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Chaparral

Common names: Creosote bush, Greasewood

Botanical name: Larrea tridentata

Photo

© Martin Wall

Parts used and where grown

Chaparral takes its name from the area in which it grows, the desert regions of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico known as the chaparral ecosystem. The leaves and stems of this ancient plant are used as medicine.

Chaparral has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Cold sores

Indigestion and heartburn

Infection

Intestinal cramps (topical)

Parasites

Rheumatoid arthritis (topical)

Wound healing (topical)

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Chaparral has been used for thousands of years by Native Americans for a variety of purposes. It has been employed primarily in tea form to help with cramping pains, joint pains, and allergic problems, as well as to eliminate parasites.1 2 Externally it has been applied to reduce inflammation and pain, and to promote healing of minor wounds.3

Active constituents

The major lignan in chaparral, known as nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) is a potent antioxidant and was thought by some scientists to be a potential cancer treatment. In a rat study, NDGA and a leaf extract of a South American subspecies of chaparral were found to exert an antitumor effect.4 However, one report suggests that NDGA may stimulate further growth of tumors in cancer patients.5 Clinical trials, therefore, are still needed to establish whether chaparral is a safe and effective treatment for people with cancer.

Other reported effects for chaparral include anti-inflammatory properties6 7 as well as antimicrobial actions in test tubes.8 These actions have note been established in human clinical trials

How much is usually taken?

A tea can be prepared by steeping 1 teaspoon (approximately 5 grams) of leaves and flowers in 1 cup (250 ml) of hot water for ten to fifteen minutes.9 People should drink three cups per day for a maximum of two weeks unless under the care of a physician expert in the use of botanical medicines. Alternatively, 0.5–1 ml of tincture can be taken three times per day.10 Topically, cloths can be soaked in oil preparations or tea of chaparral and applied several times per day (with heat if helpful) over the affected area. Capsules of chaparral should be avoided.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

There have been sporadic reports of people developing liver or kidney problems after taking chaparral, particularly in capsules.11 Almost all of these cases involved either the use of capsules or excessive amounts of tea. Some of these cases were people with established liver disease prior to using the herb. Tea and tincture of chaparral have an extremely strong taste considered disagreeable by most people, which restricts the amount they can tolerate before feeling nauseous. Capsules bypass this protective mechanism and should therefore be avoided. Since human studies have shown that large amounts of chaparral tea and injections of NDGA in people with cancer do not cause liver or kidney problems,12 it is likely the cases of toxicity represented individual reactions.13

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with chaparral.

References:

1. Brinker F. Larrea tridentata (D.C.) Coville (chaparral or creosote bush). Br J Phytother 1993/1994;3:10–31 [review].

2. Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989, 27–9.

3. Kay MA. Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996, 178–81.

4. Birkenfeld S, Zaltsman YA, Krispin M, et al. Antitumor effects of inhibitors of arachadonic acid cascade on experimentally induced intestinal tumors. Dis Colon Rectum 1987;30:43–6.

5. Smart CR, Hogle CR, Vogel H, et al. Clinical experience with nordihydroguaiaretic acid—”chapparel tea” [sic] in the treatment of cancer. Rocky Mtn Med J 1970;67:39–43.

6. Bokoch G, Reed P. Evidence for inhibition of leukotriene A4 synthesis by 5,8,11,14-eicosatetraynoic acid in guinea pig polymorphonuclear leukocytes. J Biol Chem 1981;256:4156.

7. Salari H, Braquet P, Borgeat P. Comparative effects of indomethacin, acetylenic acids, 15-HETE, nordihydroguaiaretic acid and BW755C on the metabolism of arachidonic acid in human leukocytes and platelets. Prostaglan Leukot Med 1984;13:53–60.

8. Calzado-Flores C, Segura-Luna JJ, Guajardo-Touche EM. Effects of chaparrin, nordihydroguaiaretic acid and their structural analogues on Entamoeba histolytica cultures. Proc West Pharmacol Soc 1995;38:105–6.

9. Kay MA. Healing with Plants in the American and Mexican West. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1996, 178–81.

10. Moore M. Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1989, 27–9.

11. Sheikh NM, Philen RM, Love LA. Chaparral-associated hepatotoxicity. Arch Int Med 1997;157:913–9.

12. Smart CR, Hogle CR, Vogel H, et al. Clinical experience with nordihydroguaiaretic acid—”chapparel tea” [sic] in the treatment of cancer. Rocky Mtn Med J 1970;67:39–43.

13. McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, Goldberg A. American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, 67.

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