Yerba santa is an evergreen shrub in the waterleaf family that is distributed throughout western North America, particularly California. Its common name is Spanish for “holy weed.”
The fresh leaf of the plant is said to quench thirst when chewed. This is because the plant retains water to withstand its hot and dry habitat. Rolled and dried in the sun, the leaf is chewed to cleanse the mouth when mouthwash is not available. At first, the taste is bitter but with a sip of water, it becomes sweet.
Historically, yerba santa is prepared as a tea or tonic to help eliminate congestion and other respiratory complaints. The herb can also be tinctured or made into syrup.