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Native American

 Herbs  & Plants

Of The Southwest


Cliffrose or Cliff rose, Native American Indian herb used in herbal medicine

Latin Name: Cowania stansburiana or mexicana    Common names: Quinine bush


Cliffrose has been useful for many purposes since the time of the Maya, and is still being used today by contemporary Native American tribes. Cliffrose bark shreds easily and has traditionally been used for cradleboard stuffing by both the Navajo and Hopi. It is also one of the important dye plants for making a tan colored dye for rug weaving. Cliffrose is a medium to tall bush that grows frequently on hillsides, rocky slopes and cliffs- that's why it has the name "Cliffrose"! The leaves are small, crinkly and leathery, and the bark of older bushes is “shreddy” and grayish. It blooms profusely in May, with cream colored flowers that produce an intoxicating orange blossom-like scent. It produces long, showy seed plumes in the fall, shading from white to rosy pink.


The chopped and boiled stems and leaves make a somewhat bitter cough suppressant, and can be used to wash wounds and treat various skin problems. Gather the leaves and small stems early in the spring if possible, before the strength of the plant goes to flowers and seeds. Dry before using- the old "Brown Bag It and Forget It" method works fine. A tea may be made, but if you use the flowers, be sure to remove the bitter green calyx .


Another fairly benign plant. Native Americans chew and swallow the bitter leaves to induce vomiting in case of stomach ache or nausea, so it seems sensible to brew a weak tea until individual tolerance is determined.


Be sure of the identity of the plant before you use it. If a preparation makes you sick or gives you a rash, don't use it, and throw it away! If your condition does not improve, see your doctor. Be sure to let your physician know EVERYTHING that you are taking!