Foraging Creosote Bush

Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata) has many uses for the forager.  Lucky for us this plant is quite common throughout the Southwest. But note. Desert plants contain numerous defensive compounds to keep the critters from devouring them wholesale and creosote is no exception!

In my book Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today, I mention the many uses of creosote: Aromatic, Craft, Culinary, Dye, Medicinal, and Ornamental. Let’s look at these uses and why you just might want to forage some creosote.

More about Creosote and other traditional O’odham plants –

soule-kino-southwestThe last few copies of this out-of-print award winning Southwestern book are now for sale. Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today  

The review says:

“Award-winning garden writer Dr. Jacqueline A. Soule has pulled together a fascinating book on the life of Father Eusebio Francisco Kino and some of the plants that he brought to Southern Arizona and northwestern Sonora, and area called the Pimeria Alta.”

A steal at only $20!  This link is to our sales site. The profits from the sale go to the local Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute.  We hope you will help support this great Southwest non-profit!

Using Creosote

Virtually all portions of the plant are useful.



Flower buds of creosote are good to pickle and use as “desert capers.”    Get the firm young buds.    This is covered in our post Desert Capers.    We also have a video on creosote capers our YouTube channel.

Flowers petals of creosote are also okay to use, say in a salad. They are somewhat small – but a bright and sprightly color in an otherwise green dish.


Leaves of creosote have been used medicinally, but they can also be detrimental to the liver (killing liver cells) so caution is strongly advised. This was covered more fully in our post Using Medicinal Herbs.

Leaves can be used as a dye.  Depending on mordant, wool came out greenish drab to tan.



Creosote galls (caused by a tiny midge insect irritating the plant) have been dried, ground, and smoked.    Note that there are seven (7) types of creosote gall and my sources were not clear on which type of these galls were used.


These galls are reported to be used as a dye. I aim to go collecting and try this for myself.


Creosote branches can also be used around the house as decorative elements. Cut fresh and allowed to dry, branches with seed pods look wonderful and impart a fresh fragrance to the room. I like to get seed pod covered branches for some “desert pussywillows.”


Masses of leaves can be placed in a bowl as a sort of desert potpourri. It also dries well on the dashboard of a car, freshening the air far better than any cardboard cutout impregnated with artificial scent. Desert friends exiled away from Tucson may welcome some leaves in the mail.

Plant Defensive Compounds

A further word about plant defensive compounds. Many of these defensive compounds can be used by humans, and have been for eons.    Indeed, there is also some evidence for animals seeking out specific plants and using them.    Example – birds lining nests with lemongrass – a plant that appears to kill feather lice.


Human use for many plant defensive compounds for mildly medicinal purposes.  You can purchase these in your everyday grocery store. Chamomile tea and licorice root tea for example.  Chamomile to calm and aid digestion, licorice root as a digestive aid.

Humans also use many plant defensive compounds for flavors in cooking.    Oregano and cilantro for example.    Some flavors come only after the plant is dried and the defensive compounds are neutralized.    Bay leaves (Laurus nobilis) are an example of this – induce visions and an early death when fresh, but fine and tasty when dried.

We urge you to use our desert home in a sustainable fashion and always – savor safely!

And Here’s Our Cookbook!

savor-honey-bookMay we suggest our dandy little cookbook?

Using Honey in New and Savory Ways offers 36 pages of tips for using honey in your cooking, as well as in all manner of dishes. A steal at only $6!

We hope you will help support some local Southwest folks!
From the review:
“Honey is for more than desserts and this book can help! Using honey in cooking savory dishes helps engage all your taste buds and adds a layer of added flavor to everyday dishes – plus holiday fare.”

Beekeeper?  We offer volume discounts – because if you sell honey in local markets you might want to offer some of these books as well.

About the Author:

Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D. is an Ethnobotanist, Associate Researcher at the University of Arizona Herbarium, and Chair of the Desert Legume Program (DELEP) Advisory Board. She is author of 15 books, countless articles, and is a popular public speaker.    She researches traditional uses of plants by local peoples and writes about growing and using plants of the Sonoran Desert for two sites  here at

Legal Note
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