Yerba Santa

Yerba Santa © KKorbholz

California Yerba Santa
Eriodictyon californicum

Description (Jepson,

  • Eudicotyledon
    • Eudicots are a major lineage of flowering plants; see family for general characteristics
  • Nama Family (Namaceae)
  • Evergreen shrub
  • Leaves
    • Alternate (1 leaf at each junction with stem) and simple (not divided into leaflets)
    • Narrow leathery leaves with toothed margins; up to 6 in. long
    • Young leaves sticky on upper surface
  • Flowers
    • Inflorescence (flower arrangement) is a panicle (branching stem with flowers opening from the bottom up)
    • 5-lobed, funnel-shaped, white to purplish flowers
    • Ovary superior (above the attachment of other flower parts)
  • Fruit is a capsule (a dry, multi-chambered fruit that splits open at maturity)
  • Height to ~9 ft.


  • Native to California
    • Grows on slopes and ridges in chaparral, woodlands, and forests
    • See Calflora for statewide observations of this plant
  • Outside California, grows in southern Oregon
  • Grows at elevation to 6,000 ft.

Uses (San Mateo County Parks prohibits removal of any natural material)

  • Wildlife
    • Nectar source for butterflies, e.g. the western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus), pale swallowtail (P. eurymedon), California hairstreak (Satyrium californicum), and Edith’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha) seek the flowers for nectar
    • Pollen and nectar source for native bees
      • Non-native honey bee (Apis mellifera) makes a spicy amber honey from the nectar
    • Forage for black-tailed deer when other food sources are scarce
    • Seed capsules eaten by birds and small mammals
  • Native people and Spanish settlers
    • A tea or smoke from the leaves was used as a decongestant for colds, asthma, chronic gastritis, and urethral irritation
    • Leaves and flowers were warmed and used as a poultice on aching or sore areas
    • Mashed leaves were often applied to cuts, wounds, abrasions, and fractures to keep swelling down, aid in mending, and relieve pain
    • Chewing on leaves helps relieve thirst
    • Ohlone women wove skirts with leaves (Anderson 2018)

Name Derivation

  • Eriodictyon (er-ee-oh-DIK-tee-yon) – from the Greek erion, “wool,” and diktuon, “net,” thus a woolly net, referring to the undersurface of some leaves
  • Yerba santa – from the Spanish for “holy” or “sacred herb”
Flowers (L), Fruits (M), Leaves with Hetersporium Fungus (R) © DSchiel


  • Leaves are slightly aromatic and bitter, making them unpalatable to most animals
  • Once plant is established, the roots send up many new shoots to form large colonies
  • Strongly adapted for fire
    • Leaves secrete a flammable resin
    • Rhizomes (horizontal underground stems), as well as seedbank, allow for quick resprouting
  • Leaves and stems are often infected with a sooty fungus in the genus Hetersporium, which turns them black, but is not thought to harm the plant
    • Plant does most of its photosynthesis with fresh leaves in spring, before going dormant
  • Reclassified in 2021 from the Borage family (Boraginaceae)

At Edgewood

  • Found in chaparral
  • Flowers April – July

See General References

Specific References

Anderson, M.K., and J.E. Keeley. (2018). Native peoples’ relationship to the California chaparral. E. Underwood, et al. (Eds). Valuing Chaparral. Pp. 79-121. Springer Series on Environmental Management. Springer, Cham.

Howard, J.L. 1992. Eriodictyon californicum. Fire Effects Information System. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory.

Immel, D.L. 2006. Yerba santa Eriodictyon californicum (Hook. & Arn.) Torr. Plant GuideUnited States Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Plant Data Center c/o Environmental Horticulture Department, University of California, Davis, California.

Shapiro, A.M., and T.D. Manolis. 2007. Field Guide to Butterflies of the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento Valley Regions. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.