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Yerba Buena: A Refreshing Native Steeped in History

As far back as 1775 and likely much earlier, yerba buena, a California native herb was thriving on the San Francisco peninsula. It was known to be so abundant that native San Franciscans introduced the fragrant herb to Spanish missionaries, who called it yerba buena, meaning “good herb.” In fact, the town of Yerba Buena was named after this plant.

Characteristics, Habitat, and Range

Yerba buena (clinopodium douglasii) is a creeping, mat-forming perennial herb that grows primarily in northern and central California, barely extending into southern California and the Channel Islands. It tends to grow at elevations below 3000 feet and is especially abundant close to the coast. Clinopodium douglasii is a plant of the Lamiaceae, or mint family which also includes a wonderful variety of herbs and spices; sage, rosemary and thyme. It is closely related to the European savouries (herbs), of the genus Satureja, and was previously classified by botanists as Satureja douglasii. Yerba buena has delicate and fragrant green leaves and white flowers that bloom from spring to summer.

Ethnobotanical information

The leaves of this wildflower may be used to make tea. It also figures prominently in local folk medicine: Mexican, Native, and European Americans have and continue to use it medicinally. It can be used in cooking in place of other savories. The oils are also used for perfumes or potpourris.

Care and Propagation

Yerba buena usually grows in shade as an understory plant, associated with trees like oaks (Quercus), California bays (Umbellularia californica) and madrones (Arbutus menziesii). Some good companion plants are Fragaria californica (wood strawberry), and Ribes sanguineum var. glutinosum (pink flowering currant).

Yerba buena is easy to grow; it makes a good ground cover without being aggressive, and is easy to keep small. It is deer resistant and will grow in pots, but also looks good in a rock garden climbing around boulders Yerba buena is drought tolerant but grows and looks best with moderate watering.

Let’s make tea!

Many locals agree that yerba buena makes a refreshing tea either warm or cold. Keep in your garden and make this wonderful tea any time! See our recipe below!

Yerba Buena Tea

  • one bunch fresh yerba buena leaves (approx. 1 cup)

  • six cups water

  • one cup ice

Bring water to a boil and add the fresh yerba buena leaves. Reduce heat and simmer for 5-8 minutes with a lid on the pot. Add the cup of ice and bring the tea back to a low boil for 3-5 minutes. Cool, strain, and refrigerate to serve cold. Can also be enjoyed hot or with honey!

Find yerba buena and many other plants at the Sutro Native Plant Nursery!

Volunteers are welcome at the nursery on Wednesdays from 9:30am-12:30pm. Come to visit, purchase plants, or to volunteer. We’d love to have you! See our nursery page for more information on the nursery and our plant sale (Saturday, September 30).


  1. Yerba Buena.,%20California&item_type=topic

  2. Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii) California Native Plant Society.

  3. Yerba Buena (Clinopodium douglasii). Forest Jay Gauna. USDA Forest Service.

  4. Satureja douglasii. Yerba Buena.

  5. Micromeria douglasii. Wikipedia.

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