Common Name(S): Chaparral, Creosote Bush, Greasewood, Hediondilla, Creosote Bush, Greasewood, Hediondilla, Jarilla, Larrea tridentata, Larrea divaricata, Larreastat, Larrea mexicana, Zygophyllum Tridentatum.
For hundreds of years, Native American healers made a tea with the leaves and stems and used as a treatment for colds, flu, diarrhea, arthritis, cancer, venereal disease, tuberculosis, bowel cramps, and rheumatism. Twentieth century herbalists thought of this herb as an antibiotic and used it as a treatment for intestinal parasites. This plant was one of the first to grow back after the 1962 nuclear bomb test at Yucca Flats. This plant was listed in the US Pharmacopoeia from 1842 to 1942.
Chaparral is a bitter herb that acts as a free radical scavenger. It protects the skin from the harmful effects of radiation and sun exposure. It is good for skin disorders, arthritis and leg cramps.
Chaparral increases adrenal ascorbic acid levels, purifies the blood, relieves pain and may protect against the formation of tumors and cancer cells. It also improves kidney, liver and lung function.
Chaparral taste downright nasty and its smell is as equally unpleasant. The chaparral bush contains a chemical called NDGA (nordihydroguaiaretic acid) that kills bacteria and other micro organisms that turns fats and oils rancid. NDGA has antiseptic action.
The herb is available in several forms, but the most popular form is the dried herb. The dried herb can be used to make chaparral tea or infusion. When making the tea, it is often recommended to add honey and/or lemon in order to enhance the flavor.
A tincture made from chaparral leaf can be used in creams for external applications.
A study in the Journal of Dental Research showed chaparral reduced cavities by 75%. Micro organisms that cause gum disease is the leading cause of tooth loss. Therefore, it may provide added protection against cavities and gum disease.
NDGA is also a powerful antioxidant, which means it may help prevent the cell damage believed will eventually cause cancer. For over one hundred years it has been a popular folk treatment for cancer. Many testimonials from people claiming chaparral cured their cancer were received at the National Cancer Institute. Some laboratory studies agree this herb has anti tumor effects. Medical literature contains several case reports of tumor shrinkage in people who used this medicinal herb.
Advocates say that antioxidants like NGDA help slow the aging process. One study showed it significantly extends the average life span of laboratory animals and another study showed the chemical NGDA almost doubles the average life span of laboratory insects.
Chaparral Chemical & Nutrient Content
Nordihydroquaiaretic acid, sodium, sulfur and zinc.
Chaparral Nordihydroguaiaretic Acid
Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) is a potent antioxidant compound found in the long-lived creosote bush. It is believed that NDGA reduces cell damage by free radicals, so under the free-radical theory of aging, could be responsible for the bush’s long life.
A 1986 study involved feeding female mosquitos NDGA to test the effect on their average life span. While the usual mosquito life span was 29 days, the NDGA-fed mosquitos lived an average of 45 days—an increase of 50 percent. Nordihydroguaiaretic acid is also published as lengthening the lifespan of mice.
The plant has been used to treat a variety of illnesses including infertility, rheumatism, arthritis, diabetes, gallbladder and kidney stones, pain and inflammation but its use is controversial. It was widely used during the 1950s as a food preservative and to preserve natural fibers but was later banned after reports of toxicity during the early 1960s.
Recently, it has been used as a nutritional supplement, however renal and hepatotoxicity are reported for chronic use of creosote bush and NDGA.
In the early 1990s, reports of liver toxicity due to its intake appeared in various scientific documents. It was found the patients used powdered chaparral in the form of capsules thus ingesting its toxic constituents. In 2005 Health Canada warned consumers not to ingest the herb because of the risk of liver and kidney problems.
Again, as per information received from the University of Utah, quite a few people with cancer recovered to a large extent by drinking chaparral tea. Dr. Hugh H. Hogle of the University of Utah presented a paper discussing the use of chaparral tea in the treatment of cancer at a meeting of the Utah Chapter of the American College of Surgeons. Research found almost all of the cases involving liver and kidney problems either used the herb in the form of capsules or drank excessive amounts of tea.
A number of chemicals, gums and resins were isolated from the herb. Studies of its biological activity focused on one of its main components, NDGA, which is used widely in the food industry as a preservative. After various experiments by the National Cancer Institute, a report was published which stated that while chaparral tea was not an effective anti-cancer agent, it had some anti-tumor activity. But the report lacked clinical details and was inconclusive.
It has also been found that chaparral provides protection from the harmful effects of radiation. It has been used for soothing the pain of rheumatism, and as a mouthwash it helps fight cavities. Acne and eczema have been found to be cured by the herb. The herb is also supposed to eliminate the residue of LSD from the bloodstream and it has even been used as tonic for hair growth. However, more research still needs to be done to determine both the positive and negative effects of the herb.
Chaparral has not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs or foods. Medical practitioners suggest one should speak with a qualified doctor before starting the chaparral therapy. Long-term use of chaparral is not recommended by doctors.
Chaparral Herb Benefits
Chaparral is used as a mouthwash, despite the unpleasant taste and aroma. It can destroy the bacteria that leads to tooth decay.
Chaparral has powerful anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties and is a remedy often used to rid the body of parasites.
Chaparral herb has anti-inflammatory properties and can relieve conditions such as arthritis. It has also been used to sooth the itching of chicken pox.
Folk medicine uses the chaparral leaf resin as a remedy for burns.
Chaparral tea is traditionally used to relieve respiratory problems such as bronchitis and colds. It is a natural expectorant and can help to keep the airways clear of excess mucus.
An infusion of the chaparral herb can be used to treat and prevent dandruff.
Using chaparral in tea form or capsules is beneficial for digestive system problems such as diarrhea.
Chaparral antioxidant properties of NGDA may be beneficial for fighting the signs of aging and cleansing the blood. The antioxidant action may be beneficial for gout sufferers.
Chaparral supplements may have a positive effect on circulation.
Externally, the herb has been used to heal bruises and soothe skin rashes as well as helping to heal wounds and prevent infection. It is particularly beneficial for sufferers of eczema and psoriasis.
Chaparral Herb Precautions & Side Effects
The strength of the herb makes it unsuitable for very young children. Older children or the elderly can use the herb safely but should begin with a mild preparation and build the strength as necessary.
It is not recommended for those with kidney problems, as prolonged use and high dosages could have a negative effect. Due to the powerful effects of chaparral preparations, it is important to seek medical advice before use.
Children (younger than 18 years): Chaparral is not recommended for use in children, due to lack of scientific data and potential toxicity.
Liver disease: Chaparral might make liver disease worse. Don’t use it.
Pregnancy & Breastfeeding
Chaparral cannot be recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding because of the risk of birth defects or spontaneous abortion.
Chaparral may inhibit ovulation and decrease the chance that women will become pregnant.
People with allergy/hypersensitivity to chaparral or any of its components including nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), nor-isoguaiasin, dihydroguaiaretic acid, partially demethylated dihydroguaiaretic acid, and demethoxyisoguaiasin may have allergic reactions to chaparral.
There are human case reports of allergic hypersensitivity (contact dermatitis) to chaparral and to its resin.
Symptoms of Chaparral toxicity include nausea, fever, fatigue or jaundice. Discontinue using immediately if you experience these symptoms.
Chaparral can cause side effects including stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, weight loss, fever, and liver and kidney damage. Putting chaparral on the skin can cause skin reactions including rash and itching.
Chaparral Interactions with Drugs
Based on animal studies and human case reports, chaparral has been associated with kidney damage, cysts, cancer, and kidney failure. Theoretically, use of chaparral with other agents known to alter kidney function or induce toxicity should be avoided, including sulfa antibiotics, aminoglycoside antibiotics, COX-2 inhibitors, NSAIDs, and a number of other drugs. Patients who are using other medications and who are considering chaparral should consult with a qualified healthcare professional, including a pharmacist. Based on animal study and human case reports, chaparral has also been associated with liver damage. Theoretically, the use of chaparral with other agents known to induce liver toxicity should be avoided; these include amiodarone, carmustine, or danazol.
Based on animal study, chaparral may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using medications that may also lower blood sugar. Patients taking drugs for diabetes by mouth or injection should be monitored closely by a qualified healthcare professional. Medication adjustments may be necessary. Based on human research, chaparral may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that also increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (“blood thinners”) such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
Based on animal research, chaparral may interfere with the way the body processes certain drugs using the liver’s cytochrome P450 enzyme system. As a result, the levels of these drugs may be increased in the blood and may cause increased effects or potentially serious adverse reactions. Patients using any medications should check the package insert and speak with a qualified healthcare professional or pharmacist about possible interactions. Based on historical use, chaparral may interact with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as isocarboxazid (Marplan®), phenelzine (Nardil®), and tranylcypromine (Parnate®). There is also the possibility that blood pressure may become dangerously high if chaparral is taken with MAOIs, although there is limited research supporting this.
Chaparral may aggravate indomethacin-induced gastric ulcers and inhibit the metabolism of barbiturate drugs like phenobarbital. Effects of thyroid medications may be altered although this is unproven.
Chaparral may also interact with cancer, antiviral, gastrointestinal, immunosuppressant, thyroid, and abortion-inducing drugs.
Chaparral Interactions with Herbs & Dietary Supplements
Theoretically, the use of chaparral with other herbs or supplements known to alter kidney function or induce toxicity should be avoided; these include agents with high levels of tannins. Chaparral may increase the risk of high blood pressure if used with other herbs with this effect. Based on animal research and human case reports, chaparral has also been associated with liver damage. Theoretically, the use of chaparral with other herbs or supplements known to induce liver toxicity should be avoided.
Based on animal study, chaparral may lower blood sugar levels. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
Based on human study, chaparral may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases. Chaparral may also interact with vitamin K, which is necessary for blood clotting. By working against the action of vitamin K, chaparral may increase the risk of bleeding.
Based on animal research, chaparral may interfere with the way the body processes certain herbs or supplements using the liver’s cytochrome P450 enzyme system. As a result, the levels of other herbs or supplements may become too high in the blood. It may also alter the effects that other herbs or supplements may have on the P450 system. Patients using any medications should check the package insert and speak with a healthcare professional or pharmacist about possible interactions.
Based on historical use, chaparral may interact with herbs or supplements with possible monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI) effects, such as 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan) or DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone). Chaparral may also interact with anti-cancer, antioxidant, antiviral, gastrointestinal, immunostimulant, immunosuppressant, and abortion-inducing herbs and supplements.
Effects of thyroid active agents may be altered although this is unproven.
Adults (18 years and older)
Safety has not been established for any dose. Small doses of tea have been used; for example, 1 teaspoon of chaparral leaves and flowers steeped in 1 pint of water for 15 minutes, consumed 1-3 cups daily for up to a maximum of several days. Chaparral tea has also been made by steeping 7-8 grams of crumbled dried leaves, stems, and twigs in one quart of hot water. As a water extract, chaparral might be consumed in the amount of one to three cups of chaparral tea per day for a period of two to three weeks, although this is not recommended.
A tincture has also been used; for example, 20 drops up to three times daily. These preparations may be associated with less toxicity, and possibly contain fewer allergenic compounds than capsules or tablets. Oil or powder forms of chaparral have also been used, applied to an affected area of skin several times daily.
Capsules or tablets may deliver large doses leading to toxicity, and are not recommended. Exposure to lignans, which may yield toxicity, appears to be greater from capsules or tablets than from chaparral tea.
The American Herbal Products Association once banned Chaparral when it was thought the herb could have caused hepatitis. The ban was lifted because there was no evidence to confirm this. Its long-term use is not recommended and excessive use may result in stomach upset.
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Chaparral Research Links
Toxic acute hepatitis and hepatic fibrosis after consumption of chaparral tablets.
Chaparral-Induced Toxic Hepatitis — California and Texas, 1992
Inhibitory effects of nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA) on the IGF-1 receptor and androgen dependent growth of LAPC-4 prostate cancer cells.
The anti-apoptotic effects of nordihydroguaiaretic acid: inhibition of cPLA(2) activation during TNF-induced apoptosis arises from inhibition of calcium signaling.