Medicinal Desert Plants

Plants having medicinal value grow in all of the earth's environments. The desert regions of the United States are no exception, and although the conditions are hot and dry most of the year, the medicinal plants in desert areas have adapted to these austere conditions. The indigenous people of the American Southwest used their plants wisely for food, clothing, building and medicine. They passed on their knowledge about the plants through oral history and mythology.

Pleurisy Root

Also called butterfly weed, the Asclepias tuberosa is a member of the milkweed family. It likes to grow in prairies and canyons. Having clusters of small orange flowers, this plant attracts butterflies that come to feed on its nectar. The pleurisy root has been dried and used to treat lung diseases and other illnesses that normally occur in winter.

Wild Licorice

Licorice is well known for its use in candies and Chinese medicine. This one, Glycyrrhiza lepidota, grows in crowded conditions in fields and areas that have recently been plowed or otherwise disturbed. Its medicinal use is well documented for the treatment of coughs and other bronchial ailments. The roots of licorice are made into cough drops, syrups and teas said to promote healing of the throat and lungs.

Mormon Tea

This medicinal plant, Ephedra viridis, was first used by early Mormon settlers in Utah to treat urinary infections, colds and other respiratory illnesses. It is related to the Chinese ephedra plant, which has been implicated for causing dangerous rises in blood pressure in some individuals. However, Mormon tea does not contain the high levels of ephedrine and is not considered hazardous to use. Use caution with any plant medicine, however.

Prickly Pear Cactus

The prickly pear is the fruit of 12 or more species of cactus in the genus Opuntia. It is becoming more widespread and popular as a fruit, but it also has medicinal properties that might help to lower cholesterol levels in humans. The fruit contains a fibrous pectin that might assist diabetic patients in reducing their reliance on insulin. While tests are ongoing, it is recommended that you consult with your doctor before experimenting with this, or any plant medicine.

Keywords: medicinal plants, desert Southwest, prickly pear

About this Author

Barbara Fahs lives on Hawaii island, where she has created Hi'iaka's Healing Herb Garden. Fahs wrote "Super Simple Guide to Creating Hawaiian Gardens," and has been a professional writer since 1984. She contributes to Big Island Weekly, Ke Ola magazine, GardenGuides and eHow. She earned her B.A. at UCSB and her M.A. from San Jose State University.