Ask Your Herbalist - Algerita  by J. Zane Walley

A ferocious varmint took up housekeeping in my wife’s innards while we were on a hiking trip in the Capitan Mountains. Must have been in a sparkling stream we drank from, for the next day she was doing the doubled-over quick-step. Collaring her between frantic sorties to the privy, I tried to dose her with an herbal physic. “Ain’t no way!” she sickly belched. “I’m going to a medical professional with this one as soon as I can. Don’t you even try to fix it with weeds! Aaaugh! No! Here it comes again.”

She came home with a twenty-one dollar bottle of capsules saying, “Good stuff, I feel better already!” The ingredient label read: Grapefruit extract and Mahonia. Dollar signs clicked across my eyeballs as I looked at the Algerita covered hillside behind our home in Lincoln. We keep a goodly stash of limbs, roots, and leaves on hand now, hanging in the shade of the back porch. Doubtlessly, a few thousand dollars worth based on the price Sara paid for her pills.

As a medical herb, the root, trunk and branches of Algerita treats a large variety of ills; even some that do not respond to synthetic medications. It is a very potent, heavyweight, natural antibiotic. It is used without side effects, at the onset of any internal infection; even those picked up by drinking bacterially contaminated water.

Medical research abroad has documented the successful use of Algerita in intestinal and many other infections. The medical uses aren't well known in the United States, but is commonly used by British and Australian herbalists.

The yellow roots contain a bitter yellow alkaloid, berberine, chemically related to quinine sulfate. Quinine is an extraction of the cinchona bark and used for treating malaria, an infection of red blood cells by protozoan. Interestingly, and seemingly related to the quinine effect; the available body of American folk medicine documents Algerita was used as a "Blood tonic."

David McLeod, President of the Australia Herbalist Association reports, "I have used Algerita for over a decade to treat numerous bacterial infections. I found it effective in those of the gastrointestinal tract, colds, and flu of bacterial origin, bronchitis, cystitis, and urethritis. It is appropriate for times when a broad-spectrum antibiotic is needed. It has been used successfully in secondary infections caused by AIDS."

Studies by the University of London Society for Herbal Research in 1987, demonstrate, “Algerita is effective in treating syphilitic infections, psoriasis, and other problems due to mal-condition of the blood. Digestion and assimilation of food is improved; the lymphatic glandular and ductless glands are stimulated. It is a valuable remedy for a cirrhotic liver, chronic constipation, and controls excessive secretions of the mucous membranes and is a preventive for kidney stones."

Western cowboys relate Algerita root tea is a kindly hangover cure. In medical fact, they are correct. The tea stimulates pepsin production in the stomach; thus blocking acid production and soothing irritated membranes. If you have regular indigestion, coated tongue in the morning, then you probably have difficulty in digesting fats and proteins. A regimen of Algerita root tea will greatly aid, or in many cases eliminate this problem.

The herb also has an effect on external infections. The University of London conducted controlled research involving a subject who had psoriasis for twenty-two years. “The patient used ten drops of tincture orally four times per day, and bathed affected areas in a strong root tea. In three weeks, itching subsided and flaking was confined to the junction of hair and neck.”

Algerita is an excellent remedy for the conditions described, but it is a slow acting remedy for chronic infections. Protozoan infections of the gastrointestinal tract respond within hours of commencing therapy; relief from digestive problems occurs within minutes of drinking the cold bitter tea.

Preparation as herbal remedy

Gather the whole root; remove the bark, wash, and shade-dry, two months. Chop, (if possible, grind) the root as finely as possible. Store in a covered container in a dark, cool, dry location.

Tea: Standard infusion

Boil 16 parts water. Remove From Heat. Add 1 part loose herb. Cover, steep for one hour. Stain and use. Refrigerate unused portion.

Tea: Strong infusion

Boil 10 parts water. Remove From Heat. Add 1 part loose herb. Cover, steep for one hour. Stain and use. Refrigerate unused portion.

Forewarning, use lots of honey. This brew is BITTER!


Add eight ounces of the ground or chopped herb to 40 ounces, 190 proof ethanol grain alcohol like Everclear, or even better, Victoria Brand Puro de Cana. (Available in Mexican farmacias.) Shake twice per day for two weeks. The alcohol dehydrates the cells of the herb, drawing out the substance of the plant. After two weeks, strain, and squeeze the mass of ground herbs until no moisture is left. Cut with water to taste for oral use.

Algerita is a true multiple use desert plant. In addition to its medical qualities, it is used as food, rich dye, and even as an attractive ornamental.

Algerita bears dense clusters of red berries in the fall; they are excellent eaten fresh or processed into jelly or jam. Boiled with sugar, and water they make a syrup to brag about. Although small and hard to pick, they are loaded with tart flavor.


Desert Barberry Syrup

Pick a gallon of bright-red, ripe fall berries. Cover with water; simmer in a stainless steel or crockery pot for two hours. Strain. Return juice to pot adding one-half pound of sugar, (or honey) and six tablespoons lemon juice. Simmer on low heat until thickened into syrup. Refrigerate. Warm and serve on flapjacks, waffles, or ice cream.