Larrea tridentata

Taxonomy: Zygophyllaceae, Magnoliophyta, Magnoliopsida

Common names: Chaparral, Creosote bush


 by Rebecca Elgersma and Alice Nevarez, Fall 2000


 Larrea tridentata, of the Zygophyllacceae family, commonly known as Chaparral or Creosote Bush, is a common inhabitant of the deserts of the Southwestern U.S. and Mexico (Chevallier, 1996, p.224). The success of the Cresote bush can be attributed to its highly developed offense mechanism. With such a lengthy life it had been discovered that the Creosote bush has many medicinal uses as well as other purposes. The Creosote bush can be used in many different ways, ranging from an analgesic to roofing material.





The Creosote bush is normally chest or head high. Creosote leaves are small and curled (Moore, 1989, p.27) with a yellow-green color, and have a "greasy-leathery" texture (Tilford, 1997, P.44). "the bark is reddish brown toward the base of the plant and progressively lighter (to almost white) on the smaller limbs. The flowers are minute and yellow; they eventually develop into oddly fuzzy, seed-bearing capsules" (Tilford, 1997, p.44).


 One of the reasons for the Cresote's great success is the presence a highly toxic substance produced at its root that prevents other plants from growing nearby. Rainfall washes away the toxin allowing other plants to grow. Once the water drains off, the toxin is reproduced and the foreign plants are destroyed (Pyle, June 12, 1999). This ability ensures that the Creosote does not have to compete with other plant life for vital nutrients.


 Medicinal Uses

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).



Non-Medicinal Uses

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).



Chevallier. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Dorling Kindersley, London, 1997.
Mabry. The New Age Herbalist. Gaia Books Ltd., London, 1988.
Moore. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM., 1989.
Pyle, June 12, 1999.
CRC Ethnobotany, June 12, 1999.
Tilford, 1997.