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Botanical Name : Larrea tridentata
Species: L. tridentata
Common names: Chaparral, Creosote bush,hediondilla, Shegoi
Habitat : It is a prominent species in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts of western North America, including portions of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and western Texas in the United States, and northern Chihuahua in Mexico. It is closely related to the South American Larrea divaricata, and was formerly treated as the same species.
It is an evergreen shrub growing to 1-3 m tall, rarely 4 m. The stems of the plant bear resinous, dark green leaves with two leaflets joined at the base, each leaflet 7-18 mm long and 4-8.5 mm broad. The flowers are up to 25 mm diameter, with five yellow petals. Galls may form by the activity of the creosote gall midge. The whole plant exhibits a characteristic odor of creosote, from which the common name derives.
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Such chemicals, however, have failed to explain the peculiar regularity in the spacing of individual plants within a stand. Creosote bush stands tend to resemble man-made orchards in the even placement of plants. Originally, it was assumed that the plant produced some sort of water-soluble inhibitor that prevented the growth of other bushes near mature, healthy bushes. Now, however, it has been shown that the root systems of mature creosote plants are simply so efficient at absorbing water that fallen seeds nearby cannot accumulate enough water to germinate, effectively creating dead zones around every plant. It also seems that all plants within a stand grow at approximately the same rate, and that the creosote bush is a very long-living plant. As the Creosote Bush grows older, its oldest branches eventually die and its crown splits into separate crowns. This normally happens when the plant is 30 to 90 years old. Eventually the old crown dies and the new one becomes a clone of the previous plant, composed of many separate stem crowns all from the same seed. One creosote plant, named “King Clone“, near Lucerne Valley has been carbon dated to 11,700 years old.
Creosote bush is most common on the well-drained soils of bajadas (alluvial fans) and flats. In parts of its range, it may cover large areas in practically pure stands, though it usually occurs in association with Ambrosia dumosa (burro bush or bur-sage). Despite this common habitat, creosote bush roots have been found to produce chemicals that inhibit the growth of burro bush roots, and much of their relationship is currently unexplained.
Contributing to the harshness of the germination environment above mature root systems, young creosote bushes are much more susceptible to drought stress than established plants. Germination is actually quite active during wet periods, but most of the young plants die very quickly unless there are optimal water conditions. Ground heat compounds the young plants’ susceptibility to water stress, and ground temperatures can reach upwards of 70°C (160°F). To become established, it seems the young plant must experience a pattern of three to five years of abnormally cool and moist weather during and after germination. From this, it can be inferred that all the plants inside a stand are of equal age.
Young plantMature plants, however, can tolerate extreme drought stress. In terms of negative water potential, creosote bushes can operate fully at -50 bars of water potential and have been found living down to -120 bars, although the practical average floor is around -70 bars, where the plant’s need for cellular respiration generally exceeds the level that the water-requiring process of photosynthesis can provide. Cell division can occur during these times of water stress, and it is common for new cells to quickly absorb water after rainfall. This rapid uptake causes branches to ‘grow’ several centimeters at the end of a dry season.
The leaves of the creosote bush have a high surface-volume ratio, maximizing the rate of heat escape. At the same time, water loss is minimized by the resinous, waxy coating of the leaves, and by their small size. Plants do drop some leaves heading into summer, but if all leaves are lost, the plant will not recover. Accumulation of fallen leaves, as well as other detritus caught from the passing wind, creates an ecological community specific to the creosote bush canopy, including beetles, millipedes, pocket mice, and kangaroo rats.
Medicinal Uses and toxicity
The Creosote bush serves many medicinal purposes: cure of fever, influenza, colds, upset stomach, gas gout, arthritis, sinusitis, anemia, and fungus infections (CRC Ethnobotany, June 12, 1999). Creosote also has antimicrobial properties, making it a useful first aid. It is also beneficial in the treatment of allergies, autoimmunity diseases, and Premenstrual Syndrome (Moore, 1989, p.29). Creosote serves as an analgesic, antidiarrheal , diuretic, and emetic. When used as a tea, the leaves and small twigs must be gathered, washed, and dried in the sun. The useable parts must then be ground into a powder and stored in a glass container because of the oils produced. (information provided by Nellie Chavez, Employee of Vita-Man Nutrition Center).
Creosote can be used on the skin as a tincture or salve, and can be taken internally as a tea or capsule (Moore, 1989, p.26). Although there are such a variety of medicinal purposes the Creosote serves, use of this plant is controversial to some. According to research “chemical constituents in Creosote bush may inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, but other studies have shown exactly the opposite” (Tilford, 1997, p.44). Another reason for the controversial use of Creosote bush is because of its “potential toxic effect on the liver” (Chevallier, 1996, p.224).
Creosote bush (often referred to as chaparral when used as a herbal remedy) is used as a herbal supplement and was used by Native Americans in the Southwest as a treatment for many maladies, including sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, chicken pox, dysmenorrhea, and snakebite. The shrub is still widely used as a medicine in Mexico.
Common Medical Uses : in Burns/SunBurn * Eczema * Natural Skin Care-Oils & Herbs * Parasites/Worms * Psoriasis * Rheumatoid Arthritis *
Chaparral has potent and long-lasting anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects in the treatment of arthritis. Chaparral herb should only be externally in baths, and the tincture can be used to make creams and lotions. Applied to the skin, chaparral can have a remarkable healing effect on eczema, herpes, cold sores, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis. Not for long term extended use.
The Food and Drug Administration of the United States has issued warnings about the health hazards of ingesting creosote bush or using it as an internal medicine and discourages its use. In 2005, Health Canada issued a warning to consumers to avoid using the leaves of Larrea species because of the risk of damage to the liver and kidneys.
According to Gary Paul Nabhan in Gathering the Desert (1993, page 16): “…health food stores have been marketing Larrea as a cure-all that they whimsically called “chaparral tea” – the plant never grows above the desert in true chaparral vegetation.”
External uses of the herb include poultices placed on aching joints, and the tea or a fomentation (applied several times per day and left on the area) for such things as ringworm, skin fungi, and athletes’ foot. Has also been used for reducing fibroids A study in the Journal of Dental Research showed chaparral mouthwash reduced cavities by 75%.
Lipoxygenase and 5-hydroxyeicosatatraenois acid are usually high in the synovial fluid of arthritis sufferers which means Chapparal?s ability to inhibit these can help here as well. Larrea contains active flavonoids and ligans that, in addition to being anti-oxidants, act as antifungals, antibiotics, and antivirals. It is in this last capacity, as an antiviral that prompted investigations into its ability to inhibit the spl promoter HIV and as an inhibitor of Herpes simplex-1 in cell cultures; as well as Kaposi’s sarcoma virus. Clinical evaluations consisted of testimonies from close to 36 persons. Larrea was prepared as an extract in an aloe-based lotion and was effective in reversing symptoms in nearly all cases of HSV-1 and shingles within 12-24 hours and in greatly reducing the severity of sores from Kaposi’s sarcoma in people in full-blown AIDS. The lotion proved to work faster and to be more effective than acyclovir, the main drug for herpes.
When applied to the skin as a tea, tincture, or salve, Chaparral slows down the rate of bacterial grown and kills it with its antimicrobial activity. Chaparral will also help dry skin, brittle hair and nails and cracks in the hands or feet.
Creosote bush in pop culture
*In Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction series Dune, the Fremen inhabitants of the planet Arrakis rub the juices of the creosote bush into the palms of their hands to prevent water loss through the skin.
*Mary Hunter Austin, in The Land of Little Rain, said that the desert of the Death Valley “begins with the creosote.”
FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY!! Reports of serious liver disease have been associated with the ingestion of chaparral. Seek advice from a health care practitioner before use and, in doing so, inform them if you have had, or may have had, liver disease, frequently use alcoholic beverages, or are using any medications. Discontinue use and see a doctor if vomiting, fever, fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, or jaundice (e.g dark urine, pale stools, yellow discoloration of the eyes) should occur.
In addition to medicinal purposes, the Creosote bush is used as livestock feed, firewood, and roofing material for adobe houses (Mabry, 1977, p.252). It can be used to prevent rancidity of vegetable oils, as a mild sunscreen or massage oil. It also serves as a disinfectant for homes, an insecticide, as fish poison and fuel (Hocking, 1997, p.431)
Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.