The Medicine Chest of the Desert: Larrea tridentata

larrea tree

Chaparral, Creosote Bush, La Gobernadora, Hedionillo…the many names of the wonder plant I mostly call Chaparral. Each names refers to some quality of this plant – where it lives, what it smells like (to some people), its governing position over other plants in the Desert Southwest, and the fact that to some it is simply, the little stinker. No matter what name you choose to use in its reference, its powerful medicine for the body and spirit cannot be denied.

I was first introduced to this plant in 2008 when I moved to Arizona to study western herbal medicine with JoAnn Sanchez. Immediately upon smelling the desert air after rain, I was in love with Chaparral. Its scent is astringent and sweet, and I daresay magical, especially during those rare times when the desert sizzle has been splashed out. You can tell if you pay just the slightest attention Chaparral is up to something wonderful out there.4546879748_175c3fbaa0_b

Called the Medicine Chest of the Desert by the people native to Southern California, Arizona, and Northern Mexico, Chaparral is useful for just about any ailment it comes up against. Powerfully antimicrobial and anti-fungal, it has through time been used to prevent infections due to cuts, burns, and bites, but also those internal caused by pathogens entering the body. Chaparral prevents free radical damage to the lungs, liver, and organs of digestion by removing them from the body. Probably because of this action, it has been used to effectively treat a number of different cancers, including melanomas, and is known for its ability to inhibit growth in tumors and cysts (for example, fibroids).

According an ethno-botanist who teaches field studies for the herbal program at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts, the Pima people of central Arizona would use just an inch or so of the fresh plant in water as a cleansing drink, helping to flush out a variety of toxins while providing essential minerals and vitamins to the body. It is a strong liver stimulant, and so should not be used by individuals with liver disease such as cirrhosis or hepatitis. Energetically speaking, Chaparral is cooling and drying, and after this class with Diane, I used it in the way of the Pima to treat a severe case of folliculitis where two physicians and many home remedies had failed.

As an ally for detoxification, Chaparral may have no rival, whether for the physical or psychic parts of our human existence. When used as a flower essence, it works during dreamtime to cleanse the psyche of negative, stagnating traumas or behavioral patterns and themes a person has subconsciously stored through their life. I caution that it is extremely potent and can cause great distress to one attempting to do this type of work on their own. When I tried it several years ago, I placed some stems in a vase near my bed, and took several drops of the essence before retiring. Each night I relived just about every single emotion, relationship, traumatic event, fear, and doubt I had ever experienced. I would wake feeling completely drained and anxious, and afraid to go to bed at night. This lasted less than a week, (I continued with the physical detox), and I decided to wait until I had a shaman or other support to help me through the process.

The best delivery systems for Creosote are those most simple to use. A sprig in cold water, used all day, as a cleansing tonic drink is my favorite. Just refill the same bottle throughout the day. I also love making salves with the infused oil. For this either fresh or dried plant can be used, but if you have access to the fresh, go for it. A salve of La Gobernadora is awesome to have on hand when outdoors, just in case you get scratched or cut. It is also quite useful topically for all the herpes viruses, including cold sores, herpes simplex, and chicken pox.

Making a strong tea of the leaf and stem is great for a bath to relieve aching muscles that may accompany extreme stress, herpes viruses, arthritis, or any autoimmune disorders. The dried plant when powdered has been used by many Native people of the Southwest as an effective deodorant. I made a tincture with it and combined it with witch hazel, which was an amazing deodorant, but not for use when wearing white clothes – everything turned greenish yellow.

If you ever find yourself in the deserts of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, or Northern Mexico, it will definitely be worth your while to spend some time visiting with Chaparral. I encourage you to try a sprig in your water bottle, but pay attention to how you feel. More than any other plant I’ve ever used, this one will tell you when you’ve had enough of its medicine. If you decide this is a plant you would like to add to your herbal repertoire, make sure to purchase it from a reputable source or get permission before harvesting. Consult with a qualified practitioner before using it internally and especially when any serious medical conditions exist. But most importantly, enjoy the journey, and listen closely to what Chaparral will tell you about itself and about you.

For more information, visit Candice at The Growing Project.


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