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Medicinal Properties of Chaparral

If I made a list of my top 10 favorite herbs, chaparral (Larrea tridentata) would definitely be on that list. This hardy plant, comprising over 20 species, cannot only survive the extremes of desert life, but can also live to be well over 10,000 years old. In fact, I have read that one of the oldest living plants on earth is a massive chaparral plant in California believed to be over 25,000 years old. Natural habitats for chaparral include the Southwestern US, Mexico, South America, South Africa, Australia, and the Mediterranean.

Medicinally, chaparral is hard to beat. The plant has strong antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-tumor properties. Chaparral is also a great anti-inflammatory, and raises vitamin C levels in the adrenal glands. By strengthening the adrenals, inflammatory conditions are reduced in the body, stress responses are improved, immune function is strengthened, depression can be alleviated, blood sugar can be stabilized, allergies/asthma reduced, etc. Chaparral is an extremely strong blood purifier, which is probably in part due to its high sulfur content. Its sulfur content could also help explain its historical use as a hair growth agent.

In addition, chaparral is the strongest antioxidant I have seen. Many antioxidant manufacturers claim that their antioxidant is the strongest known, but they are misleading. For example, manufacturers of Pycnogenol claimed that they had the strongest antioxidant known. They even went as far to compare the strength of their product to vitamin E. The problem is that Pycnogenols, or PCOs, are water soluble. Natural vitamin E on the other hand is lipid (fat) soluble. This is like comparing a car to a bicycle. They are both a source of transportation, but with big differences. And if I were to compare Pycnogenols with vitamin E, I would say the vitamin E is the car, which is more powerful, and the Pycnogenols are the bicycle. This is because I feel the cell membrane, which is composed of lipids, is more prone to free radical damage than the components within the water portion of the cell. Chaparral is different because it is not limited to the water or lipid portions of the cell. The antioxidants in chaparral work in both parts of the cell.

The antioxidants in chaparral include flavonoids, and a very powerful antioxidant known as nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA). NDGA is such a strong and effective antioxidant that it was actually used for decades as an antioxidant preserservative for oils and foods, with full approval of the USDA.

Chaparral is best known for its ability to treat cancer effectively. The antitumor effects of chaparral have been verified in studies conducted by the universities of both Nevada and Utah. One of the things that makes chaparral unique in its ability to treat cancer is the fact that it “attacks” the cancer through multiple mechanisms. Since the majority of cancers have a microbial origin, the first mechanism is through the destruction of viruses, bacteria and fungi. Chronic inflammation has also been linked to the formation of cancers, meaning that chaparral’s anti-inflammatory properties can inhibit some cancers. Chaparral can inhibit cancers triggered, or aggravated, by free radicals and toxins due to its antioxidant and cleansing properties. Chaparral’s liver cleansing properties makes it helpful for hormonal induced cancers since the liver is responsible for the breakdown of excess hormones. And finally, chaparral inhibits mitochondrial enzymes, which in turn inhibits the cellular division of cancer cells. In short, this means it inhibits cancer growth.

Chaparral’s ability to kill microbes makes it useful for a number of diseases linked to microbial infections. These include cancers (viral, bacterial, and fungal forms), heart disease (chlamydia bacteria), hepatitis (viral, bacterial, and fungal forms), rheumatoid (chlamydia bacteria) and other forms of infectious arthritis, multiple sclerosis (human herpes virus type 6), ulcerative colitis (mycoavian complex bacterium), Crohn’s disease (mycoavian complex bacterium), type 1 diabetes (viral), pneumonia (viral, bacterial, and fungal forms), bronchitis (viral, bacterial, and fungal forms), etc. One of the most interesting areas of study for the use of chaparral is in the treatment of herpes infections, where studies are looking very promising.

Chaparral is very resinous, and so is not easy to prepare as a tea. Resins and water do not mix, and the resin will separate out and stick to the pan wall when trying to make the tea. Therefore, I recommend not using this herb as a tea. I personally prefer the powder mixed with other herbs. By combining the powder with other powdered herbs, the other powdered herbs will help prevent the resins in the chaparral from clumping the powder in to a big “gumball” when it comes in to contact with water. This helps maintain a larger surface area, thereby increasing the absorption and effectiveness of the herb. In addition, the addition of other herbs can increase the effectiveness of each herb. For instance, chaparral combined with red clover blossom increases the antitumor activity of both herbs. Combining chaparral with pau d’ arco (lapacho, taheebo, ipe roxo) increases the antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal activities of both herbs.

Again, the FDA tried to claim that chaparral was linked to 13 cases of hepatitis, though medical reviews subsequently found no evidence that the chaparral was linked to the cases. In fact, it was shown that many of the patients were found to have pre-existing liver failure, or were taking pharmaceutical drugs well known for causing liver damage. On the other hand, fresh chaparral does contain unstable alkaloids that may damage the liver if ingested for a length of time. Therefore, chaparral should be dried and aged for at least a month before use to destroy these alkaloids.

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