Chaparral Herbal Supplements

Annette McDermott
Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata

Chaparral has been used by Native Americans for centuries to treat illness. However, there are serious concerns about taking chaparral supplements. Here's what you need to know before using chaparral.

What is Chaparral?

Chaparral in its true sense is not a single plant but a "shrubland," or plant community found mainly in California, says the California Chaparral Institute. There are over 50 species variations that make up chaparral, with no one species being dominant.

Chaparral supplements are made from the creosote bush (Larrea tridentata), also called chaparral, a tall evergreen shrub found in western desert areas of North America. Although the creosote bush is known as chaparral, it is not typically found in the chaparral shrubland. The bush's leaves and twigs are used to make herbal remedies.

Uses

According to an article on New Mexico State University's website, chaparral has antimicrobial properties and is useful in first aid. It's also believed to have strong antioxidant abilities. The bush's leaves and twigs are harvested, dried, and ground up into powder. The leaves and twigs are used to make tea, or the powder is added to capsules to make supplements. Chaparral has a turpentine or tar-like taste. It is also used to treat:

  • Fever
  • Influenza
  • Colds
  • Upset stomach
  • Gout
  • Arthritis
  • Sinusitis
  • Fungal infection
  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Pre-menstrual syndrome

Drugs.com lists the following additional uses for chaparral:

  • Rheumatism
  • Cancer
  • Diabetes
  • Acne
  • Weight loss
  • Blood purifier

Dosage and Safety

Chaparral supplement use is controversial. Many natural health practitioners support it; however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) added the herb to its poisonous plant database after concluding it may cause hepatotoxicity. As a result, many experts consider the herb unsafe to use. Drugs.com states that hepatotoxicity may occur with doses of crude herb between 1.5 to 3.5 grams daily. They discourage using chaparral and do not provide a recommended dosage.

Holistic health and integrative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil also discourages the internal use of chaparral. Although he disagrees with the FDA's conclusion and does not believe there is evidence that chaparral causes hepatotoxicity, he does not recommend using the herb in tea or capsule form. He indicates on his website, "the tea tastes terrible," and says, "I haven't seen any scientific evidence showing that it is effective for any of the conditions for which it is so often recommended..."

Besides liver or kidney damage, chaparral side effects may include skin reaction, nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, weight loss, and fever. You should not use chaparral if you are pregnant or nursing, or if you have liver or kidney problems. You should also not use if you are taking medication that may damage the liver, including acetaminophen (Tylenol). Before using chaparral supplements, consult your doctor or natural health practitioner for the appropriate dosage for your specific medical situation.

Unsafe Herb or Nature's Cure?

Like many natural supplements, chaparral use is disputed. Clinical studies on its effectiveness and safety show mixed results, while anecdotal evidence that it's a natural healing wonder abounds. Likewise, supplements may contain higher or lower doses of chaparral than expected or include other unnamed ingredients. Until more research is done proving chaparral's efficacy, consult your doctor or a natural health practitioner before using and only purchase supplements from a reputable source.

Chaparral Herbal Supplements