Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Creosote Bush

With leathery hands, the shaman laid the creosote twigs across the corpse then placed the male cadaver in the prone position. Facing north in the shallow grave, fired clay jars of seeds and dried venison for the afterlife were sealed by creosote lac and tucked up next to the dead dark skin of the La Junta Warrior.

The creosote plant covers over 120 million acres of land in Mexico and the southwestern USA. Native people of this region used the plant medicinally from birth to death for centuries in its raw form, as tea, and smoked. Perhaps as common as penicillin today, the creosote bush or greasewood remedied rheumatism, menstrual cramps, coughing, sore throats and poisonous bites. Today the federal government considers it unfit for human consumption, but some people still use it for the treatment of lyme disease and the melting of kidney stones. Modern medical experimentation includes using the plant to combat fatigue in patients undergoing chemo-therapy.

Scientists believe that a creosote plant seed was deposited in North America from South America by birds during the last ice age some 10,000 years ago. A descendant of one of these early bird droppings lives in Johnson Valley, California. At 9400 years old it is thought to be the oldest living organism in the world.

Like pine, the creosote bush is a bodega of resins suspended in an amber syrup rich in flavinoids, oils and waxes. These resins shield the leaf from the strong UV light and heat of the desert allowing photosynthesis to go uninterrupted inside the leaf. Three hundred and sixty chemicals have been isolated in the oils of the creosote bush including forty-nine types of volatile oils.

After many days of drought, a fresh rain in the Trans-Pecos brings out the smells of vinyl, camphor, and methyl ketones from the washed leaves of the creosote plant that many still call hediondilla or “little stinker.”

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