Creosote – A Fragrant Native Herb

PlaceCreosote is a remarkable herb! Low-water, lovely, and highly useful, this unique desert shrub rewards any extra water you give it by adorning its branches with masses of vivid yellow, star-shaped flowers. These flowers are replaced by charming fuzzy gray seed pods that dry up, split apart and blow away. Best of all – every time it rains, this shrub fills the air with a heavenly scent like no other on earth.

Unique Desert Creosote

Creosote (Larrea tridentata), is also called chaparral. In Spanish it is known as gobernadora, or hediondilla. The Seri call it haaxat. If you know the O’odham or Yeomi names – please post them in the comments!


Creosote is in a very unique plant family, Zygophyllaceae, the Caltrop Family. A family that lives mostly in hot dry places. The entire family has some unique chemicals and almost all members are used medicinally where ever the occur in the world.

Creosote as a Herb

While you may not think of creosote as an herb, technically it is used as one. The strongly scented leaves are covered with waxes and oils that are highly aromatic and have been used medicinally for years.

Tea from the leaves has been used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, headache and asthma. Leaves were pounded into mash, hot water added, and the resulting paste used as a poultice to treat rheumatism, bruises, or sprains.


Leaves were also placed on coals in a sweat lodge to help soothe lung complaints and sweat out fevers. Roots and bark exude a resin that was critical to survival in days before modern adhesives, and still is useful today.

Leaves are said to repel mosquitoes. It was said to be one reason creosote was used to top ramadas and brush arbors.

Galls formed by the activity of the creosote gall midge have been dried, ground, and mixed with “store bought” tobacco to help make the tobacco last longer. These galls can also be used to create a beige dye.


Creosote leaves contain liposygenase and cyclooxygenase inhibitors, no different from those now used by physicians to treat asthma and arthritis. The problem is that these compounds can cause liver damage. One study determined that, taken internally, powdered leaves could cause liver damage. Tea made from crushed leaves appear to be less toxic. Because creosote compounds especially harm liver cells, extracts of creosote leaves are being investigated as a treatment for liver cancer.

Decorate Your Space

Cut fresh and allowed to dry, creosote branches with seed pods look wonderful and impart a fresh fragrance to any room. Place a mass of leaves in a bowl as a desert potpourri. Branches dry well on the dashboard of a car, freshening the air far better than any cardboard cutout impregnated with artificial scent. (helps get rid of that locker room smell if you have three teens in sports). Desert friends exiled away from Tucson may welcome some leaves in the mail (I know I did!).


Planting and Care

Posted about growing creosote on the GardeningWithSoule website this week.


Creosote for drying should be harvested when the plant is in good health. The day before harvest, I get out the hose and rinse the plant well to wash off dust and other contaminants. Dry out of direct sunlight and use within one year if used as a medicinal.

Thanks for reading!



soule-savor-kinoMore cooking and using Southwestern luscious herbs in Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies at no additional cost to you.

© Article copyright Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. You must ask permission to republish an entire blog post or article. Okay to use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit. You must include a link back to the original post on our site. No stealing photos.

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