Chaparral

Scientific names: Larrea divaricata, Larrea tridentata

Common names: Chaparral also is known as creosote bush, greasewood, gobernadora, hediondilla, jarilla, and jarilla hembra.

Efficacy-safety rating:

Ò...Little or no evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...Moderate to serious danger.

What is Chaparral?

The term “chaparral” refers to an area where plants adapt to droughts, sun exposure, and fire; however, Larrea tridentata does not usually grow in the chaparral. The chaparrals are a group of closely related wild shrubs found in the desert regions of southwestern United States and northern Mexico, as well as in the dry regions of South America, such as Argentina and Bolivia. Chaparral products found in health food stores usually consists of leaflets and twigs. The branched bush grows up to 2 to 6 m, with small, dark-green leaves that turn bright green after rain and have a resinous texture.

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What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Chaparral tea has been suggested for the treatment of bronchitis and the common cold. It also was used to alleviate rheumatic pain, stomach pain, chicken pox, and snake bite pain. American Indians used chaparral for arthritis, bowel cramps, gas, colds, and chronic skin disorders. Chaparral has been used internally to treat stomach problems, menstrual disorders, premenstrual syndrome, diabetes, gall bladder and kidney stones, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, and upper respiratory tract infections. Skin application has been promoted for rheumatic and autoimmune conditions, arthritis, back pain, minor wounds, and skin infections, such as impetigo and gingivitis. Chaparral has also been used as a deodorant applied to the feet and armpits. A strong tea from the leaves has been mixed with oil as a burn salve. It is an ingredient in some nonprescription weight loss teas.

In 1943, chaparral was approved by the Meat Inspection Division of the US War Food Administration as a food antioxidant. It was used as a fat and butter preservative until better preservatives were introduced; it was then removed from the FDA's GRAS (generally recognized as safe) list.

In 1959, the National Cancer Institute received reports that several cancer patients claimed beneficial effects from drinking chaparral tea. Years later, a similar treatment was brought to the attention of physicians at the University of Utah.

Reports subsequently appeared in the lay literature describing the virtues of chaparral tea as a cancer treatment.

General uses

Chaparral has been primarily used for the treatment of cancer, acne, rheumatism, and diabetes. It has also been promoted for its antioxidant effects, and as a blood purifier and a weight loss agent. Clinical trials have not supported these uses.

What is the recommended dosage?

Chaparral has been documented to be toxic to the liver at doses of crude herb from 1.5 to 3.5 g/day. Therefore, its use is discouraged.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

Chaparral was removed from the FDA's GRAS list in 1968. Increased risk for liver toxicity is expected in patients with poor liver function. Chaparral is not recommended for use in patients with poor kidney function due to a risk of toxicity.

Pregnancy/nursing

Documented adverse effects to uterine activity and liver. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Side Effects

The creosote bush can induce skin reaction.

Toxicities

Chaparral may cause liver damage, stimulate some malignancies, and cause skin reaction.

References

  1. Chaparral. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons [database online]. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health Inc; March 2011.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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