Elixir of Yerba Santa

By Lynn Osburn© 2001


Yerba Santa: Holy Plant, was the name Spanish missionaries gave to many useful plants shown to them by the natives. Mary Elizabeth Parsons author of THE WILD FLOWERS OF CALIFORNIA in 1907, called Yerba Santa, Mountain Balm. She said, “Dr. Bard, one of our most eminent physicians writes of this interesting little shrub: ‘It has been reserved for the California Indians to furnish three of the most valuable vegetable additions which have been made to the pharmacopoeia during the last twenty years.’”

Yerba Santa is a pleasant smelling and tasting sticky-leafed evergreen perennial native to the American Southwest. The natives steeped the aromatic leaves in water to make a tea to treat coughs, colds, asthma, pleurisy, tuberculosis, and pneumonia. A poultice of leaves was applied to painful joints and bruises for relief. Yerba Santa has been used as a general food flavoring and in cough syrup to pleasantly cover the bad tastes of other ingredients.

Mrs. M. Grieve author of, A MODERN HERBAL, published in 1931, listed the following information about Yerba Santa:

---Synonyms---Mountain Balm. Consumptive's Weed. Gum Bush. Bear's Weed. Holy or Sacred Herb. Eriodictyon Californicum (Hook and Arn.).

---Part Used---Dried leaves.

---Habitat---California, Northern Mexico.

---Description---A low, shrubby evergreen plant, 2 to 4 feet high, found growing abundantly in clumps on dry hills in California and Northern Mexico. The stem is smooth, usually branched near the ground, and covered with a peculiar glutinous resin, which covers all the upper side of the plant. Leaves, thick and leathery, smooth, of a yellowish colour, their upper side coated with a brownish varnish-like resin, the under surface being yellowish-white reticulated and tomentose, with a prominent midrib, alternate, attached by short petioles, at acute angle with the base; shape, elliptical, narrow, 2 to 5 inches long 3/4 inch wide, acute and tapering to a short leaf-stalk at the base. The margin of the leaf, dentate, unequal, bluntly undulate. The flowers, bluish, in terminal clusters of six to ten, in a one-sided raceme, the corolla funnel-like, calyx sparsely hirsute.

---Constituents---The chief constituents are five phenolic bodies, eriodictyol, homoeriodictyol, chrysocriol, zanthoeridol and eridonel. Free formic and other acids, glycerides of fatty acids; a yellow volatile oil; a phytosterol, a quantity of resin, some glucose. Taste, balsamic and sweetish, afterwards acrid, but not bitter, recalls Dulcamara and creates a flow of saliva. Odour, aromatic. The leaves are brittle when dry, but flexible in a warm, moist atmosphere. Eriodictyon Californicum is official in the United States Dispensary. Alcohol is the best agent for the fluid extract of the dried plant.


---Medicinal Action and Uses---Recommended for bronchial and laryngeal troubles and in chronic pulmonary affections, in the treatment of asthma and hay-fever in combination with Grindelia robusta. Likewise advised for haemorrhoids and chronic catarrh of the bladder. Much used in California as a bitter tonic and a stimulating balsamic expectorant and is a most useful vehicle to disguise the unpleasant taste of quinine, Male fern and Hydrastis. In asthma, the leaves are often smoked. Aromatic syrup is the best vehicle for quinine.

---Dosage---15 to 60 grains.

---Other Species---E. tomentosum, often found growing next to E. Californicum, especially in South California, but is easily distinguished from E. Californicum, being a larger shrub, and having a dense coat of short, villous hairs, colouring with age, whity-rusty; corolla, salver-shaped; leaves oval or oblong, and obtuse.

Separation and Purification of the Principles:

The Chumash tribe, natives to the mountains here in the Los Padres National Forest of California, have high regard for the medicinal power of Yerba Santa. I am fortunate to have over an acre of Yerba Santa in native growth on my ranch. Last summer I harvested the Yerba Santa flowers with leafy branches about one foot long when ready at the peak of florescence in mid-June. The plant material filled a 10 gallon size cardboard box. The Yerba Santa dried and cured in the box for two weeks. Then I broke it up into smaller pieces and put it into a 5 gallon stainless steel pot and covered it with rectified neutral spirits purified and concentrated from charcoal filtered vodka. This Yerba Santa massa digested in the spirit for three weeks.


After three weeks digesting in the spirit the dark tincture of Yerba Santa was poured off the massa; the residual tincture was removed from the massa with a small wine press. The tincture of Yerba Santa was poured into a stainless steel kettle converted into an old style classic Mongolian type distilling unit.  The spirit was separated from the tincture through slow low temperature evaporative distillation (heat no more than is bearable for the palms of the hands to touch the kettle for 10 seconds). The volatile sulfur, which is the aromatic essential oil of the plant, distilled with the spirit forming a most pleasant conjunction. This conjunction of the spirit and volatile sulfur was collected and stored in glass bottles.

The dark watery menstrum of the tincture remained in the vessel. Much sticky tar coated the bottom of the kettle. Diethyl ether was added to the warm menstrum and allowed to absorb the fixed sulfur of the Yerba Santa. The dark mixture was poured out of the kettle into a tall glass jar to settle. The ether layer floated on top. It was a deep green color. The bottom dark watery layer was siphoned off; it was sticky sludge at the bottom. The smelly menstrum was saved for later.

Distilled water was added to the jar containing the ether/fixed sulfur solution. The solution was shaken to mix it. The water layer on the bottom was not as dark as the first water. This water was siphoned off also. More distilled water was added to the ether solution and the whole shaken as before. After three water washings the ether gave up no more color to the water indicating the fixed sulfur was purified. The ether was evaporated out exposing the fixed sulfur with a small portion of the volatile sulfur above it. The volatile sulfur was yellow with some greenish color and it flowed freely at room temperature. The fixed sulfur was translucent emerald green in color; it was very thick and would not flow at room temperature. Both the fixed and volatile sulfurs had very pleasant aromas. This was saved for later.

The massa of the Yerba Santa was incinerated after the tincture was pressed out. Residual spirit moistening the massa after pressing was easily ignited. When the spirit had burned out the dry charred massa was placed in a calcining oven at 500o F. After two to three hours the hot massa was taken out of the oven and ground up with a steel pestle then placed back in the oven. This procedure was done three times in 24 hours. The resulting powder was a light gray uniform dust called the alchemical earth of the Yerba Santa.

The alchemical earth was extracted with hot distilled water and poured through two layers of coffee filters. The earth that remained in the coffee filters was saved for later. The slightly yellow-orange solution was poured into a Pyrex serving dish and placed into the oven on low temperature to evaporate. When the water had evaporated the alchemical salt of the earth was left in the bottom of the dish. This salt of the earth was calcined and ground as the earth before. Then it was extracted with hot distilled water as before. Then the water was evaporated as before exposing the salt of the earth. This time the salt formed white crystals. The crystals were ground down again, calcined again and extracted with distilled water again and the water was evaporated off again. This time the salt of the earth was pure white with crystals running in dentritic veins across the dish. These pure crystals of the salt of the earth were stored for later.


The smelly menstrum with sludge saved from the ether/fixed sulfur separation was cooked down to the black coal stage then calcined. The coal was ground down with the steel pestle during calcination as described in calcining the massa. The calcination stopped when the earth of the menstrum was a light gray powder. The salt of the menstrum was extracted from this earth of the menstrum in the same way as the salt of the massa was extracted from the earth of the massa. The purified salt of the menstrum was saved for later.

The sticky stinky tar in the bottom of the kettle was scrapped out (very messy) and put in a stainless steel sublimator and heated. Terrible foul smelling fumes came off with a red liquid sublimating on the walls above the tar. The stench was too bad to continue so the tar was scrapped out of the sublimator and placed in the calcining dish and put into the calcining oven. After a few hours a most pleasant aroma came off the calcining tar. The smell of fresh vanilla filled my workshop. The tar cooked down to hard coal then was ground up while hot with the steel pestle, and calcining continued until the earth of the tar was a gray powder. The earth of the tar was extracted with distilled water same as with the earth of the massa. Thus the salt of the tar was revealed after evaporation of the water. The salt of the tar was purified in the same way as the salt of the massa and saved for later.

Conjunction of the Purified Principles:

The conjunction of the spirit and volatile sulfur was placed in the Mongolian type still with the salt of the massa and left over night. The next day the salt had been absorbed. The still was then heated to evaporative temperature and the deep emerald green fixed sulfur was added to this Essence of Yerba Santa in the still and circulated for 24 hours. After 24 hours the still was opened and the Elixir of Yerba Santa there circulating had turned gold in color. The salt of the menstrum was added to the golden Elixir of Yerba Santa and circulated for 24 hours. Then the salt of the tar was added to the circulating Elixir. All of the purified principles of the Yerba Santa were then together and the still was closed and the Elixir was circulated for 7 days.

After seven days circulating the Elixir of Yerba Santa was poured into glass jars and allowed to settle for 24 hours. Then the completed golden Elixir was decanted into wine bottles for storage.


The sticky smelly tar was difficult to clean off the equipment. The kettle was washed with dish soap and hot water. The scrubber became clogged with the tar. However the washing dissolved the bad smelling component leaving a very pleasant smelling resin that was not soluble in ether, nor did it want to dissolve into alcohol or water. This water washed resin balsam had the aroma of fresh vanilla the same as the tar during calcining. Next season I will work the tar component by water washing to experiment with this pleasingly aromatic balsam. Also I believe the horrid smelling fraction of the tar was formic acid.



One storage bottle of Elixir of Yerba Santa was poured into several 2 ounce cobalt blue bottles with eye dropper caps for therapeutic utilization. The viscosity of the Elixir is such that only half a dropper full can be drawn at once.

Three half droppers is the dosage that works for me. It is placed either directly on the tongue and mixed with saliva or diluted in about five times as much mineral water and swallowed. The Yerba Santa Elixir has a very pleasant taste, but the spirit can be too hot for some to take straight, thus the water dilution. One reported good results from just applying the Elixir to the temples and forehead.

This elixir is an excellent remedy for hay fever and other allergens that affect the lungs and bronchial pathways. I suffer from chronic seasonal hay fever. Some seasons the sage pollen gets so thick in the air that I get allergic bronchitis. I have tried everything in the past to get relief. Before this elixir I had found a 1000/1 homeopathic dilution of sage pollen was the best remedy, but it didn’t work when the pollen was thick in the air. The Elixir of Yerba Santa gave me complete protection this year even though the sage pollen production was especially prolific.

The Elixir also imparts a refreshing feeling especially in the lungs and a mild invigorating mental alertness. It also provides some pain relief to swollen joints, especially from repetitive work.

The Yerba Santa Elixir is also very good for inner alchemy. The energy easily goes into circulation and is especially good to penetrate the kidney belt circuit. It produces good balance in the spinal channels and opens some blocks (or makes repairs) in the front organ channels.