Anemopsis californica

Taxonomy: Magnoliophyta (angiosperm), Magnoliopsida (dicot), Saururaceae

Common names: lizard tail, yerba mansa

by Andrea Medina (ANTH457 Summer 1999 & Hort300 Fall 1999)

 Anemopsis californica, is also known as yerba mansa. Yerba, is spanish for herb and mansa is the feminine form of the spanish word manso meaning tame, tranquil or calm. I have found no information as to why the plant has been given this name and it has not been reported to have a sedative effect. This member of the Saururaceae family is native to the Southwestern United States and Mexico. Yerba mansa does well in an arid climate though it must have plenty of water and is found growing in wet marshy niches.

Yerba mansa, a perennial, is characterized as having a white spiked basal inflorescence surrounded by striking white bracts that are often mistaken for petals.




As the plant matures it will develop red to purple stains on all of its aerial parts, the entire plant turning brick red in the fall (Tucker, 1985).


Recently, I was invited to gather yerba mansa for vegetative propagation, it was growing with Ventenata dubia [Leers] Gross. & Dur. (Whitson, 1992) and several other grasses with tough rhizomes. We gathered near a fallow field in an area that was saturated with standing ground water.

Yerba mansa roots at the nodes of strong rhizomes and it has a mass of spongy looking roots, a combination which makes this plant a challenge to harvest.

 Yerba mansa is very aromatic, the roots especially are said to be reminiscent of a cross between camphor and eucalyptus (Moore, 1989). The plant has a distinct musty, spicy scent, our noses led us to the stands in the Rio Grande Valley long before we actually saw it.



The broadleaf foliage of yerba mansa is lush and spongy. While gathering yerba mansa I discovered a wooly bear caterpillar, Estigmene acrea (Drury) of the Arctiidae family rapidly consuming huge portions of yerba mansa leaves. Estigmene acrea, commonly known as saltmarsh caterpillar, is an agronomic insect that poses a threat to cotton, alfalfa, and lettuce growers in the Mesilla Valley . There is evidence that a minor infestation may reduce the chances of boll rot. Presently, the caterpillar is in captivity as I am curious to see the resulting moth.



The plant should be collected in the fall preferably after the first freeze. This makes sense since the root of the plant is used medicinally, after the first freeze the plant will begin to store the useful chemical in its root system. According to Michael Moore (1989), a leading figure in the field, yerba mansa Root should be...

  • washed to remove clay and silt
  • wilted for several weeks in a well ventilated area
  • cut into small pieces and continue to dry
  • total drying time approximately six months

 Medicinal Uses:

Although yerba mansa is not related to golden seal chemically or botanically it can be used similarly to treat inflammation of the mucous membranes, swollen gums and sore throat (Moore, 1989). This is important because golden seal, a popular herbal remedy, is in danger of becoming extinct in the wild due to exploitation. Properly managed, substituting yerba mansa could take some of the pressure off of the market for golden seal.

An infusion of roots can be taken as a diuretic to treat rheumatic diseases like gout by ridding the body of excess uric acid, which causes painful inflammation of the joints. Yerba mansa prevents the buildup of uric acid crystals in the kidneys which could causes kidney stones if left untreated. Yerba mansa's general antiinflammatory effect makes it excellent for treating arthritis and other inflammatory diseases (Moore, 1989).

A tea of roots used as a douche treats venereal sores, uterine cancer and is used after childbirth to staunch excessive bleeding. Yerba mansa is heralded for a variety of uses concerning childbirth. A sitz bath of one teaspoon tincture to one quart of water will quicken perineum healing after tearing or episiotomy during birth. The plant also has anti-fungal properties and a powder of dried root can be sprinkled on infected areas to alleviate athlete's foot or diaper rash (Kay, 1996).

Yerba mansa is versatile, it can be taken orally as a tea, tincture, infusion or dried in capsule form. It can be used externally for soaking inflamed or infected areas. It can be ground and used as a dusting powder. Some people in Las Cruces, NM use the leaves to make a poultice to relieve muscle swelling and inflammation.

People who have used this plant:
Yerba mansa has been used by many people the Pima, Mayo, Yaqui, Mexican, Chumash and Shoshone among them (Kay, 1996). I found no specific information on cultural practices concerning yerba mansa. Most sources indicate that the plant has been used by many groups in the southwestern United States. Margarita Artschwager Kay, author of Healing With Plants in the American and Mexican West, cites yerba mansa as having more entries in her notes than any other species in the American and Mexican west.


Non-medicinal Uses:
In the deserts of California yerba mansa is being used as turf in public parks and ground cover in gardens (Bakker, 1988).

When yerba mansa populates an area it broadens the ecology as decaying leaf matter and root oils acidify and aerate the soil and inhibit the growth of harmful microorganisms (Moore, 1989).

Active Ingredients
The active compound in Yerba mansa is methyleugenol, an antispasmodic, similar in chemical structure to compounds found in nutmeg which is used to treat irritable stomach (Fleming, 1998).



Acharya R.N., and Chaubal M.G., "Essential Oil of Anemopsis californica." Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 57 (6): 1020- 1022. American Pharmaceutical Association, 1968.

Bakker, Elna. "Yerba Mansa as Ground Cover." Pacific Horticulture 49 (4): 47-49. Pacific Horticultural Foundation, San Francisco, CA, 1988.

Fleming, Thomas ed. PDR for Herbal Medicines 1st ed. Medical Economics Company, Montvale, NJ, 1998.

Kay, M.A. Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ, 1996.

Kearny T.H., and Peebles R.H., et al. Arizona Flora. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1960.

Moore, Michael. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1989.

Sencoval, Annette. Home Grown Healing Traditional Home Remedies from Mexico. Berkley Books, New York, NY, 1998.

Tucker, S.C. "Initiation and Development of Inflorescence and Flower in Anemopsis californica (Saururaceae)." American Journal of Botany 72 (1): 20-30. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 1985.

Whitson, Tom D. ed. Weeds of the West. The Western Society of Weed Science in cooperation with the Western United States Land Grant Universities Cooperative Extension Services, Jackson, WY, 1992 revised.

Kamp, Mimi. Anemopsis. June 15, 1999.

Phytochemical and Ethnobotanical Data Bases. July 26, 1999.

Michael Moore SW School of Botanical Medicine, July 12, 1999.

American Indian Ethnobotany Databases. June 15, 1999.

Cotton/Saltmarsh Caterpillar, September 9, 1999.


Last Updated: September 14, 1999

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