SNAKE BROOM WEED by J. Zane Walley

It seems that nature gave us a bountiful supply of the plants we most need to treat our aches and pains, especially the infirmities of age. A great variety of herbs that are legend for treating symptoms of arthritis and rheumatism grow throughout the Western U.S. and Northern Mexico. Snake Broom weed (Gutierrezia sp) is the most common of those plants. It is so ordinary, that in the fall, it is hard to hike anywhere in the West without stomping on it. The shinbone high, yellow flowering plant literally carpets fields and meadows from Texas to Canada to California.

Indians were acutely aware of the plantís many curative powers. It was so highly regarded that many tribes used it not only for healing, but also as a religious sacrament. The Comanches, Dakotas, Navahos, Paiutes, and Shoshones used a tea made from the flowers and leaves as an anti-diarrhea, analgesic, sedative, snake bite and cold remedy. Infusions made from the roots were employed as an antiseptic wash for measles, painful urination, stomach ache, and as a gynecological aid to hasten the delivery of placenta after childbirth.

The most common use of the plant by all tribes and Hispanic healers was as a regimen for arthritis and rheumatism. Hispanic herbalists on both sides of the border still widely use the plant (which they call Escoba de la Vibora) for this affliction.

For the most rapid and effective relief from pain, the tea is drunk, as one soaks in herb-infused bath water. Make the tea by bringing a cup of water to a rapid boil. Add a heaping tablespoon of dry leaves and flowers, remove from heat source, cover, and let sit ten minutes before drinking. The bath water is prepared by boiling eight ounces of the flowering plant in a gallon of water until it begins to disintegrate. Strain through an old pillowcase into a hot bath, and then soak until the bath water begins to cool. A poultice of boiled leaves in cloth is effective when applied directly to painful joints as a heat pack for rheumatism and arthritis.

As with all remedies, Snake Broom doesnít bring relief to everyone, but has about an eighty percent likelihood of effectiveness. For those in that eighty percent, it works absolute wonders for pain and inflammation. The only problem is, to use as a tea and bath, one must pick and store large amounts of the herb to make it through a season. Used twice weekly, an annual supply would require fifty to sixty pounds.

Modern medical research has not focused on the common folk uses of this tried and true herb, but in 1965, an American medical laboratory isolated an anti-cancer substance from the plant. Other research indicates that in mice and sheep (no tests have been done on humans) the reproductive ability of females is somewhat diminished. Research by a veterinary medical clinic in Alamogordo, New Mexico and tests by other laboratories found that a diet consisting of 10% Snake Broom, induced early fetus poisoning and abortion in rats. This gives credit to an obscure folk use of causing abortions in humans. These tests positively indicate that expectant women should not use this plant for any purpose.

Snake broom is gathered in the fall by plucking the plants from the earth, roots and all. Hang in a shady, protected place until powder dry. Store loosely in paper bags.