Chaparral

Chaparral

Common Names

  • Creosate bush
  • greasewood
  • hediondilla
  • gobernadora

For Patients & Caregivers

Chaparral cannot treat or cure cancer or any other medical condition.

Chaparral is a plant that grows in the desert regions of Mexico and the southwest United States with a long medicinal history. It has been used by Native Americans to treat skin sores, inflammatory disorders, rheumatism, diabetes, tuberculosis, colds, venereal disease and cancer. Chaparral tea has been employed for the treatment of kidney and gallbladder stones.

A clinical trial found chaparral to be ineffective as an anticancer agent.
The active compound of chaparral, known as Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), has been shown to have antiviral, anticancer, antiparasitic effects in laboratory experiments and animal models.

Because several patients who regularly drank chaparral tea developed kidney cysts, kidney cancer, and liver damage, chaparral products are not recommended. The FDA removed NDGA, formerly employed as a food additive in low concentrations, from its “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) substances list. Also, Masoprocol, a topical cream containing NDGA, was developed for the treatment of actinic keratoses, but it was withdrawn from the U.S. market in June 1996.

Chaparral is an ingredient in black salve, which is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment.

No scientific evidence supports the use of chaparral for any of the following uses:

  • To treat arthritis
  • To treat bronchitis and the common cold
  • To prevent and treat cancer
  • To reduce inflammation
  • To alleviate menstrual cramps
  • To promote urination
  • To stop muscle spasms
  • Chaparral and products containing chaparral have been associated with severe liver damage, in some cases requiring liver transplantation.
  • Fatigue
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Stomach upset
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Liver damage
  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Acute hepatitis
  • Kidney failure
Back to top Arrow (up) icon.Icon pointing upwards. Usually means that the containing element can be opened and closed.

For Healthcare Professionals

Larrea tridentate, Larrea divaricata

Chaparral is a plant prevalent in the desert regions of Mexico and the southwest United States with a long medicinal history. Native Americans used extracts and preparations from this plant to treat skin sores, diabetes, cancer, venereal disease, tuberculosis, colds, and rheumatism. The aqueous extract, known as chaparral tea, has been employed for the treatment of kidney and gallbladder stones.

A phase II clinical trial found chaparral to be ineffective as an anticancer agent (9). In another small retrospective study, low intake of chaparral tincture (<10%) did not cause adverse effects (3), but the association between length of exposure and risk is not known;

Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), the active compound isolated from chaparral, has been investigated for its biological effects. In preclinical studies, it demonstrated antioxidant (12), anticancer (2) (13) (19) (20), antiviral (21), anti-parastitic (22), neuroprotective (14) and renoprotective (15) properties; and had a protective effect against diet-induced metabolic function (23). A pilot study in patients with relapsed prostate cancer reported NDGA to be reasonably well tolerated and to affect increases in PSA doubling time, but was found to be associated with transaminitis in some patients (16).

Several cases of reversible and irreversible liver damage (4) (7) (8) (17) have been associated with chaparral and products containing chaparral. NDGA, formerly employed as a food additive in low concentrations, has been removed by the FDA from its “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) substances list (1). Also, Masoprocol, a topical cream containing NDGA, was developed for the treatment of actinic keratoses, but withdrawn from the U.S. market in June 1996 (18).

Chaparral is an ingredient in black salve, which is promoted as an alternative cancer treatment.

  • Arthritis
  • Bronchitis
  • Cancer prevention
  • Cancer treatment
  • Common cold
  • Inflammation
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Promote urination
  • Spasms

Nordihydroguaiaretic acid (NDGA), a lipoxygenase inhibitor, may be responsible for the biological activity of chaparral. It is believed that NDGA may have anticancer activity by blocking cellular respiration in vitro (2). Additional studies have shown that NDGA inhibits the growth of estrogen receptor (ER) positive MCF-7 cells that overexpress HER 2 (MCF-7/HER2-18), and had additive effects when combined with tamoxifen (13).

In murine models, NDGA exerted neuroprotective effect against ischemic/reperfusion injury mediated via suppression of c-Jun N-terminal protein kinase (JNK) pathway (14); and ameliorates potassium dichromate-induced oxidative stress and nephrotoxicity (15).

Chaparral and products containing chaparral have been associated with severe hepatotoxicity, with some cases requiring liver transplantation (4) (7) (8).

Reported: Fatigue, jaundice, cirrhosis, hepatotoxicity (4) (5) (7) (8) (11).


  1. USFDA. CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cdrh/cfdocs/cfcfr/CFRSearch.cfm?…. Accessed March 6, 2019.

  2. Pavani M, et al. Inhibition of tumoral cell respiration and growth by norhidydroguaiaretic acid. Biochem Pharmacol 1994;48:1935-42.

  3. Sheikh NM, et al. Chaparral-associated hepatotoxicity. Arch Intern Med 1997;157:913-9.

  4. Tyler V, et al. The Honest Herbal. New York: Pharmaceutical Press; 1993.

  5. Batchelor WB, et al. Chaparral-induced hepatic injury. Am J Gastroenterol 1995;90:831-3.

  6. Kauma H, Koskela R, Mäkisalo H, et al. Toxic acute hepatitis and hepatic fibrosis after consumption of chaparral tablets. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2004 Nov;39(11):1168-71.

  7. Yam-Canul P, Chirino YI, Sánchez-González DJ, et al. Nordihydroguaiaretic acid attenuates potassium dichromate-induced oxidative stress and nephrotoxicity. Food Chem Toxicol. 2008 Mar;46(3):1089-96.

  8. Drugs@FDA: FDA Approved Drug Products. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/scripts/cder/daf/index.cfm?event=overvie…. Accessed March 6, 2019.

  9. Leon D, Parada D, Vargas-Uribe M, et al. Effect of nordihydroguaiaretic acid on cell viability and glucose transport in human leukemic cell lines. FEBS Open Bio. 2016 Aug 23;6(10):1000-1007.

  10. Merino-Ramos T, Jiménez de Oya N, Saiz JC, Martín-Acebes MA. Antiviral Activity of Nordihydroguaiaretic Acid and Its Derivative Tetra-O-Methyl Nordihydroguaiaretic Acid against West Nile Virus and Zika Virus. Antimicrob Agents Chemother. 2017 Jul 25;61(8). pii: e00376-17.

  11. Bashyal B, Li L, Bains T, Debnath A, LaBarbera DV. Larrea tridentata: A novel source for anti-parasitic agents active against Entamoeba histolytica, Giardia lamblia and Naegleria fowleri. PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 2017 Aug 9;11(8):e0005832.

Back to top Arrow (up) icon.Icon pointing upwards. Usually means that the containing element can be opened and closed.
Back to top Arrow (up) icon.Icon pointing upwards. Usually means that the containing element can be opened and closed.
Email your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.

Last Updated