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Native American

 Herbs  & Plants

Of The Southwest


Latin Name: Acacia greggii or constricta     Common names: Catclaw, Whitethorn, Huisache


This is a common plant in the desert southwest, and many hikers have found out the hard way how this acacia got its name! The “grabby” thorns of this common plant make it a nuisance to many outdoor recreationists, but as a medicinal plant, acacia has much to recommend it. A variety of acacia was well known by ancient Native Americans and was one of the many useful common medicinal plants. Gum Arabic was harvested from related acacia trees in ancient Egypt. The seeds of catclaw acacia were used as food by the Indians of Southern Arizona, Southern New Mexico, and Mexico by grinding them into a meal, then either cooking it as a mush or forming them into cakes.


The Catclaw Acacia is a shrub or small tree four to twelve feet high, although it can occasionally reach greater height in ideal growing conditions. It is found in the deserts of the southwest, from about 2,000 to 5,000 feet in elevation. The "catclaws" are shaped just like their namesakes, and spaced irregularly on the branches. The flowers and leaves resemble that of Mesquite, but Mesquite pods do not split when mature, and their thorns are straight. Acacia is useful as a tea for gastrointestinal inflammation caused by nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and even hangovers, and it has some sedative effect. Acacia tea is an excellent topical astringent wash with antibacterial and hemostatic qualities and was used by Native Americans for diaper rash, and for sores on the backs of their horses. Collect leaves, stems and flowers while green and dry them thoroughly, then crumble into powder for use as a tea or topical application to the skin. For tea, brew in a 1:32 ratio of powder to water. For topical application, prepare in a 1:20 ratio.


Because the overall effect of this herb is to provide a soothing protective coat on skin and mucous membranes, the incidence of undesirable side effects is minimal. Individual idiosyncratic reactions can occur, and use should be discontinued.


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!