Chaparral herb is a medicinal desert plant that is native to Mexico and Southwestern USA. It is also known as creosote, greasewood and stinkweed. As these names suggest, chaparral has an unpleasant smell and a very bitter taste, and the stem and leaves are covered with a waxy resin; the resin is extremely essential for the plant's survival in the desert as it protects the plant from the sun's ultraviolet rays, reduces the transpiration process and also discourages animals from grazing on the leaves.
Chaparral contains a powerful antioxidant known as nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NGDA), and this chemical has powerful antiseptic, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. Thanks to the presence of NGDA, there are many medicinal benefits of chaparral, and it has been used since ancient times in a variety of remedies. The Southwestern American-Indians regularly applied the chaparral herb over burns, skin eruptions, insect bites and even snake bites. Other uses of chaparral included applying the resin from a heated twig to aching teeth, and to wash hair with a resin solution to get rid of dandruff. Hot herbal concoctions of chaparral were also drunk to treat colds, bronchitis, stomach aches and diarrhea.
As the Europeans began to settle on the American continent, the chaparral herb was included in their cornucopia of herbal treatments. It was found to be quite effective in treating chickenpox, expelling internal parasites, curing venereal diseases and bringing relief for arthritis and menstrual related problems. The chaparral herb has also been found effective, albeit to a limited extent, in inhibiting the growth of tumorous cells, and it has therefore been used in the treatment of liver, kidney and stomach cancers.
Since NGDA is a strong deterrent against various types of bacteria, the chaparral herb has been approved as a preservative by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It is also used as an important ingredient in many mouthwashes to prevent tooth decay. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, on the other hand, had deemed chaparral as unsafe in 1968 on account of incidents of tumors in chaparral-fed lab animals. As further experiments proved inconclusive, the chaparral herb is once again on the safe list, although caution is advised in its usage.
Generally, the chaparral herb should not be taken by very young children and people with kidney problems or lymphatic disease. When using the herb, it is best to take it in small amounts. If there are any discernible side effects of chaparral like stomach upsets, urinary troubles, diarrhea and distended glands, it is advisable to stop using the herb and consult a doctor.