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Herbal Monograph 

Herb: Chaparral    (Larrea divaricata, Larrea tridenta; Zygophyllaceae)

Other Names: L. Glutinosa, L. mexicana, Covillea spp., Creosote Bush, Greasewood,            Gobernadora, Hediondilla   (44)

Character/Energetics: slightly salty, acrid, bitter, cool  (6)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  kidneys, lung, liver (6); stomach, intestines, blood  (14) 

Parts used:  leaves (6)  (14); The dried plant is usually stable for up to two years (44)

Habitat:  Every square mile below 4,000’, from eastern San Diego County all the way to central Texas…It can grow as high as 5,500’ (south of Albuquerque), but below 3,000’, our deserts are owned by Chaparral. The Mexican name for Gobernadora (the Governess) describes its ability to form a monoculture in many deserts; the New Mexican name of Hediondilla (Little Stinker) needs no explanation.

Our common name of Chaparral makes botanists and range-management types grind their teeth in frustration; for them, Chaparral is a name for a whole biosphere of life ecology, like arctic tundra or oak woodlands. (44)  

Found in deserts of North America.  Covers thousands of square miles from California, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico west to Texas and south to Mexico.    (61)

Identification & Harvesting: Chaparral is a dark, olive-green shrub which grows in blistering hot, dry, desert regions of the Southwest where few animals or plants can survive. It develops a tap root which reaches 5 or 6 feet in the earth, along with a large network of roots which penetrate 20 feet into the soil and spread out into a wide area. The pulpy bark of the root acts as a reservoir to store water for the plant’s use during the drought season. Nature has provided chaparral with varnish-coated tiny leaves to seal in the precious stores of water and also to resist the wind-swept sand storms.  (1b)

Active Constituents: Chaparral is famous for its primary constituent, NDGA (nordihydroguaiaretic acid) which has pronounced antioxidant and anticancer effects. It relieves pain, has vasodepressant properties and has been found to increase ascorbic acid levels in the adrenals.  (6); 18 distinct flavone and flavonol aglycones, a dihydroflavonol, larreic acid, two guaiuretic acid lignins including (most important) nordihydroguaiuretic acid (NDGA), several quercetin bioflavonoids. NDGA content ranges from 1-11/2 of the dry plant. (44)

Actions: alterative, antitumor, laxative  (6);  alterative, antibiotic, antiseptic, parasiticide  (14);

antineoplastic, antirheumatic, analgesic, antioxidant, diuretic, immune stimulant  (22)

Has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and purported antitumor properties. (61)

Conditions and Uses:  chaparral is an effective blood cleaner and purifier of the whole body. (1)

Chaparral is a blood purifier and cleanser of the lymphatic system and liver. It helps build the immune system.  (1a)

Chaparral is used to treat cancer, skin diseases, arthritis and rheumatic complaints. A mouthwash used on a daily basis will prevent dental caries.  (6)         

Chaparral is one of nature’s best antibiotics used both internally and externally. It is good for treating bacterial, viral and parasitic infections. It is also an excellent addition to formulas in the treatment of kidney and bladder infections.

As a fomentation, it is applied topically for skin diseases, herpes, scabies, eczema and arthritic pains. It contains an anti-tumor substance called NDGA (nordihydroguaiuretic acid) which has anti-cancer properties. It is very bitter and is usually mixed with other herbs or taken in tincture form. I do know of several people who drink it as a tea. (14)


Acne: Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Allergies: Tincture*, Infusion*, Powder*

Arthritis: Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Blood Purifier: Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Boils:  Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Bursitis:  Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Cancer:  Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Psoriasis:  Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Rheumatism:  Tincture, Infusion, Powder

Stomach Cramps:  Tincture, Infusion

Tumors:  Tincture, Infusion, Powder


Arthritis: Tincture, Fomentation, and Lineament

Skin Parasites:  Tincture, Fomentation, and Salve

* Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem. (14)

For centuries, Native Americans have been using chaparral leaves and stems to treat a wide variety of ailments, including cancer, venereal disease, arthritis, rheumatism, tuberculosis, colds, stomach disorders and skin infections… In folk medicine, chaparral has been used for leukemia and many different types of cancers. Many people with cancer claim tumor shrinkage or complete remission using only chaparral…NDGA has been shown to have powerful anti-tumor properties. According to vol. 19 of 

   CHAPARRAL   (Larrea divaricata, Larrea tridenta; Zygophyllaceae)

Conditions and Uses (cont)

Biochemical Pharmacology NDGA inhibits electron transport in the mitochondria, or “energy producing factories” within cancer cells, thereby depriving tumors of the electrical energy required to exist. Chaparral also has been shown to have good antirheumatic properties giving it a role in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.   (22)

If you have dry skin, brittle hair and nails, and cracks in the feet and hands, but you have trouble digesting or even absorbing decent dietary oils, then a regimen of Chaparral will help; 30 drops of the tincture or 2 capsules before retiring. Some clinical trials have shown that it aids individuals who also manufacture poor-quality blood lipids. In blood chemistry workups, this manifests as elevated LDLs (Low Density Lipids) and even (for the heavy drinker) VLDLs (Very Low Density Lipids). These transport fats really wreak the blood vessels, leading to arteriosclerosis and hardening of the arteries. Chaparral combines very well with Milk Thistle and Puncture Vine to control this problem.

In the recent field of radical oxygen chemistry, Chaparral has been shown to contain compounds that inhibit the damage to liver and lungs from the elevation of these free radicals, and, with Milk Thistle or alone, it decreases the ravages of rancid, dietary lipid peroxides, esp. on the hepatocytes of the liver. This gives it useful application in the treatment of joint pain, allergies, autoimmunity diseases, and even PMS. As for the often mentioned effects it has on cancer, further tests over the years…have shown that Chaparral can both inhibit and stimulate the growth of cancer cells, so forget that. (44)

Used by Native Americans to induce vomiting, treat diarrhea, ease menstrual cramps.  Used externally for scratches, sores, wounds, bruises, and to treat rheumatism.  In Mormon traditions in Utah, it has a reputation as a cancer remedy.  This use has attracted modern attention to the herb.  In studies, some tumor regressions were reported.    (61)

Combinations: Chaparral combines very well with Milk Thistle and Puncture Vine to control propensity for arteriosclerosis and hardening of the arteries in LDL and VLDL heavy drinkers (44)

Cayuga Botanicals RD Note — [A suggestion to those willing to take the herb: it cannot hurt to take known herbal liver tonics in conjunction (such as milk thistle, as listed above).]

Precautions: Not recommended if nursing or pregnant (22)

Contains pyrrolizidine, a chemical than can harm the liver.  The toxic effect worsens if the herb is combined with medicines like Dilantin or phenobarbital, which increase the activity of liver enzymes. (1c)    Cayuga Botanicals RD Note — [A suggestion to those willing to take the herb:  couldn’t hurt to take known herbal liver tonics in conjunction.]

Side effects can include gastric symptoms, rash, stomatitis and fever. (61)


Tincturing Process:  Vita Mix: 7 gr: 1 oz ratio. Fill Chaparral just above blades. Powders quickly, gets hot and very sticky in container. Process 35 seconds forward and 20 seconds reverse.  Important: Do not prolong processing; pat attention to the clock!   (1); 68-75% alcohol  (10) ; 75% alcohol  (11)

Dosage & Applications: 1/2 ounce infused in a pint of boiling water or 3‑6 gm; tincture, 10‑30 drops (6)

Infusion: Steep 5-15 minutes;  

Tincture: 10-20 drops 3x daily

Powder:  2-10 #0 capsules (10 to 60 grains) 3x daily   

Hair Rinse: Chaparral is a good addition to hair rinses. (14)

Tincture: 10-30 drops 3x daily  (22)

Suggest about a tsp. of the dried leaves made into a tea. (61)

General Notes:  …University of Utah scientists in 1969-70 tested chaparral tea and NDGA on fifty-nine cancer patients with advanced incurable malignancy. Some patients drank two to three glasses of chaparral tea per day, while others received oral doses of pure NDGA (250 to 3,000 milligrams per day). Four patients had tumor remissions….  (45)

It has become increasingly difficult to find in the market. In December ’92, the FDA Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition issued a press release warning of the potential link between chaparral and liver toxicity.  At least four cases of serious liver problems following chaparral use and requiring hospitalization were reported to the Centers for Disease Control.  Shortly after that, industry trade associations asked their members to suspend sales of the herb.  It remains unknown whether the herb is inherently toxic or if contamination occurred.  Cayuga Botanicals RD Note — [the question is, have any other cases come to light?  If these four were isolated cases, it’s likely there were unusual circumstances.]    (61)



(1) Cayuga Botanicals Research Data (“Chaparral” file–Source: Donsbach)

(1a) ibid Research Data (“Chaparral” file–Source: Nature’s Field)

(1b) ibid  Research Data (“Chaparral” file–Source: “Rheumatism, Arthritis and Related Ailments”)

(1c) ibid Research Data, “If You Take Herbs, Tell Your Doctor”, Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, Mar. ’98

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 193 

(10) Herbal Preparations and Natural Therapies by Debra Nuzzi St. Claire, M.H, pg. 127

(11) Herbal Materia Medica (5th edition) by Michael Moore, pg. 18

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH,  pgs. 102-103

(22) Herbs and Herbal Formulas (booklet) by Mark Hershiser, pg. 7

(44) Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West  by  Michael Moore, pgs 27-29

(45) Options: The Alternative Cancer Therapy Book  by Richard Walters, pg. 137

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 56-57


PHOTO CREDIT: Geographer at en.wikipedia / CC BY 1.0