set into place. The still was heated no hotter than touching the side of it with the palm of the hand could stand. The tincture underwent evaporative “sweat” distillation for five days until the spirit proof went down to twenty-two.


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Then after the still cooled down the condenser bowl was removed and the Manzanita tincture remaining in the kettle was poured through coffee filters into wide mouth glass jars. The filters clogged quickly with a fine reddish-sienna residue. They had to be changed often.  The filtered tincture was placed into a tall glass jar for settling.




After settling the dark tincture was poured into a 6 liter boiling flask and a 5 liter helmet was attached. The classical distillation rig was heated and distillation begun.

Meanwhile the last distilled spirits, 56, 48, 22 proof from the Mongolian still were poured into a 2 liter boiling flask with 2 liter aludel expansion chamber and a water cooled condenser attached to the rig. Both rigs were running simultaneously. The rectified spirit that came over the helm was 160 proof.

The classical still was shut down when all of the spirit and waters had gone over and before the therapeutic tars and resins were burned.




The 160 proof rectified spirit was poured onto the Manzanita resin/tar and allowed to extract what it would at room temperature. The result was a dark malty smelling tincture which was decanted and set aside as a topical application medicine. The resin/tar mix was placed into a glass jar for use in preparing future medicines. 

The pressed Manzanita blossom massa was dried and incinerated then calcined at 12500F for over an hour.




This mineral rich ash was then ready for distillation/cohabitation with the Manzanita blossom high proof spirits. The first spirit 141 proof was bottled and kept as proprietor’s reserve medicine. The spirits, 126, 116, and106 proof were blended to make 110 proof spirit.

The spirit blend was poured onto the ashes in a 6 liter boiling flask and a 5 liter helmet was attached. The rig was slowly heated to distillation temperatures. Great care was taken to keep the cohabitation from evolving violent eruptions of spirit expanding to gaseous state under the ashes which would throw ashes into the helmet and ruin the work.




Once the Manzanita spirit/ash distillation was complete the spirit rose to 152 proof. Water was held by the potassium carbonate in the ash causing the percentage of ethanol spirit to rise in the finished elixir.

The red simple Manzanita tincture filtered from the starting menstrum is 80 proof and has the aromas of loganberry, plum and a caramelized maltyness. The taste is slightly sweet with a complex finish nicely balanced though there is a slight and mild tannic influence.

The 141 proof first spirit to distill off the menstrum has a pleasant aroma of fruity loganberry/plum with a fat (from the aromatic terpenoid oils) though slight sweetness (from the blossom nectars) rounding it out. It has no malty or caramel aroma or flavor.

The fruity complex flavor and aromas of the 141 proof spirit are fused in the 152 proof spirit/ash distillate and move quickly across the palate very smoothly evaporating with a perfect blend of fat from the essential oil (terpene complex) and nectar of the blossoms.

The 160 proof spirit saturated with the tars and resins extracted from the Manzanita blossom menstrum is very tannic and astringent and should not be taken internally. It makes an excellent topical medicine when applied to the skin. It neutralizes itch and sting of insect bites and desiccates a variety of rashes caused by various allergies.

The resin/tars are very sticky and concentrated. These tars and resins are soluble in water as well as alcohol and can be blended to desired thickness for use topically.

The Manzanita blossom ash recovered from the spirit/ash distillation was dried and saved for future use either spagyrically or alchemically.

The complete collection of elixirs and extracts from the Manzanita blossom magestry can be utilized for specific spagyric medicines either as a strictly Manzanita magestry or in combination with other herbs having therapeutic virtue.

I chose to use the Manzanita blossoms and not the other parts of the tree to make the medicines because Shaman’s Grove Manzanitas are extremely potent and the berries do not have an apple-like flavor. They’re more like extremely acrid tannic artichokes while the blossoms are pleasingly aromatic, sweet and enlivening. So agrees all the little creatures that collected the sticky goodness of the flowers alongside me.




Left front: Manzanita blossom tar/resin “asphaltum.”  Center front: Manzanita blossom calcined ashes after distillation with the152 proof spirit. Right front: Manaznita blossom spirit first distillate.

Left rear: 160 proof Manzanita blossom spirit saturated with tar/resin asphaltum. Center rear: Manzanita blossom spirit/ash distillate. Right rear: Simple red tincture of Manzanita blossoms extracted and filtered from the original 80 proof rum menstrum.