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Veterinarian Reviewed on June 6, 2012 by Paulina Nelega, RH
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Chaparral (Folium Larreae)


The common names for Chaparral are: Chaparro Gobernadora, Creosote Bush, Greasewood, Hediondilla, Larrea tridentata and Stinkweed.

The chaparral leaf has a long and at one time troubled history in the United States. It has been used for treating several conditions ranging from psoriasis to arthritis to cancer. This aromatic desert shrub typically grows up to six meters in height. The leaves and stems are covered in a thick sticky resin that acts as a natural protection against water loss, environmental poisons, UV radiation and hungry herbivores. This resin is a natural deterrent to insects and animals due to its texture and extreme bitter taste. The leaves are bright green and quite small in size, and the fruit it produces are slightly hairy. The flowers of the Chaparral plant are yellow with 6 individual petals. The Chaparral has been nicknamed “Stinkweed” due to its powerful scent. The “Creosote bush” nickname comes from the distinct smell the bush has during a rainstorm.

History and Origin

It can be found growing wildly throughout the southwestern United States but it originated from Argentina thousands of years ago. Chaparral is a very hardy plant well adapted to dry desert conditions and can recover quickly from clear cutting and wild fires. In fact it was the first plant found growing back in the Yucca Flats after nuclear bomb testing in 1962.

Ancient Uses

All parts of the plant above the ground line are used in one way or another.

Traditional uses in Chinese medicine include treating parasitic infections, anti inflammatory and analgesic effects for the treatment of arthritis. Application is by a topical cream, lotion or balm directly to the affected joints suffering from arthritis. It can also be used externally in a warm bath to sooth aching joints and muscles. It has important properties that can be used for pain. For external flesh wounds, it can reduce swelling and help fight infections. Often it has been used for joint inflammation.

Another important benefit is that chaparral can kill bacteria and other micro organisms that turn fats and oils rancid, this makes it a favorite additive for making essential oils last longer. It contains a naturally occurring chemical called NGDA, and it is famous for its antiseptic action. This makes it a natural choice for some mouthwashs.

A tea can be prepared with this herb for treating an upset stomach and for diarrhea. It is a powerful antioxidant and it can help in the prevention of cell damage.
The naturally occurring resins have been used to naturally protect wood from insect damage.

Modern Uses

Presently in western medicine it has found uses for treatment of cold sores, eczema, herpes and psoriasis. The use of this herb is not intended for long term usage so be sure to consult your doctor. The naturally occurring lignans are remarkably similar unto estrogen; this has a similar healing effect as internally consumed soy products.

Chaparral contains lignans that are very similar to estrogen, giving it an effect on the skin similar to that of soy taken internally. Applied to the skin, chaparral can have a remarkable healing effect on eczema, herpes, Cold Sores, psoriasis, and contact dermatitis. Internal use is not recommended.

Chaparral is available in several forms; from tinctures to capsules to tablets and in powder form. The most popular method used is to dry the leaves to easily make an infusion or tea.

Side Effects

It should not be used by children under the age of 2. Side effects may include swollen glands and urinary difficulties. Discontinue use if you see have any side effects and consult your doctor. It is claimed that it can cause liver damage due to its strong detoxification effects but these results have yet to be confirmed. Other side effects my include nausea but only if large doses are consumed at once.

The US banned it’s consumption at one point when it was thought to be a cause of Hepatitis. The ban was lifted when no sustainable evidence was found or any linked cases where this actually was confirmed.

Read also: Emulsifying Wax

Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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