Medicinal Plants of the Desert

Medicinal plants of the desert.

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This week I am doing some series of news letters on the medicine plants of the Southwest. Most folks that are not from New Mexico or Arizona think that we are the land of cactus and sand. The American Iraq. That’s partially true. Both states also have cold Alpine area, lush prairies and hot deserts. We also are blessed with a huge abundance of medically useful herbs and plants.

This week two of my favorites Chaparral and Mesquite. And one most would never consider.

Chaparral or what is called Grease wood or cresote bush or here in NM we call it Hedionila (Little Stinker). This is an extremely usefull plant. It ranks as good on infection as Oregon Grape Root. However in Oregon grape the active ingredient is Berberine, in Chaparral it’s nordihydroguaiurtic acid (NDGA).Larrea-tridentata-5

My grandmother used it as an all round drug for infection, wound dressing and suspected internal bacterial infection. HOW EVER chaparral tea is undrinkable. Those that like the taste, we’ll I know a good counselor to help you work out any taste issues may have. 😀. Tincture, capsules for internal and salve for external are the way to go.

Harvesting it and using Chaparral. My grandmother taught me that on Harvesting to use the leaves and the small twigs flowers seed capsules and leaves. No twigs bigger than a pencil lead. Her thought was also that the older darker green leaves were better for topical use and the lighter green leaves for internal. There is no real scientific bases for this other than her 6 decades of being a Yerbera .( The Herbal side of Curandera)
To powder Chaparral is an exercise in frustration. Until you do one pre step. Freeze it. Put it back in the blender grind it again freeze etc and repeat til done. Tincture. If green use with minimum of 75 % alcohol (150 proof) 1:5 herb to alcohol. Dried 40 to 50% alcohol (80 to 100 proof) Salves use your favorite recipes. Mine is 1:5 coconut oil to herb and out in my crock pot which has a warm setting. Let let this go for 4 hours or so. I then add beeswax to “stiffen” it. creosote-branch
Primary medicinal uses is an antimicrobial. Some have said it’s good for cancer, but I’ve heard of studies that show it can both inhibit AND stimulate cancer cells so use at your own risk.





We all know and love the taste of Mesquite grilled foods. But Mesquite is a very powerful medicinal and food source. I’ve known folks who I’ve sent links to the research done on mesquite and they write back in disbelief. To list the primary medicinal uses of Mesquite would take a small novel.Mesquite-and-Wooten-102

The better way to describe it is what it can it NOT do.
Branches, stems, bark:
The branches, stems and inner yellow bark can be used as purgatives. The stems can be used to treat fever. Mesquite bark can also be used for bladder infection, measles or fever.


Mesquite pods are used to make eyewashes. Sunburn can be treated with a decoction of the beans. The pods can be prepared as a poultice that is applied to a sore throat or a as a drink that is taken for animal stings.
The part most used for medicinal purposes is probably the gum exuded from the trunk. It can be used as an eyewash that can be used to treat infection and irritation. Its several dermatological uses include treatment for sores, wounds, burns, chapped fingers and lips and sunburn. Also good for stomach ailments it can be taken for diarrhea, stomach inflammation, system cleansing or to settle the intestines. Other uses for mesquite gum include treatment for lice, sore throat, cough, laryngitis, fever reduction, painful gums, hemorrhoids and it can be used as a purgative.
The leaves also make good eyewashes that can be used to treat pink eye. Intestinal problems that the leaves can be used for are diarrhea and empacho. They can also be prepared to treat headaches, painful gums and bladder infection. A poultice of leaves is used for red ant stings. Leaves can serve as an emetic or system cleanser.
Even to making a high energy syrup and a wickedly good tequila style drink from the pods .


Havesting and using mesquite. Leaves flowers bark and pods. Dried and ground. Mesquite does not provide the entertainment of Chaparral and is quite well behaved. Just watch out for the thorns.
Mesquite due to its nature a very dry and woody plant does not do will in tisanes. Decotions are preferred method of extractions. Tincture does well also.
Extracting the mucilage is a bit more difficult, since the Mesquite gum is needed and to get the gum the tree has a have to have damage. I knick the bark and come back in a few days and collect the gum.mix 1 part by weight gum to 3 parts volume distilled warm water. Shake occasionally until the gum dissolved. Strain and refrigerate. This stable for about 2 weeks or until it starts to take on a vinegarery scent.
The pods are the preferred agent for the eyewash that helps to defeat conjunctivitis. Better known as pink eye.
Use 5 or 6 washed crushed pods added to 1 pint of boiling isotonic saline . To make isotonic saline add 1/2 teaspoon of non iodized salt. Put in the pods and then turn off the heat and let steep til body temperature. Strain well. I first filter through wire mesh then coffee filters. Make fresh daily and store at room temperature.
Mesquite bean syrup.
1/4 Ish pound of dried and crushed pods per quarter of water. Cook in crock pot on low for at least 12 to 14 hours. Strain well and then slow boil until the consistency of things corn syrup. This will cool to a strong very sweet syrup. The best time to collect the pods is late September to late October. Mesquite can truly be one of the wonder plants of the desert.
The last plant of this week is one that has had more curse words invented over it than just about any plant. It has punctured more bicycle tires and kids feet than all the tacks ever made. It is our old enemy. The Goat Head.

Yes I said the goat head. The only thing more painful to find next to the Lego.
The entire plant harvested while the seeds are still green chopped and dried then ground to powder. It does well as a Tisane.
The primary uses of it are to help lower cholesterol. And as a mild hypertensive. Use 1/2 a teaspoon to a max of 1 teaspoon twice a day. One major property it is what we call in cardiology, a negative chronological effect on the heart. . That means it causes a slower stronger contraction of the ventricles. Giving more a more defined heart function.

CONTRAINDICATIONS. This one has a few serious ones. If you have kidney disease serious cardiovascular disease. And mild to serious liver disease consult your physician before use.

Also please remember. I am not a doctor. I do not treat, diagnose nor prescribe. Nor do I offer medical advice. Before using anything talked about in this or any news letter please consult your primary care physician

The desert is a wild living place that is full of very potent and also very dangerous medicine. Taking the time to learn the deserts benefits can go a long way to helping your, ongoing term medical sustainability.
Upcoming training at the Medic Shack.
The Basics of Herbal Medicine.
For centuries, no, millennia humans have used plants to treat illness. Even today a goodly portion of our modern pharmacopoeia comes from plants
This is a one day (@6 hour) class where the basics of herbal medicine are taught. We’ll go over the basics of what to use, what is safe to use what is NOT safe and what can react with what modern drugs. The common misconception of herbal medicine is that it is safe compared to modern drugs. That is so far from the truth!
Cost is $75.00 and sign up here
Wound Management Class.
If you have been following our news letters on wound care this is the class that those news letters lead to. With so may people either losing health insurance or jobs (Losing a job counts as a SHTF event),knowing how to treat your self and family is even more important.

Class date is October 29th 8am to 3pm at Lovelace Medical Center. (LMC) In the Blandina room 2nd floor.
601 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Ave NE Albuquerque, NM 87102.

This is a 1 day basic wound care and closing class

• Cleaning puncture and lacerations
• Different solutions used to clean a wound
• irrigation and removal of all foreign material
• Using Steri Strips and bandages
• Using staples, glue and sutures to close with.
• How to establish and maintain a sterile field
And Much More!
In this 8 hour course we will bring the knowledge of how to clean and debride a wound prior to closing. We’ll go over the different solutions used for irrigation, to include herbal wound washes. Wound care in a clean room setting is bad enough. Doing it out doors is TOUGH. I’ll go through the details on how to clean care for and close a wound while minimizing infection
We’ll also discuss, demonstrate and have you practice the 4 main methods of closing a wound. Bandage/Butterfly. Glue, Staples and of course Suture
Sign up here.
Cost is 75.00


Items that will help with herb processing.



New Mexico State UUniversityMedicinal plants of the Desert Southwest

Micheal Moore Medicinal Plants of the Desert  Canyon West ISBN 0-89013-182-1

Notes from my Grandmother Fedincia Martinez  (Yerbera)

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