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Article on Greasewood from 2013
Closeup of leaf
from watered Chaparral
La Larria Botanicals
Greasewood the Unloved Supper Star (Updated Oct., 2014)
By Doug Mckern
If you type in ‘Worlds oldest living bush’ in Google, you will discover an amazing thing. That grizzly looking deserts weed, greasewood, growing just outside your kitchen window, is really, really old. And its age is only one of its amazing characteristics. King CloneYes folks right here in Landers resides the worlds oldest living bush, 11,700 years old. Discovered by a pilot flying over the huge circle of greasewood he convinced the botanist Frank Vasek of the University of California, to pinpoint this strange circle on the ground. This 67 foot circle of what looks like separate plants is a single very old plant, radiocarbon-dated at 11,700 years old!
The Papago Knew This
The Papago tribe are the indigenous peoples of the Mojave Desert. In the seventeen hundreds Spanish Missionaries had learned their language and began to record their religious beliefs and their spoken history. The greasewood, (also called creosote bush) was created by “Earth Maker” as the first living thing from which all other living creatures grew. From its branches, the first animal came, a tiny resinous insect, called Lac. Lac’s resins formed the mountains and the hard shellac of the earths crust. Somehow the Papago realized the antiquity of Greasewood and revered it as their sacred plant.
The Mojave Drug Store
Along with a fascinating spiritual heritage the Papago used this plant for everything. As a building material the resin was used as a waterproofing for thatched roofs or to seal jars of food to preserve them. But it is Larrea tridentata’s, (greasewood) curative properties that were most useful to these Native Americans. Here is a list of recorded afflictions and diseases it has been used for: colds, chest infections or lung congestion, intestinal discomfort, stomach cramps associated with delayed menstruation, consumption, cancer, nausea, wounds, poisonous bits, swollen limbs due to poor circulation, dandruff, body order, distemper, post nasal drip, worms, as a poultice on wounds, stiff limbs and rheumatic joint pain.
The Plant Chemical Factory
The small leaves are coated with shinny resinous tacky syrup, which makes up 10 to 20% of the weight of the leaf. This resin protects the plant from the harsh environment the Mojave and it is these resins, flavinoids, lignins, volatile oils and waxes, which are efficacious. Some of the 47 aromatic flavinoids produce that wonderful desert smell after a summer rainstorm. Of the more than 360 oil/resin compounds present in the leaf structure many are strongly anti-oxidative, anti-microbial, anti-fungal and antiviral. The antioxidants present seem to help stabilize vitamin A, which may play a key role in controlling cancer cells and scrubbing the body of toxic oxidation radicals.
Of course anyone who has attempted to drink a tea made of chaparral, as it is called in the health food store will note that greasewood tastes terrible. Further work needs to be done on isolating greasewoods active principles. After trying for 6 years to present greasewood as a usable herb I have developed a very nice soap, which I think, uses the protective nature of these oils to protect your skin. Much still remains to be discovered about our scrawny desert weed, greasewood.