There is a saying in the Sonoran desert where I was born and raised that “the desert smells like rain”. We all knew this meant that the creosote or “La Gobernadora” (The Governess) of the desert had been watered. The New Mexican name for creosote is Hediondilla (Little Stinker), which pertains to the strong scent it emits, especially after it rains.
This abundant desert shrub grows below 5,000 feet in Arizona. In the spring, yellow flowers bloom and soon produce fuzzy white seed balls. The blossoms are sought after for nectar and pollen by insects and bees. In fact, 22 species of bees are dependent upon creosote for nectar.
Botanists know that creosote bushes reproduce by cloning themselves. In the Lucerne Valley of southern California, a creosote patch growing from a single seed measures 70 feet by 25 feet. The huge ring was carbon dated to be 11,700 years old, surpassing a 4,900 year old bristlecone pine, which makes it the oldest living plant on record. Creosote is also one of the oldest known medicinal plants of the Southwest.

According to Phyllis Hogan, who has spent more than 25 years documenting plant use among Arizona tribes, the Hualapai relied on creosote to relieve the itching and pain of chicken pox. The Maricopa Indians drank a decoction of the leaves for intestinal trouble, while the Yavapai drank it to relieve symptoms of colds and flus. The Pima made a tea for coughs, colds, and to relieve arthritic pain. In addition to these uses, the Mexican people have also used the tea for a basic “cure-all.” Every tribe that Hogan has researched uses creosote in some form.
The United States Pharmacopoeia from 1842–1942 listed creosote as an expectorant and pulmonary antiseptic. Current research indicates that creosote helps reduce the painful symptoms of rheumatism, reduces inflammation, and inhibits bacteria, molds and other pathogen’s growth. Creosote, when applied to the skin as a tea, salve, or tincture slows down the rate of bacterial growth, killing it with antimicrobial activity. This explains why many boatmen have found relief from skin ailments with Denise Tracy’s miraculous Super Salve, which of course contains creosote. DeeAnn Tracy