What Is That Smell? The Creosote Bush is a common desert plant. Also called Chaparral, Salt Bush and Greasewood, and is a member of the oak family.
The creosote bush (Latin name: Larrea tridentata) is common in the Desert Southwest. The creosote bush can be identified from its waxy green leaves and yellow flowers. These later turn to round, white wooly seed-vessels, which are the fruit of the creosote bush. In Arizona it is only found in the southern third of the state because it cannot exist above 5,000 feet of elevation. In the Phoenix area, it is the dominant desert shrub. It is pronounced: cree’-uh-sote.
Many people who are new to the desert notice the peculiar odor in the desert on the rare occasions when we have rain. People who move to the Phoenix area look at each other and ask, “What is that smell?” It is the creosote bush. It is a very unique odor, and although many people don’t care for it, some seem to like it just because it conveys a positive message – RAIN!
The leaves of the creosote bush are coated with a resin to prevent water loss in the hot desert. The resin of the creosote bush also protects the plant from being eaten by most mammals and insects. It is believed that the bush produces a toxic substance to keep other nearby plants from growing. Creosote bushes are very long lived, many of them existing for one hundred years, and can grow to a height of 15 feet. There is one living creosote bush that is estimated to be nearly 12,000 years old!
Although some refer to the odor of the crushed leaves as the “heavenly essence of the desert,” the Spanish word for the plant, hediondilla, means “little stinker,” signifying that not everyone considers the odor heavenly or pleasing to the senses.
The creosote plant was a virtual pharmacy for Native Americans and the steam from the leaves was inhaled to relieve congestion. It was also used in the form of a medicinal tea to cure such ailments as flu, stomach cramps, cancer, coughs, colds, and others.
Chaparral contains an ingredient called nor-dihihydroguairetic (NDGA), a potent antitumor agent. NDGA inhibits aerobic and anaerobic glycolysis (the energy-producing ability) of cancer cells. The flavonoids present in chaparral have strong antiviral and antifungal properties. More than twenty years ago, a Native American healer from Lava Hot Springs, Idaho, traveled the Rocky Mountain West, successfully treating cancer patients with chaparral as the primary remedy. It is also thought to possess more of the antioxidant enzyme SOD than any other plant.
All tests on chaparral indicate that it is positively non-toxic and has never shown any side effects on patients and if present research is successful it will offer the first anti-cancer drug. The Indians have used chaparral herb for many internal body malfunctions as well as for rash and acne-type skin eruptions, for hundreds of years. Chaparral has antibiotic and antiseptic properties along with immune stimulating substances.
Here is the recipe for Creosote Tea from DesertUSA. If you decide to try the recipe, don’t eat any part of the creosote plant–it might not be as healthy as the tea!
According to legend, tea has been known in China since about 2700 BC. Tea was initially used strictly as a medicinal beverage obtained by boiling fresh leaves in water, but around the 300 AD it became a daily drink, and tea cultivation and processing of Chinese tea began. Tea beverages have been drunk by most of the world’s cultures for millennia. Many of these were herbal teas, using a wide variety of native plant leaves, roots and stems steeped in boiling water. There are, likewise, many desert plants, which have been used for centuries by Native Americans to brew tea. As in the Far East, they were primarily used for medicinal purposes rather than as a daily beverage. Below is a sample of some of the more common desert plants used for brewing tea.
Creosote Tea (Larrea tridentata)
Place a sprig of Creosote leaves and flowers in a cup. Add boiling water, cover and steep 5 to 10 minutes (depending on strength desired), then strain. You may want to sweeten this strong, aromatic tea with honey.
Creosote bush is the dominant shrub over most of the southwestern deserts. California’s Cahuilla Indians brewed Creosote tea to relieve coughs, colds, flu, infections and bowel complaints. They also covered their heads with a blanket and inhaled the steam of creosote leaves in a boiling pot of water to relieve congestion.
*Even though you can drink the tea every day, people who are sick or have a lot of toxins in there system should not take for more then a few days at a time as it can cause kidney and liver problems due to a flushing over load.
Sagebrush Tea (Artemesia spp.)
Place several Sagebrush leaves (preferably from a small plant) in a cup. Add boiling water, cover and steep 5 minutes. Strain, sweeten and serve. Native Americans regarded this bitter tea useful to promote sweating and to aid in digestion. Many prefer honey or lemon for flavoring. Note that the many species of Sagebrush are not really a sage, but are an annual evergreen shrub. All are aromatic.
Mormon Tea, Desert Tea, Squaw Tea (Ephedra spp.)
In a boiling pot of water, place a small handful of green or brown Ephedra twigs for each cup desired. Cover and steep 20 minutes. Strain and drink. There are many species of Ephedras in the Desert Southwest, but all make a tasty, energizing tea. Southwestern Indians and European desert travelers have long brewed Mormon tea or chewed the twigs to quench thirst and boost energy. Mormon tea is considered a general tonic for stomach ailments and kidney disorders. Note: Those who are sensitive to caffeine should probably avoid this tea. The drug ephedrine is obtained from a Chinese species of Ephedra.
Mesquite Tea (Prosopis spp.)
Among the 3 species of mesquites in the desert, Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) is most preferred for brewing tea. Place 8 or 9 green or dry yellow twigs in a cup. Fill with boiling water, cover and steep 20 minutes. Or boil 24 seed pods in a pot for one hour. This sweet, mild tea has a vanilla-like flavor. It was used by Native Americans to treat diarrhea and stomach ulcers.
Sage Tea (Salvia apiana / mellifera)
Bruise one leaf of either white or black sage, place in a cup and add boiling water. Cover and steep 5 minutes; strain, sweeten and serve. Native Americans used Sage Tea as a gargle for sore throats and to aid digestion. It was also used topically as a disinfectant. Note that White Sage is much stronger than Black Sage, which may require moderation.