Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica)
Yerba mansa is classified under the plant family Saururaceae which is more commonly known as the Lizard Tail family. Yerba mansa is common to southwestern states (California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas) and parts of Mexico.
Yerba mansa is a popular herb with a long history of use. Having been used by different peoples it is known by many names, some of which are listed here: Gentle Herb, Hierba el Manso, Lizard Tail, Lizard Tail Root, Mansa, Mansa Grass, Manso, Manso grass, Shrimp Plant, Shrimp Root, Swamp Root, Yerba del Manso (Herb of gentleness).
The root of yerba mansa was used as a medicine by many tribes in California, Great Basin, and the Southwest including the Wukchumni Yokuts, Kawaiisu, Paiute, Shoshone, and Pima. Some Native Americans still gather the plant today. The Kawaiisu, for example, boiled the root and a decoction was then drunk hot to alleviate colds and coughing. The Tubatulabal of southern California for colds also took a decoction of the plant. The Kamia of Imperial Valley pulverized the seeds of yerba mansa in the mortar and the meal was then cooked as mush in a pot or baked as bread in hot ashes. The Yokuts pounded up the root and soaked it in water. The water was then drunk for a bad stomach. The Costanoan made a decoction from the root, which was used, for menstrual cramps and for general pain remedy. A tea was used to wash sores and the plant, dried and powdered, was sprinkled on wounds as a disinfectant. The Cahuilla peeled, cut up, squeezed, and boiled the roots into a decoction that was drank as a cure for pleurisy. An infusion was also used as a cure for stomach ulcers, chest congestion, and colds.
The autumn roots were also harvested and boiled into a deep red-wine color and drank to alleviate ulcers or applied externally to wash open sores. The Moapa Paiute boiled the leaves in a quantity of water and used it as a bath for muscular pains and for sore feet. The Shoshone mashed the roots and boiled them to make a poultice for swellings, or the decoctions used as an antiseptic wash. A tea from the boiled roots can be taken for stomachache or more commonly as a tonic for general debility following colds. The Pima in the Southwest made an infusion of dried roots which was taken for colds. They also chewed the roots and swallowed them or made a decoction of the roots which was taken for coughs. Spanish settlers in California used the plant as a liniment for skin troubles and as a tea for disorders of the blood.
Yerba mansa is a perennial herb, with nodes on the stems, and creeping stolons (runners) that put down new roots. Leaves are simple, mostly basal (a few, small, alternate leaves on the stalks), ovate to elliptical or oblong, long-stemmed; with smooth-margins, and rounded tips. Flowers are very small, symmetrical, and white; sepals and petals absent; with numerous white stamens and pistils; grouped together in dense, terminal, cone-shaped spikes, with conspicuous white bracts (leafy appendages) below each spike which appear to be petals. Fruits are small capsules, with six to ten, roundish to ovoid seeds. The whole plant turns brick-red in the autumn.
In modern times we'd likely describe yerba mansa's properties as anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, astringent, carminative, immunostimulant and tonic.
The whole plant can be harvested and utilized. The leaves/flowers and stem for tea or a poultice, or the whole plant for tincturing or the making of a rarefied essential oil. In the case of a whole plant harvest, the roots would be lightly washed and cut into small pieces, then tinctured at a 1:2 ratio with 60% alcohol. This allows for the extract of the water soluble components of the plants chemistry. We take the additional step of creating a Spagyric by processing the remaining plant material(marc) into Spagyric salts. These are then added back to the final extract.