For generations, Native American tribes of the American Southwest have used three medicinal herbs – yerba mansa, cota and osh – to treat a number of ailments. Often considered sacred plants, these healing herbs grow wild.

Now researchers at New Mexico State University want to know if these elder plants can be cultivated as organically grown crops. “The main goal of this study is to find out whether we can bring these native plants under cultivation as high-value alternative crops for small-scale local growers,” said Charles Martin, an NMSU researcher.

Martin noted that there’s quite a bit of information on the medicinal properties of these plants, but little about how to grow them. “We’re really at the forefront of this issue,” he said. “Among other things, we’ll be looking at the effect different irrigation levels and weed control measures have on yields and chemical properties of these species.”

Known for its distinctive, spinach-like leaves, yerba mansa is recognized for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and antifungal properties, Martin said. Its aromatic roots are said to be reminiscent of a cross between camphor and eucalyptus.

Cota, which has radiant yellow flowers and long slender stalks, has been used for centuries in medicinal teas to treat ailments such as upset stomachs and toothaches.

Osh, which can be identified by its celery-like leaves, white flowers and potent smelling root, has strong antibacterial and antiviral qualities, and is often used to treat colds and flu, he said.

Field trials begin in March.