Chaparral, also referred to as greasewood and creosote bush, is an herb derived from the common desert shrub Larrea tridentata. Native to the Southwestern United States, the leaves of this desert plant have been used for centuries by Native American healers as a tonic for the treatment of cancer, snake bites, infections, arthritis, tuberculosis and venereal disease.
Modern herbalists had come to view chaparral as an effective herbal antibiotic and as a treatment for intestinal parasites. Chaparral was also widely employed as a remedy for the treatment of colds, flu, cancer, and diarrhea.
Chaparral contains a compound called nordihydroguaiaretic acid or NDGA for short. NDGA is a powerful antioxidant, that is widely used in the food industry as a preservative for lard and animal shortenings. Early studies had raised hopes that NDGA might prove to be an effective treatment for cancer when it was revealed that NDGA was able to inhibit the growth of cancer cells in animals.
Human studies were disappointing, and raised new concerns about NDGA’s toxicity after researchers reported finding lesions on the kidneys and lymph nodes of animals. Subsequently chapparal was removed from the FDA’s list of products that are generally recognized as safe, or GRAS.
In 1990 a women suffered liver damage that was believed to be the result of consuming large amounts of chapparal tablets to treat a non-malignant breast lump. Though the woman recovered in time, the incident led to the widespread removal of all chapparal products from the shelves of health stores around the country. Many medical researchers currently feel that while chapparal is an intriguing product worthy of further research, it is too toxic to be recommended for human consumption at this time.