Herb: Escoba vibora collale
English: Snake broom, Rattlesnake broom, Matchwood
Genus and species: Gutierrezia sarothrea and G. microcephala
Escoba de la vibora blooms bright yellow in September and October in northern New Mexico. You will notice it out in the dry places where chamiso (sagebrush) has been cleared and in overgrazed areas.
This little woody plant contains a number of compounds in its leaves and stems that make it broadly useful. Due to the antibacterial properties of aromatic compounds, tea of the plant has been used to alleviate joint and muscle soreness and prevent topical infections when applied to wounds as a compress or wash.
A tea of escoba de la vibora is a traditional remedy for stomachache. The tea slows heavy menstrual bleeding and is used to impart a yellow color to wool as a dye plant.
In addition to all of its practical uses, this is an important plant used in ceremonial healing by traditional curanderos and curanderas. It is truly a useful plant, but it can be toxic to grazing animals and induce miscarriages in cattle.
For treating muscle and joint discomfort ,a handful of Escoba de la Vibora is steeped (covered) in a gallon of hot water for about 20 minutes, a cup of the tea is consumed and the remainder is poured into a warm bath. Use two handfuls simmered in a quart of water for an effective wash for cleansing cuts and scrapes. Escoba is also a common ingredient in all-purpose salves, such as the traditional New Mexican ointment called encerado.
Traditional uses by Native Americans include a tea for cough, colds and stomachache, a topical wash for insect bites and treatment for snake bite. Also called Matchwood, this little plant is useful for starting fires as its branches are very flammable and make great tinder for old-fashioned friction fire starting.
Collect escoba de la vibora by snipping the stems at their base and bundling them with a rubber band. Allow the bundles dry completely in a shady place.
Consult your healthcare practitioner about the use of herbs or supplements, especially if you are pregnant or taking prescription medication.
Rob Hawley, Taos Herb Company and (575) 758-1991 and taosherb.com.