Chaparral (botanical name Larrea tridentata) broadly denotes any dense coppice of dwarf trees or shrubs. Precisely speaking, in latest herbal text, it specifies the leaflets of a species called Larrea tridentate - a name that contemporary authors believe to be identical to L. divaricata. This potently aromatic bush belonging to the family Zygophyllaceae has an olive green color and is a prevailing shrub in the desert areas of south-western United States as well as Mexico. More familiar common names of this herb include greasewood and creosote bush.
A watery extract obtained from the leaves and twigs of chaparral, supposed chaparral tea, is an ancient Indian medication that has been employed to treat an assortment of health conditions, counting tuberculosis, arthritis, rheumatism, venereal diseases, bowel cramps, colds, and even cancer. In fact, it is said that chaparral has expectorant, analgesic, diuretic, emetic as well as anti-inflammatory attributes. Chaparral extract also has an atypical application, i.e. using it in the form of a hair tonic. Another application of this extract is its supposed attribute of removing the remains of LSD from the system and, thereby, preventing the occurrence of delusions.
As one may anticipate, the most part of interest concentrated on chaparral tea during the recent times has been relating to its use, and also its major ingredient - nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), which is considered to possess anti-cancer properties. It has been found that nordihydroguaiaretic acid is a powerful antioxidant, particularly for oils and fats. There was a time when people believed chaparral itself to be potentially beneficial in treating cancer. In fact, initial studies undertaken on rats hinted that NDGA worked to slow down the growth of a number of tumour cells. However, subsequent researches using chaparral tea on humans have now proved to be ambiguous. In addition, NDGA is known to be significantly toxic and continuing feeding studies in rats brought on lacerations in the kidneys as well as the mesenteric lymph nodes. Consequently, the amalgam was deleted from the ‘Generally Recognized as Safe' (GRAS) list of the United States' Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1968. Nevertheless, it needs to be mentioned that the United States' Department of Agriculture - the body which regulates the application of antioxidants in animal shortenings and lard, continues to allow the use of NDGA in these substances.
Of late, in a study, the scientists explored the American sub-species' anti-cancer actions and the consequences of a leaf extract on mammary gland cancer in female mice. During the course of the study, 20 days following the emergence of the unnaturally encouraged tumours the leaf extract was administered subcutaneously in a dosage of 25mg for every kilogram weight of the rats. The leaf extract of chaparral was used to treat as many as 75 tumours, bringing about 13 per cent reduction in cases, and steadying of tumours in 80 per cent of the cases, and an augmentation in just 6 per cent of tumours. Compared to this, not even a single of the 80 artificially induced tumours in the control group lessened, and just 15 per cent of them continued to be constant. The survival period of the animals treated was considerably high compared to those in the control group. However, these results were not reproduced in studies on human beings.
There was a time when people believed that taking chaparral was useful for treating venereal infections, rheumatic diseases, infections of the urinary tract and specific forms of cancer, particularly leukemia. In addition, people also took chaparral internally to cure skin complaints, for instance, eczema and acne, and also applied it externally to wounds, sores and rashes. However, of later, the sale of chaparral was prohibited in the United States owing to apprehensions over the potential toxic impact of the herb on the liver.
The Native Americans inhabiting the south-west used chaparral for treating several ailments, counting tuberculosis, sexually transmitted diseases (STD), and snakebite, dysmenorrhea as well as chicken pox. Even to this day people in Mexico extensively use this shrub for remedial purposes.
In addition to the above mentioned uses, chaparral is also useful for treating several other health conditions, including fever, colds, influenza, and stomach upsets, arthritis, anemia, gas, gout, sinusitis as well as fungal infections. This shrub also possesses anti-microbial attributes, which make chaparral an effective first aid. Chaparral is also useful in treating allergies, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and autoimmunity diseases. It also works in the form of a pain killer (analgesic), emetic and diuretic agent. To use chaparral in the form of a tea, it is important to collect the leaves and small branches of the shrub, rinse them meticulously and then dry them in the sun. Subsequently, these dried up parts of the shrub should be pulverized into a powder form and kept in any glass container, as it yields specific oils beneficial for our health.
Chaparral may be applied to the skin in the form of a tincture or a balm and also used internally in the form of a capsule or tea.
While chaparral serves various different therapeutic purposes, to some people using this plant as a medicine is still controversial. Findings of one study suggest that the chemical constituents present in chaparral may slow down the growth of cancer cells, while other researches have just shown contradictory results. There is a different reason for the controversy regarding the use of chaparral as a medicine and it is the shrub's possible toxic impact on the liver.
Besides therapeutic uses, the chaparral is also employed in the form of food for livestock, firewood as well as roofing material for earthen houses. This shrub may also be employed to avert rotting of vegetable oils, in the form of a sunscreen and/ or as massage oil. Chaparral may also be used to disinfect dwellings, in the form of an insecticide, a fuel and also a fish poison.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
One can find chaparral growing in large numbers in the desert regions of south-west United States and Mexico. Chaparral is generally propagated by its seeds. In order to propagate this dense thicket of shrubs, you need to put many seed capsules in boiling water in a low pan cover. Allow the seed capsules to steep during the night and subsequently sow a few of them in a pot along with soil and begin watering. Disperse the surplus seedlings and young plants for proper growth.
Chemical analysis of chaparral has revealed that it encloses approximately 12 per cent resin and nordihydroguaiaretic acid. This acid is purportedly detrimental for the lymph glands as well as the kidneys. Apart from these elements, chaparral also encloses 18 recognized flavonol aglycones and flavones, larreic acid, and quercetin bioflavonoids.
For therapeutic purpose chaparral is taken in the form of a tea. The normal dosage is taking two to three cups (250 ml to 750 ml) of the tea every day. This tea or infusion is prepared by adding 7 grams to 8 grams of the dried up leaves and stems to every litre (quart) of hot water.
Side effects and cautions
People already taking this herb or planning to use it for therapeutic reasons should be aware of its side effects and also take the necessary precautions. The oral chaparral products should not be taken by women during pregnancy, nursing mothers and children below the age of 12 years, since there is a lack of sufficient research and clinical trials in this regard. In addition, it is essential for people taking non-prescription or over the counter drugs regularly to confer with their physician before taking chaparral in the form of a dietary supplement. In fact, this is necessary in the case of all dietary supplements.
Moreover, people who have ever endured any liver complaints should necessarily consult with their family physician before taking products based on chaparral as a dietary supplement.