Chaparral (larrea tridentata)

Chaparral is a thorny, olive green or yellow evergreen shrub with a strong odor of tar, or creosote. The plant dominates the landscape of the desert regions of North America, forming vast populations. For many Native American groups, chaparral was a panacea, useful for treating a wide range of conditions that included dandruff, snakebite, and low energy. The wood was used to make arrows and tools, and the fiber was used as a building material.


Plant profile

Common Names: Chaparral, Creosote Bush

Description: Thorny, olive green or yellow evergreen shrub, up to 6 feet tall; dark green leaves with opposite leaflets; bright yellow flowers up to 1 inch across; highly aromatic

Hardiness: To Zone 8

Family: Zygophyllaceae

Flowering: Midsummer

Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, and stems

Range/Habitat: Found throughout desert regions of the southwestern United States and parts of Mexico

Medicinal use

Traditionally, Native American people made a chaparral leaf wash or poultice to treat arthritis, bruises, and wounds, and to treat aching or sore areas of the body. An infusion of the leaves was considered to be an antiseptic and was used to wash and cleanse the skin. It was also used to treat the sores on domesticated animals caused by the rubbing of a collar or strap. Chaparral tea was taken internally to relieve asthma, colds, sore throats, diarrhea, and many other conditions.

Chaparral contains nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), a powerful antioxidant formerly used by the food industry to preserve cooking oils. This compound is known for its anti-inflammatory properties. The herb also has antimicrobial, antiviral, and hyperglycemic properties. According to a study published in the Journal of Dental Research, using chaparral mouthwash reduced cavity formation by 75 percent.

Caution: Do not take chaparral internally; internal use of this herb has been known to cause severe liver and kidney damage. Do not use chaparral internally or externally if you are pregnant, nursing, or have liver or kidney disease.

How to grow it

A desert plant, chaparral thrives in dry conditions, sandy or gravelly soil, and full sun. Consider growing it in a large container because its roots contain chemicals that can kill nearby plants. To improve germination, scarify the seed, then soak it in water for 24 hours before sowing it in a flat indoors. Cover the seed with a small amount of soil. After the second set of true leaves appears, transplant the seedlings. Water periodically for the first 2 years, but allow the soil to dry out completely before watering again. Allow seed heads to dry on the plant before collecting them for propagation.