For our Herb of the Month for December, we are featuring a plant which grows natively in the American Southwest, yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica).
Botany, Growth and Habitat
Yerba mansa is a member of the Saururaceae or Lizard’s Tail family of plants. This perennial plant has waxy, green basal leaves which lay low to the ground. The woolly stem can vary in height from 4-20+ inches and has a small white flower atop which has its own unique, spicy aroma.
It prefers to grow in wet, alkaline soils such as marshes or bogs, and due to the nature of its growing habit, can readily be mistaken for ground cover. Because of a decline in its native habitat, United Plant Savers has placed yerba mansa on its watch list. The ability of the plant’s roots to penetrate into thick, stagnant ground improves the movement of water in these environments. In addition, the ability of these plants to thrive in distressed environments drives the production of plant constituents, which helps the plants to adapt better to varying stressors in the soil.
History and Tradition
Peoples of the Southwest and Native Americans have utilized this plant throughout history for a variety of complaints and ailments, many of which involve a state where the body or various systems have become stagnant or have reduced functioning. In the Chinese Medical system this is often referred to as stagnation or dampness, whereby the qi (energy) and/or fluids of the body are not able to ‘flow’ or be transported properly.
Some may be able to recognize forms of stagnation in the body, such as indigestion in the stomach, congested sinuses, thick phlegm in the throat, or even large, bulging veins in the back of the legs in some people. However, there are other less obvious ways stagnation affects the body.
Yerba mansa can help with cleanup in the body, freeing up stagnation, allowing fluids to move more effectively through us, and unburden the tissues so they are free to function optimally. Energetically, this herb is said to be bitter, acrid, aromatic, warm, and drying. These aspects would all help deal with thick, stagnant fluids and congested tissue states.
This is especially important in the respiratory tract, during seasonal changes and the challenges they bring from the external environment to the internal terrain of the body. Think of thick mucus or phlegm in the throat in bronchioles, forcing deep coughing in an attempt to rid the body of it. Or, further up the respiratory tract in the nasal passages and sinuses, when they become ‘bogged down’ with mucus and cause pressure, soreness and difficulty breathing. In addition to supporting our natural immune responses effectively, this herb can help break up this congestion thereby allowing your body to recover sooner and more optimally.
Stagnation in the digestive tract is also problematic. In addition to feeling stomach upset or digestive troubles, this bogged-up state can upset the balance of the microbial environment throughout the digestive tract, which may cause or contribute to a host of other ailments, locally or elsewhere in the body. Science is showing us how important the health and balance of the microbes in our gastrointestinal tracts is to overall function in the body so we want to ensure this area is functioning well and that we support it.
Skin disorders may also be an indicator of sluggish metabolism, poor gut health, and stagnation. Utilizing yerba mansa may be supportive to skin conditions. By supporting the lymphatic and liver functions of waste and toxin transformation and elimination, we avoid the accumulation of the materials such that they don’t ‘bog down’ the skin and cause issues.
In a world where more and more people are sedentary, inactive, not breathing fresh air, and eating a lot of processed, convenient, nutritionally inferior foods, these are the conditions that lead to stagnation in the body and contribute to illness. It’s great to know we have a wide array of herbal allies in the plant world to support us and bring us back in alignment. Yerba mansa is one herb of tremendous value, should you or your body be feeling sluggish or stuck and ‘bogged down.’
It is the root of this herb that is traditionally used and will be most effective, often in the form of an infusion, tea or tincture.
Dr. Shawn Manske attended the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, one of seven accredited four-year, post-graduate Naturopathic Medical schools in North America, and received his Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. He practiced as an ND for five years in Ontario, Canada, before moving to Colorado. He’s currently a Territory Accounts Manager and Senior Educator at WishGarden Herbs.
For educational purposes only. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease, or sell any product.