Yerba mansa

Yerba mansa


Sacrifice inspired by Bendíceme, UltimaA turquoise-blue river playfully twisted its merry way past me. Gabbling and gurgling, it leapt over stones in its way. Pebbles whisked about in the under wash like pieces of glitter and the soft sunlight shimmered on the golden surface. Splashes of the meandering river reached my green oval leaves; I felt the tickling sensation of the water droplets running down my leaves and onto the damp soil.

I could tell that the year was nearing the end of March, as the petite white flowers that sprouted from my sides had begun to bloom. I felt at peace with the Earth in this moment. My roots nestled comfortably in the soil, the gentle sound of the Guadalupe river soothed me, and the warmth of the sun bared down on my leaves. I sensed myself growing into the most beautiful yerba mansa flower that anyone could have ever seen.

Abruptly, a cloud glazed over the sun and an unwelcome chilly breeze rustled my petals. I felt suddenly aware of the silence of the desert around me, a brooding presence of what was coming. That is when I heard them. Distant chattering voices that were edging closer and closer. I spotted an old woman hobbling across the desert, supported by a young boy who must have only been around seven years old.

As they edged closer, snippets of their conversation became easier to hear.

“Niño[1], it is a unique-looking herb. It has oval green leaves that look rubbery and small white flowers…”

“Abuela[2];, I think I see one!”

The boy loomed over me, the impish glint in his eyes impossible to miss. My red tinted view rendered his devilish figure, with his outreached hand a filthy claw ready to rip me from the soil, my home.

“¡Para, Miguel; no la toques![3]

Miguel recoiled and the mischief left his eyes. He cocked his head to one side and looked at me curiously, waiting for further instruction from his abuela.

“Ah it is yerba del manso. ¡Muy bien,[4] Miguel! This will really help Maria. It has magical powers.”

Now, I could see two faces staring down at me. Abuela had a kind and friendly face carved with wrinkles, and her mouth split into a toothless grin as she peered at me. Miguel asked her why yerba mansa was magical.

“Pues,[5] it treats wounds and reduces inflammation. It is particularly useful for treating arthritis, which is why we need it for Maria. We will put the leaves in tea, an ointment, or a bath. Hopefully, it soothes her pain.”

Me? Magic?, I asked myself.

“I once had a friend named Última. She was a curandera like me, ¿sabes?[6] She taught me to tell the plant what we use them for before we take them from their home in the Earth,” the abuela curandera said.

Miguel nodded, showing that he followed what his abuela was saying.

Slowly it dawned on me what they were about to do. Fear became a palpable, living force that crept over me like some hungry animal, immobilizing me. I am not ready to die.

“Yerba del manso, we lift you from the soil for medicine. Our friend Maria is in a lot of pain with arthritis, and we need you to heal her,” abuela said.

Their two faces wavered in my gaze as I struggled to process the information being thrown at me. Trying to steady my vision, I focused on the curvature of the faint wrinkles surrounding abuela’s eyes, which seemed to sparkle ever so slightly despite the melancholic situation.

“Por favor,[7] I cannot bear to see her sick,” Miguel blurted out.

Hearing the painful undertones in his voice, I realised that I had unwittingly allowed my original resolve to slip away somewhat. Would being taken from the soil be such a bad fate? I listened one last time to the gurgling river and admired the blue sky, the perfect protecting dome that plays with sunlight in the day. In my moment of reflection, my new resolve sharpened; I was going to heal Maria. My life thus far had been beautiful, but what could truly be more beautiful than saving the life of another?

Miguel approached me with a shovel and plunged it into the Earth. My life as I had always known crumbled with the soil around me, and in my final moments, I felt a wave of what felt like the magic that Miguel had spoken of. This is the fate that was meant for me.

“Muchas gracias[8] yerba del manso,” Miguel whispered.

Muchas gracias, I thought in return.

[1] Child
[2] Grandmother
[3] Stop,Miguel. Don’t touch it!
[4] Well done!
[5] Well
[6] You know?
[7] Please
[8] Thank you

“For Ultima, even the plants had a spirit, and before I dug, she made me speak to the plant and tell it why we pulled it from its home in the earth. ‘You that grow well here in the arroyo by the dampness of the river, we lift you to make good medicine.’”

Rudolfo Anaya (1994 [1972]), Bless me, Ultima

Anemopsis californicaAnemopsis californica

Family: Saururaceae.
Commonly known as: Yerba mansa, yerba del manso, lizard tail, swamp root.
Native to: Southwestern North America.
Main properties: antiseptic properties and traditionally used to reduce muscular pains and swellings.
Appears in: Bless me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya (1994 [1972]).


Louisa CouslandLouisa Cousland

Studied: Spanish and Latin American Studies.
Commonly known as: Louisa.
Birthplace: Bath, England.
Interested in: Fictional stories and learning how important different plants are to different cultures and communities. I have a new interest in plants and their symbolism.
Favourite plant: Lavender. Its rich scent and lilac colour attracts me to it.