Anemopsis californica (Nutt.) Hook.


Saururaceae (Lizard Tail Family)




Yerba Mansa     

                                 May Photo


Plant Characteristics: Perennial herb with creeping rootstocks; stems nodose, scapelike, stoloniferous, 1-5 dm. high, wooly-pubescent, with a broadly ovate clasping lf. above the middle and 1-3 small lvs. in this axil; basal lvs. elliptic-oblong, 4-18 cm. long, on equally long petioles, entire, minutely punctate, cordate at base; spikes conical, 1-4 cm. long; invol., bracts persistent, white or reddish beneath, 1-3 cm. long; each fl. subtended by a small white bract 5-6 mm. long; ovary sunk in the rachis of the spike; stigmas 3-4; fr. a caps.


Habitat:  Common in wet, especially subalkaline places, below 6500 ft.; Alkali Sink and Coastal Salt Marsh to Yellow Pine F.; L. Calif. n. through cismontane and desert areas; to Nev., Tex., Mex.  March-Sept.


Name:  Greek, anemon and opsis, anemone-like.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 776).  Californica, indicates that the first specimens collected were from California.  (Dale 13).


General:  Occasional in the study area but usually in large colonies where found.  Shown in the texts to be a salt marsh plant, all populations known in the Upper Bay are in fresh water areas.  Because I have not found the species in saline habitats, I have not listed it as an upper Newport Bay native halophyte.  Photographed on the Santa Ana Heights Flats.  (my comments).     The peppery, astringent, creeping rootstock was prized as a household remedy by early Californians.  They chewed the dried root and used an infusion of it for outer aches and pains.  The common name, Yerba Mansa, means "tame herb."  The true name once was Yerba del Manso, "the herb of the tamed Indian."  (Dale 175).      There are many medicinal uses--as a treatment for abrasions, cuts, burns; a cure for gastrointestinal upsets; a poultice for rheumatism and a tonic for blood purification.  (Ref. not recorded).      One species formerly used medicinally for diseases of skin and blood.  (Munz, Flora So. Calif. 776).      Important "cure-all."  Peppery root dried, used for sore throat; powder put on boils, cuts, and sores (also used for animal sores).  (Bauer 158).      The root pounded up and soaked in water; the water drunk for a bad stomach.  (Powers 428).       The tea is taken as a blood purifier; and the plant, in the form of a wash or poultice, is used for rheumatism, while the wilted leaves are said to reduce swellings.  The plant was so valued by the Spanish-Californians that they would travel or send long distances for it.  In the medical world it is beginning to be used in diseases of the mucous membrane.  (Parsons 78).  This book was published in 1909.  (my comment).       Harrington's Chumash consultants, natives who recalled plant uses of the past, recalled that root tea was drunk for cough, applied to cuts and sores, or used as a hot bath for rheumatism.  Yerba Mansa root was also chewed, drunk as tea, or inhaled to purify and strengthen a person who was to carry dangerous substances.  It is quite often mentioned as an effective remedy for venereal disease.  After Spanish contact and colonization both syphilis and gonorrhea affected the Chumash, and these devastated the mission populations.  Yerba Mansa, long used as a wash for sores, was logically applied to similar conditions.  It was also taken internally in cases of venereal disease, probably being intended to aid by purifying the blood.  The Chumash believed that many diseases were really just one, blood trouble.  "Freshening" or purifying the blood, thereby restoring balance and harmony in the patientís body, was the goal of a number of treatments.  Many of these were herbal, such as Yerba Mansa; other treatments, such as seawater drinking, were considering effective as well.  (Timbrook, J. "Virtuous Herbs: Plants in Chumash Medicine".  Journal of Ethnobiology, Winter 1987, 171-180).       The Cahuilla, Indians of the Colorado Desert, the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains used the plant as a cure for stomach ulcers, chest congestion, and colds.  An infusion made from the bark of the plant was used to wash open sores.  The bark was gathered in the fall, according to Mrs. Saubel, boiled into a deep red-wine color, and then drunk as a cure for ulcers or applied externally to sores as a wash.  (Bean 38).      Note the resemblance of this last paragraph, which was from interviews with Cahuilla Indians to the above quotes from other authors.  (my comment).       Used by itself, (powdered root) or combined with Cypress and Chaparral, it is excellent for athlete's foot.  (Moore, Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West 134).


Text Ref:  Hickman, Ed. 1002; Munz, Calif. Flora, 114; Munz, Flora So. Calif.

776; Robbins et al. 130.

Photo Ref:  May 1 83 # 13,14.

Identity: by R. De Ruff.

First Found:  May 1983.

Computer Ref:  Plant Data 274.

No plant specimen.

Last edit 5/22/05.

                                   May Photo