Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the May 29, 2005 Newsletter issued from the Sierra Nevada foothills somewhat east of Placerville, California, USA

A conspicuous "weed" flowering along roadsides right now is one with funnel-shaped, lavender flowers nearly ¾-inch long, dock-like leaves, and a woody, branched stem averaging about four to seven feet high. The local name is Yerba Santa, meaning "Blessed Herb." It's ERIODICTYON CALIFORNICUM, a native member of the Waterleaf or Phacelia Family, the Hydrophyllaceae. Some nice pictures of it are at www.coestatepark.com/eriodictyon_californicum.htm

If you crush the plant's leaves between your fingers you'll find them a bit sticky and aromatic with medicinal overtones. The stickiness explains other names the plant sometimes goes by -- Gum Bush and Tarweed. The medicine-like odor cues us to why the species is so "blessed," and sometimes goes by the other names of Consumptive's Weed and Mountain Balm.

Yerba Santa is regarded as good medicine for respiratory problems. A brew of its leaves serves as an expectorant that loosens and removes mucus from breathing passages. Poultices can be made to relieve soreness from bruises and sprains and, back before Band-Aids were popular, sticky Yerba Santa leaves were stuck on wounds to seal them.

Apparently in the old days people also smoked the leaves like tobacco. Around here, in gold-mining territory, people called the plant Miner's Tobacco.

Who would expect that such a common roadside weed could be such a generous neighbor?