English: Gumweed. Spanish: Yerba del Buey. Family: Asteraceae. Genus & Species: Grindelia nuda (variety aphanactis)
Yerba del Buey is in bloom throughout August in Northern New Mexico and in the months of June and July in lower elevations throughout the southwestern United States. This sticky yellow-flowered herb grows up to 2 feet tall and is commonly seen by the side of the highway in the late summer. It is a member of the same family as daisies, sunflowers and dandelions: the Asteraceae family, one of the largest plant families on planet Earth.
As a plant medicine, Yerba del Buey is broadly useful as tea or extract. It is an effective expectorant (loosens thick mucus in the lungs) and antitussive (quieting a spastic cough) and a mild atropine-like sedative effect on the heart although no atropine or other cardiac glycosides have been found in the plant. It is an ideal addition to a mixture of other herbs for a cough syrup blend or can be used alone.
The aromatic oils in Yerba del Buey are excreted in the urine and have a disinfectant effect in the urinary tract, making this common plant a good choice for lower urinary tract (bladder) infections. It important to note that Yerba del Buey is not for use in kidney infections, as extended use may irritate the kidneys, especially if there is already irritation of the kidneys present. A fresh extract of the flowers is my first choice for treating poison oak or ivy on the skin, and the leaves and flowers are bitter enough to make an effective bitter tonic for upset tummies and indigestion.
Collect Yerba del Buey when in full bloom (away from roadsides) by cutting the stems 4-6 inches below the flower heads, bundle the stems with a rubber band, and hang to dry in the shade where there is good air movement. The leaves will be dry in 4-6 days, but the flowers are so sticky they will take at least another two weeks to be completely dry.
It is interesting to note that the name "Yerba del Buey" in Spanish translates to "herb of the ox" and the Lakota Sioux name is "pte ichi iyáyuȟ," which means "to make buffalo cows follow one another." So, it seems that both Spanish and plains Native Americans find that this plant has some relationship to bovines.
Consult your healthcare practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medication.
Rob Hawley is an herbalist and co-owner of Taos Herb Company. For information and hours: (575) 758-1991 or taosherb.com.