Looking at a desolate desert landscape doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of health and wellbeing, that is, unless you know a few recipes that use creosote bush. Also going by the aliases Larrea tridentate and the less formal “chaparral,” this tenacious shrub native to the Southwest survives in spots in which most other plants would quickly perish. Perhaps it’s for that very tenacity that Native American healers began exploring the creosote bush’s beneficial properties, hoping to absorb some part of its stamina for themselves. The leaves, stems, and flowers continue to be used in a variety of forms to treat everything from bug bites to cancer.
Tea made from smaller stems, leaves, and flowers of the creosote bush has been a folk remedy for a wide range of ailments, including allergies, coughs and colds, joint pain, gall bladder or kidney stones, and more recently, cancer. To brew, put a sprig of creosote bush in a teacup and add boiling water. Allow the sprig to steep for a few minutes, then strain. The tea is quite bitter, so sweeten to taste with sugar or honey.
Poultices made from creosote bush can help with several skin conditions, including eczema, psoriasis, acne, or rashes such as poison ivy, and they are also rumored to relieve aches and pains. Grind dried creosote bush into a fine powder, then add warm water until the mixture forms a thick paste. Apply to a piece of cloth or a gauze bandage large enough to cover the area you wish to treat, clean the affected area, and then cover it with the poultice. For fresh creosote bush, combine ½ cup of leaves and 1 cup of water in a pot and simmer it for two minutes. Pour the solution over a cloth or gauze bandage, then cleanse and cover the affected area with the poultice. Wrap a towel around the area to prevent drips. Leave it in place for between one hour and one day.
Massaging creosote bush-infused oil on sore or arthritic joints can help to ease aches and pains, and when applied to a cut or scrape, it’s said to both stop the bleeding and disinfect the wound. It’s also useful for soothing itchy, red insect bites. In a jar, combine one part fresh creosote bush twigs, leaves, and flowers to two parts oil. Leave it in a warm spot, such as a sunny windowsill, for a few weeks before using it.
Lotion made from creosote bush has many of the same properties as infused oil. In a pan, combine 2 ounces each of olive, almond, and grapeseed oils with 1 ounce of castor oil and 1 tablespoon of beeswax granules. Slowly heat the pan until the beeswax is melted, to about 145˚F. In another pot, combine 2 ounces of strongly brewed creosote bush tea with 1 ounce of saline salt water, 20 drops of magnesium chloride oil, and a pinch of Borax. Once both pots reach a similar temperature, slowly pour the creosote bush tea mixture into the oil, whisking it constantly. Pour it into heat resistant glass containers, add a favorite essential oil, seal it, and cool it in a bath of warm water. Spin the bottles periodically as they cool, then store them in the refrigerator. Shake them before using.
Ingesting powders or capsules of creosote bush can cause serious damage to your liver and kidneys. Do not brew strong tea and do not ingest tea for more than a few days at a time. Always be alert to nausea, skin irritations, or other adverse side effects. Before using creosote bush as a remedy, always consult your doctor.