How it has been traditional used:
1oz of dry herb to 3 oz of boiling water. Let steep 6-12 hours. Once cooled put in refrigerator. Drink 1oz daily.
Native to the Southwestern US, chaparral is one of the oldest plants on earth, with a stand in the Mojave desert estimated to be over 11,000 years old. The stems and leaves of the bush are covered with a sticky resin that screens leaves against ultraviolet radiation, reduces water loss, and poisons or repels most herbivores. This resin is used in herbalism and to protect wood from insects. It received its name “creosote bush” due to the smell that comes from it when it rains. Its extremely bitter taste keeps it safe from animals that would otherwise graze upon it. It is also regarded as one of the most adaptable desert plants in the world; it was one of the first to grow back in Yucca Flats after the 1962 nuclear bomb tests done there.
Chaparral is a plant. The leaf is used to make medicine, but there are serious safety concerns. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Health Canada have advised consumers against using products containing chaparral due to safety concerns. Despite warnings, chaparral is still available in the U.S. Chaparral is not permitted by Health Canada because it is not an authorized natural health product. Chaparral is sometimes an ingredient in diluted homeopathic preparations. The safety concerns do no generally apply to homeopathic preparations containing chaparral due to the extreme dilutions.
Chaparral is used for digestion problems including cramps and gas; respiratory tract conditions including colds and infections; and ongoing chronic skin disorders. It is also used for cancer, arthritis, tuberculosis, urinary tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, central nervous system conditions, chickenpox, parasite infections, obesity, and snakebite pain. Some people use chaparral for detoxification, or as a tonic or “blood purifier.”
The leaves contain a powerful antioxidant – NDGA (nordihydroguaiaretic acid) – that has been used as a food preservative and may account for some of its medicinal properties.
Liver injury attributable to chaparral was first reported in 1990 and subsequently more than two dozen cases of clinically apparent liver injury attributed to chaparral have been published. The time to onset varied from 3 weeks to several years, but was usually within 3 to 12 weeks of starting daily ingestion or increasing the daily dose. The pattern of injury was typically hepatocellular with an acute viral hepatitis-like presentation and marked elevations in serum aminotransferase levels, but minimal increase in alkaline phosphatase. Autoimmune and immunoallergic features were uncommon. Several reported cases have been severe and some have led to emergency liver transplantation. Subclinical cases and serum enzyme elevations without symptoms may occur but have not been well characterized. Despite the several reports of liver injury caused by chaparral, over-the-counter products with chaparral are still available commercially and on the internet. For unclear reasons, there have been no cases of liver injury clearly implicating chaparral published since 2005.
Mechanism of Injury
Chaparral leaf extracts have many components but the most prominent is NDGA, an antioxidant which affects many intrahepatic pathways, including those involving cyclooxygenases and lipoxygenases. The rare cases of liver injury reported with chaparral use have had idiosyncratic features, and the rapid recurrence after reexposure and finding of eosinophils on liver biopsy suggest an allergic or immunological cause of injury. As with other reported herbal toxicities, the liver injury attributed to chaparral may have been due to contaminants or improperly prepared extracts.
Outcome and Management
Hepatotoxicity from chaparral is rare, but some cases have been severe leading to acute liver failure. Other instances have been reported to lead to cirrhosis, but cases of chronic hepatitis or vanishing bile duct syndrome have not been reported. Recurrence after reexposure has occurred.
Chaparral has been used by herbalists to cleanse the lymphatic system for a very long time. It also clears heavy metals from the blood and is believed to drive tumors into remission. Studies have suggested that chaparral inhibits uncontrolled cell proliferation as well as damage to DNA. “Native Americans have used chaparral for centuries as an anticancer remedy. In fact, it is the cornerstone of most anticancer herbal formulas.”1 This includes the Essiac formula discovered by Rene Caisse.
Studies have proven that chaparral produces compounds that inhibit replication of HIV. These compounds are called tricyclic lignans, and some are stronger than others. According to a study published in the Journal of Chromatography A, “The most predominant anti-HIV compound FB2 (denoted Malachi 4:5-6 or mal.4), which occurs in 0.23% yield, was separated from its FB1 isomer (0.13% yield). Compound FB4 and two tricyclic lignans (FB3 and FB5) were also isolated in a substantial amount for further testing of their anti-HIV activities. These compounds may represent a new class of anti-HIV agents with important clinical relevance.”2 Chaparral extracts are also being used as a natural antiviral treatment for herpes simplex virus (HSV).
Herbalists have used chaparral externally to treat psoriasis, eczema, burns and sunburns for generations. According Annie’s Remedy, “Chaparral herb should only be used externally in baths, and the tincture can be used to make creams and lotions. Applied to the skin, chaparral can have a remarkable healing effect on the skin. It is useful for eczema, psoriasis, and as an excellent antiseptic dressing for cuts, sores and bruises.”3 It is not wise to apply chaparral herb directly to the skin. I’ll explain why in a bit.
Chaparral leaves contain a powerful antioxidant that’s an effective herbal antibiotic. According to nutraceutical researcher Jon Barron, “Chaparral is one of the most powerful anti-oxidants in nature. The primary biochemical responsible for this is NDGA (nordihydroguaiaretic acid). NDGA is so effective that it is often used as a food preservative.”1 So, it should come as no surprise that it is effective defense against cold germs and flu viruses. It has also been used to treat urinary and respiratory infections, as well as chickenpox.
According to an article published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology chaparral has been used to treat many other conditions and complaints as well. “Although controversial, Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata (Sesse and Moc. ex DC) Coville, is used to treat a variety of illnesses including infertility, rheumatism, arthritis, diabetes, gallbladder and kidney stones, pain and inflammation.”4
The cancer claim has only been proven partially true. Studies have shown that chaparral can shrink cancerous tumors in some, but in one study those patients were the lucky few. “Of the 45 people who took part, 4 found that their cancer got smaller. The effect lasted between 10 days and 20 months. But in the other 41 people, the tumours got bigger. Overall, the researchers found that chaparral wasn’t safe and did not work well for treating cancer.”7 However, “[in] some lab studies it seemed that NDGA might help other cancer drugs to work. Researchers are looking into whether a pure form of NDGA might be useful as a cancer treatment. But this is very early research. A substance can show promise in the lab, but still not be a successful treatment for cancer in people.”7
You should also keep in mind that chaparral is not traditionally used alone for cancer treatment. It is usually one ingredient among many in natural anticancer remedies, like Essiac. That being said, I see no reason to distrust the intentions and findings of the medical researchers conducting the aforementioned clinical studies (which used either the whole herb or the NDGA extract).
Chaparral is considered a powerful blood purifier, but some believe that long term use could be harmful to the liver and kidneys. Chaparral was used in many herbal and pharmaceutical preparations, before it was determined that it could pose a health hazard. “[It] was banned after reports of toxicity during the early 1960s. Renal and hepatotoxicity are also reported for chronic use of creosote bush and NDGA.”4
Some advise only using chaparral externally. Annie’s Remedy, for example states, “FOR EXTERNAL USE ONLY!! Reports of serious liver disease have been associated with the ingestion of chaparral. These reports generally involved persons taking large dosages in the form of capsules”3
As I mentioned above, consuming chaparral could be harmful to the liver. This is especially true for those who are suffering from a liver disorder. But even if you are in perfect health, you should still take care not to overuse this herb. Chaparral can have serious side-effects for some, which is why it is not recommended for children.
According to WebMD, “Chaparral can cause side effects including stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, weightloss, fever, and liver and kidney damage. Putting chaparral on the skin can cause skin reactions including rash and itching.”5 It is not recommended for pregnant and breast-feeding women, because it may worsen liver disease or “cause serious liver and kidney problems.”5
Conversely, in an article posted on Natural News, a 1991 book called ‘Miracle Medicine Herbs’ is cited as stating “All tests on chaparral indicate that it is positively non-toxic and has never shown any side effects on patients and if present research is successful it will offer the first anti-cancer drug.”6 The article also cited another book called ‘Herbs for Health and Healing’, which was published in 1996. This book also claims that chaparral poses no danger to human health, with judicious use. “Herb industry surveys show that more than 200 tons were sold in the United States between 1970 and 1990. And during this time, there was not a single complaint of side effects arising from the use of this herb. When two to three cups of chaparral tea or the isolated NDGA were given daily to more than 50 cancer patients, the only side effects were occasional nausea or diarrhea. Very large doses resulted in lowered blood pressure.”6
And yet, again, according to Cancer Research UK, “A review of 18 case reports of people who took chaparral showed that it can cause severe, irreversible liver damage and failure. It can also cause kidney damage in some people.”7
* These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.