Native Plant of the Month: Chamiso

By Rob Hawley, co-owner of the Taos Herb Company
Posted 9/19/19

Chamiso (Spanish) - also chamiso pardo or chamiso hediondo Sagebrush, desert sage, big sagebrushFamily: AsteraceaGenus and species: Artemisia tridentataChamiso is abundant in Northern New Mexico as …

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Native Plant of the Month: Chamiso

Posted

Chamiso (Spanish) - also chamiso pardo or chamiso hediondo Sagebrush, desert sage, big sagebrush

Family: Asteracea

Genus and species: Artemisia tridentata

Chamiso is abundant in Northern New Mexico as well as many other western states. Equally abundant is the confusion about this noble plant. The confusion concerns both the plant's name and its botanical plant family.

First the name. Is it chamiso or chamisa? The proper name in Spanish here in Northern New Mexico is chamiso, chamiso pardo (gray chamiso) or chamiso hediondo (stinky chamiso). Chamisa, with the feminine "a," is of the same plant family but a completely different genus and species and known locally in English as rabbitbrush.

The genus of artemisia is named for the Greek goddess Artemis who was often depicted as hunting in the moonlight, thus most of the artemisias are gray-green, like the light of the moon. The species name "tridentata" refers to the leaves having three teeth.

The other big confusion with this common shrub is that it is called sage. This plant is not sage in the botanical sense and has very different properties as a medicine than that of true sage. True sages, like those we would use in gravy, sausage or turkey stuffing, come from the plant family of Laminaceae - this is the family people frequently call the "mint" family. True sages are in the genus of salvia - we have a local species of true sage called chan in Spanish.

So, having cleared that up, what's it good for? This is a plant with many properties as medicine. First, it is very bitter, and bitter herbs stimulate the digestive system by improving appetite, increasing the production of digestive enzymes and bile, and strengthening the muscular response of the intestine called peristalsis.

Next, chamiso is rich in aromatic volatile compounds that increase the secretion of moisture in the lungs to effectively address thick mucus in lung infections, which make coughing difficult and increase the risk of bacterial infections. The volatile oils in chamiso also alleviate menstrual cramping and stimulate a tardy menstrual period.

Chamiso contains artemisin and santonin, which irritate and cause small intestinal parasitic worms such as pinworms and other roundworms to be expelled. Chamiso also contains a substance called artemisinin discovered by a Chinese chemist, Dr. Tu Youyou, for which she won a Nobel Prize in biochemistry for its use as a treatment for malaria. We cannot use chamiso for malaria as the quantities of artemisinin in the plant are very tiny and require extraction and concentration to be effective.

Collect chamiso with scissors by sniping the top 6-8-inch leafy parts and bundling them with a rubber band. Allow them to hang and dry in a cool shady place with good airflow. When dry, use 1 teaspoon of the leaves per cup of water and steep for 15 minutes.

For digestion, slowly sip one to three ounces of the tea 15 minutes before meals.

For a cough, drink three to five cups a day.

For menstrual cramps or a tardy period, drink two cups a day.

Do not use chamiso during pregnancy.

Consult your health care practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are taking prescription medication.

Rob Hawley is co-owner of the Taos Herb Company. For information, call (575) 758-1991 or go to taosherb.com.

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