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Notes on Chaparral

chaparral leaves, flower, seed CHAPARRAL - Larrea sp. Covillea sp. Covillea, Creosote, Creosote Bush, Gobernadora, Greasewood, Hediondilla "little bad smeller", Kreosotbusch, Larree. Russian: Koost Kreozotovii. Yuma: Avse. The term "Chaparral" is considered a misnomer, but all the herbal books refer to it by this name. The name applies to Manzanita as well, q.v. The odor resembles creosote after a rain, or when the foliage is crushed. The presence of this plant indicates alkaline soil. The plant often propagates in a circle around its mother. This plant was found growing in a ring that was over 11,700 years old. The seed coats need not be filed or cut for the seeds to germinate; they can be placed in a moist chamber. The plant is rich in protein like alfalfa. The tender young twigs are edible boiled as a potherb. It can be served with butter or cream sauce. Boiled and used hot, it is the best medicine for itch, skin troubles and boils. Chew the roots and spray on infected parts for gonorrhea. The leaf and branch tip tea is used for stomach pain, loose bowels, colic, cough, and colds. The root tea is used for ulcers. The poultice is used for arthritis. A solution is used for swollen legs and smelly feet. The lac, deposited by insects, is used as glue, for mending pottery, and for waterproofing baskets. The lac is used to make a concoction for sick cattle, and for saddle galls. The gum, which has been synthesized, prevents fats and oils from becoming rancid. Remove the resins and feed the leaves to livestock. Galls are formed on the stems of the plant when wasps sting the stems.


Zygophyllum sp. Bean Caper, Bohnenkaper, Fabagelle. Russian: Parnolistnik.

L. mexicana: Creosote, Cresote Bush, Creosote Plant, Creasotum, Falsa Alcaparra, Gobernadora de Mexico, Guamis. Has pharmacological properties. Use the branches. They contain an essential yellow oil, of the odor of mint, and which produces resin easily, resin, tannin, coloring material, rubber, and mineral salts. Internally, use the infusion as a diuretic. It is used externally against rheumatism. The leaves, steeped, are used for bowel problems and consumption. It is used for coughs, pain in the chest, and phthisis. It is used in livestock for colds, distemper, or runny nose. Leafy branches heated in a fire were used as poultices for swelling and abdominal or back pain after childbirth, or for aching and tired feet. A hole was filled with hot coals, and the branches placed on top, and then covered with a cloth, and a sore limb was held over the smoke. Hot leafy branches wrapped in cloth were held to the head for headache, or the head was washed in a decoction of the branches. Before breakfast, a half liter of tea was drunk for difficulty in breathing, and vomiting was then induced with a feather. A decoction of the roots was drunk for dizziness, and the same mixture was used to soak a stingray wound. The lac was melted on a stick in a flame, and caught in water, and the mixture drunk as a contraceptive, by women. The fumes were used for colds, and the decoction for body pain.

Creosote is a substance obtained from wood tar. It is a colorless, oily, neutral liquid with a strong odor and an acrid taste.


The plant is also a source of glue. The lac was gathered, melted in a sea turtle shell with a hot coal held near them, and then formed into a glob. It could be carried and stored and melted for use. It acts like sealing wax. It was used for fastening points to arrows and harpoons, fixing holes in pots, and sealing lids on pots. It could be cut off with a hot knife. It was used to repair carvings and fill cracks, and one man used it to build up the cylinder head on his outboard motor to meet the gasket. The leafy branches were used to seal pots. See Saguaro. The lac was also used to make eyes for animal heads in taxidermy. The wood was used to make spikes which were driven into the sides of balsas to hold cargo. The wood was also used to make nails to hold Elephanttree boxes together. The points for harpoons were made from it, or from Catclaw (Acacia greggii), and a stringer for stringing fish used a point made of Chaparral wood, because it does not get soft in sea water. The tip of the pole for gathering fruit from columnar cacti is sometimes made from this wood, and short skewers for spearing cooking meat were made from it. The branches were used to brush glochids off cholla and prickly pear. Pads of the leafy branches were sometimes used for sandals, tied with Balloon Vines (Cardiospermum).

L. tridentata (L. divaricata, glutinosa, Covillea g., t., Schroeterella d., g., t., Neoschroetera d., g., t., Zygophyllum tridentatum). Variety arenaria, Algodones Dune Creosote Bush, grows tall and narrow. Coville Creosotebush, Creosote, Creosote Bush, Gobernadora, Greasewood, Hediondilla "little stinker". Akimel: Shoegoi. Kamia: Yepse. Kawaiisu: Yatabi, Yatambi. Mohave: Eve thay. Paiute: Toomarrah, Yattamp, Pahkop. Seri: Haaxat "with smoke or steam". Serrano: Yahtr. Shivwits: Yahtamp. Shoshone: Yettemp. Takic: Attookul, Atukul. Ornamental. This plant can survive years without rain. The leaves turn their edges to the hot sun. The flower buds are edible, pickled and used like capers. The leaves contain 16% protein. The plant was used as starvation food by the settlers.


This is one of the most valuable herbs. It is regarded by some as somewhat toxic, but it is used medicinally. From my personal experience, I would think that it is not toxic; I never suffered any ill effects whatsoever. A friend of mine regularly feeds it in small quantites to her horses. She is noted for her expertise in herbal medicine in horses, and her horses are quite healthy. It is said to contain carcinogens. It is most potent when it is in flower, but it can be picked and used any time. Alterative for the womb, analgesic, antibiotic, antimicrobial, anti-oxidant, antiseptic, antitumor, bactericidal, decongestant, disinfectant, diuretic, emetic, expectorant, mildly laxative, vermifuge, and tonic for strength. Use it in capsules. It purifies and detoxifies the blood and remedies an acid condition. It is used for diabetes (it initiates insulin and glycogen release), wounds, displacement of the womb, frigidity, paralysis, and hepatic failure. The bark tea is used as a wash for skin injuries and diseases such as acne and dermatitis, the sores of impetigo, and warts. It cleanses the liver, urinary tract, and bowel. It will restore peristalsis and can be used for drug addiction. Use as a mouthwash against tooth decay and toothache. A decoction of the leaves, 1 tsp. per quart of hot water, is used for flu, fevers, consumption, headache, upset stomach, menstrual cramps, for the womb, for gas pains, arthritis, rheumatism, chronic backache, kidney and urinary infections, kidney and gallstones, prostate trouble, sinus, throat, bronchial, and pulmonary conditions, chest infections, chicken pox, venereal disease, snake and black widow spider bites, sores, tetanus, to dissolve cancerous tumors, and for melanoma and leukemia. It increases hair growth, improves eyesight, and normalizes weight. Use it as a gargle and hot drink for colds. For chronic conditions, drink two to five cups a day. A very strong decoction can be made by filling a pot with branches, leaves, flowers and seeds, and then with water, and boiling for about an hour. This tea tastes so bad that there is only one way to drink it: take it outside, look at the mountains, thank God for them, and then drink. It can be used for any of the above conditions; if a person is seriously ill, he must take care. This decoction is used as an antiseptic and emetic, though when I drank it, it did not upset my stomach in the least. A warm tea is massaged into the scalp to remove dandruff, and the hair is shampooed two hours later. Apply it once a week for two months. The leaves are used as a poultice on sores. Line the shoes with leafy twigs to prevent the feet from perspiring and to remove odor, or grind it and put it into the armpits as a deodorant, or dust over sores. Put tired and aching limbs on a bed of leaves heated by a fire covered with dirt. The leaf decoction can be used as a poultice for sores, or to bathe sore and aching parts of the body. A strong tea can be mixed with oil for burns. A decoction of the gum or lac, which is deposited on the branches by insects, or an infusion of the plant, drunk, is used for tuberculosis. Heated leafy branches are bound on painful areas to relieve them, or on bruises. The smoke, produced by mixing the green tips with mesquite and a little sugar, is inhaled as a tonic. Use an epsom salt bath a half week later. A painful part of the body can be held over the steam while the plant is boiling, or it can be used as a tonic, or a hot foot bath. Chew the gum to treat dysentery. Drink a weak tea of the bark for intestinal spasms, or for difficulty in urinating. Leaves cooked in water make a good plaster for scratches and skin wounds, or as a rub for rheumatism. Poultices or solutions are used for open wounds, and to draw out poisons and prevent infections, including those of puncture wounds. Put the poultice over the wound and heat it with a hot stone. Powdered dry leaves are good for sores and wounds. The liniment is used for swollen limbs caused by poor circulation. Inhale the aroma of the dried or fresh herb to relieve asthma. The steam of the boiling leaves was inhaled for lung congestion. Cover the head with a blanket to keep in the steam. The plant contains nordihydroguaiaretic acid (N.D.G.A.), an antioxidant. Some medical authorities state that N.D.G.A. is toxic. Use this plant carefully during pregnancy.


Several years ago, the Food and Drug Administration of the United States government ordered this herb removed from the market. I won't speculate as to their motivations, but there is a definite pattern of outlawing useful herbs. It may be that the medical establishment believes that herbs are a threat to the income of doctors. I would strongly urge you to protest to the government for this heavyhanded action. The F.D.A. needs to continue to hear from people like us. We also need to tell our congresspeople that the F.D.A. needs to be controlled.

As already mentioned, chaparral is especially good for horses. It is alterative and a blood purifier. As a preventative measure, give a horse 1 Tbsp. of leaves, fine stems, and flowers (if there are any) a day, or else use Red Clover. I know of a horse that went into shock from being wormed and receiving an injection at the same time. The owner put a tablespoonful of crushed Chaparral in his throat. Fifteen minutes later, he was up eating hay. The tea can be used for saddle gall. The leaf decoction can be used for treating collar sores of animals. The infusion is given to horses for colds, distemper, or runny noses. I have used Chaparral on my goats a number of times. If they will eat it, it will straighten out all kinds of serious conditions.


Chaparral may be used as an insect repellant and herbicide in the garden. Do not use growing chaparral plants as nurse plants for young cacti or other plants; many plants will not grow under it. The branches can be used as kindling, and the plant can be used for firewood, green or dry. The wood is used to make pointed digging sticks. The plant can be used to fashion shade shelters. Gather the lac from the leaves into a ball, soften it in fire to work it, and use it to make tool handles. These can be fastened with sinew. The lac or gum can be used as a glue to fasten the handles made of other material, to fasten arrowheads, as glue for mosaics, to mend broken pots, as a varnish, or to waterproof baskets.

It is reported that sheep are occasionally poisoned by this plant, especially pregnant ewes. It is also reported to cause dermatitis. The resin on the leaves is distasteful to animals. Iguanas, bees, and grasshoppers like the flowers.

As an ornamental, this species requires no care in arid landscapes. It requires full sun, and should be watered once a month in a dry summer. It does not like heavy clay but caliche is fine. In good soil, the plants become dense. It will grow faster in summer with moderate watering; do not overwater. If pruned, it will be a dense plant. This plant can survive with three inches of rainfall a year. It has a resinous odor which is particularly pronounced when it is wet.


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