Don’t you love the smell of rain in the desert? Did you know that it comes from the creosote bushes? The waxy, dark green leaves are covered in tiny oil droplets. When moisture comes into contact with it, it releases that refreshing scent most of us love. The scent is potent enough that you can smell rain up to two miles away.
Larrea tridentata, also known as creosote bush, greasewood and chaparral, is prominent in the Mojave, Sonoran, and Chihuahuan Deserts of western North America. It can grow up to ten feet tall and produces yellow flowers with five petals in the spring.
The leaves are bitter, but desert iguanas and chuckwallas will eat them, as does the jackrabbit if it can find nothing else to eat. Desert woodrats and kangaroo rats enjoy its seeds. And twenty-two species of bees thrive on their flowers.
These bushes are long-lived plants. When it is 30-90 years old, the oldest branches die and the crown splits into separate crowns and continues to thrive. The “King Clone” creosote ring in Lucerne Valley, California is the oldest living organism on Earth with an estimated age of 11,700 years.
Creosote, or chaparral as it is known in its medicinal form, has been used by Native Americans for hundreds of years for a wide variety of maladies. Ethnobotanist Gary Nabhan of Northern Arizona University’s Center for Sustainable Environments found that indigenous people used it for at least fourteen afflictions and diseases, including colds, chest infections, intestinal discomfort, menstrual cramps, nausea, wounds, poisons, swollen limbs, dandruff, body odor, postnasal drip, and more.
Further research shows that it has compounds that serve as an antiherpes, antioxidant, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory.
According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, it should not be used as an internal medicine as it is toxic to the liver.
If you love the smell of the desert rain, gather a few sprigs or short branches, tie them together, and hang them in the shower. The steam produced from the warm shower will release the scent of the oils on the leaves.