Sunday, April 7, 2013

Desert Herb Use, Lore and Magick - Larrea tridentata, var. arenaria - Creosote Bush

I have to admit, making your own essential oil is pretty hardcore. Nothing says you have to make your own oils for effective spells. In fact, most of the time, I don't. But, occasionally, I want to work with an oil that isn't available on the market, and so I have to make it myself. It's not as difficult as you might think, but it is meticulous and time-consuming.

This week, I am making essential oil out of a shrub that grows like crazy in the desert in which I grew up: Larrea tridentata var arenaria, which is commonly known as creosote bush or greasewood. The plant releases its aroma whenever it rains and the entire desert basin is filled with the scent. It is pungent in the purest sense of the word.

Here is some habitat and zone information from USDA about the plant:

In addition to magickal uses, the plant has some practical and medicinal applications.  Each application is briefly discussed in the following sections.

Medicinal Uses

Native Americans used the leaves of the plant for many topical applications. One of which is an antiseptic for cuts and scrapes and lesions. I find the oils from the leaves particularly moisturizing and often rub them on the dry skin on my hands. It takes the itch away and provides a protective moisture barrier even after it dries.

The Forest Service has the following to say about the plant's medicinal uses. 

"Native Americans of the Southwestern deserts have used this plant in teas, tinctures, and salves, as a poultice to retard bacterial growth, as an emetic, expectorant, and diuretic to treat venereal disease, tuberculosis, bowel cramps, and rheumatism (Kearney and others 1951, Mabry and others 1977)." (1)

"It has been used for stiff limbs, sores, skin ailments, snakebites, menstrual cramps, and chicken pox (Bowers and Wignall 1993, Mabry and others 1977)." (1)

More recent studies (2005) show that the antioxidant compound,  nordihydroguaiaretic acid, has been proven to diminish cancer cells and is particularly effective in the treatment of breast cancer through injections. (2)

Please do not try to do this yourself. Applying the essential oil from the creosote bush topically is OK, but do not ingest this poisonous plant.

Other Uses

Native Americans found many other uses for this plant in their everyday lives.


The sap from the bush can be released by simmering the stalks in water. The resin is then applied to wooden tools, like arrows or bowls, for water-proofing, but not for food storage as ingestion of the oils is toxic in large enough amounts.


Creosote branches were stored in grain bins and other food storage areas to keep the moisture out of them, thereby preserving the food.  Sometimes, the leaves from the bush were mixed in with the grains to further the process.


Ok. Just me. I admit it. I find that creosote essential oil makes a great base note for aroma therapy and perfumed oil blends.  It has a warm, deep, earthy smell.  Some find it to be too bold, but those are the noses who usually find patchouli too bold as well.

Magickal Uses

There are several magical applications for creosote. But, first and foremost, a warning: Do not burn the leaves or branches unless you are outdoors or in a very well ventilated area. The fumes are toxic.


If ever there was a scent for grounding, creosote is it. The first word that comes to mind when you smell it is: earthy. Mixed with jojoba oil, creosote oil not only moisturizes the skin but also helps a nervous body to calm itself.  Creosote oil is especially delicious in bath water, and for pre-ritual bath and preparation, it is excellent.

Spells for Permanence

Larrea tridentata is one of the oldest known plant forms in science. It is ancient beyond even the Redwoods. It has adapted to some of the harshest conditions on the planet: below freezing temperatures in the winter, temperatures about 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and less than 10 inches of rain per year, nutrient deficient sandy soil. Yet it proliferates.  If you drive through the desert, you will notice that two bushes at most clump together. That is due to the acidity and toxicity of the foliage; nothing else grows around it.

The following key words should give you an idea of the types of spells that will benefit from using creosote energy:

  • Permanence
  • Longevity
  • Healthy Isolation (isolation with a purpose; for introspection, healing)
  • Developing a "tough skin"
  • Overcoming challenges
  • Growing and surviving despite having the odds against you

Extracting the Essential Oil

I neither have the funds or the talent for extracting oils using the distillation method. And, I am concerned that applying heat to the creosote leaves will change the important properties of the oils within. So, I am going to use the enfleurage method to get the oils out of the leaves and into bottles for use. This is truly a labor of love. The basic steps are:
  1. use only the freshest, newest leaves
  2. spread a thin coat of new, organic vegetable fat on a sterilized glass plate
  3. lay the leaves on the fat
  4. cover with plastic wrap to make the plate air-tight
  5. store in a cool, dark location for 48-72 hours - the oils depart the leaves and are absorbed into the fat
  6. remove the leaves from the fat
  7. place the fat on the insides of sterilized mason jars, exposing as much surface area as possible
  8. pour alcohol (vodka) into the jars, covering the fat
  9. cover and seal the jars
  10. let the jars stand in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours - this extracts the oil from the fat (pouring vodka directly on the leaves will destroy them and will not extract the oils)
  11. move the liquid to another steralized jar
  12. allow that to rest for 24 hours, refrigerated - this will allow the oil to separate from the alcohol
  13. siphon the separated oil from the alcohol
  14. bottle in sterilized, air-tight, dark glass bottles - the oil should last you at least five years, unless, of course, you use it all first or it turns sour due to some contaminant

Video of Creosote Blowing in the Wind
(c) 2013 Lionflower Media


(1) USDA Forest Service, Retrieved 20130407 from

(2) National Library of Medicine, Retrieved 20130407 from