Its Latin name is larrea tridentata.
It’s also known as chaparral, greasewood and, hard to believe, hediondilla, which in Spanish means “stinky one.”
No matter what you call it, creosote is undeniably “the fragrance of the desert,” says herbalist Becki Garza, who owns La Yerberia Botanicals.
Creosote wraps the desert in an unmistakable crisp, fresh smell after a rain.
Aside from producing that seductive scent, creosote has medicinal uses. The Tohono O’odham have long relied on creosote to heal wounds and in purification ceremonies, says Garza, who’s done a lot of research on it. The former high school biology teacher remembers one student found a creative use for its waxy leaves.
“One teenager was telling me that he’d been smoking a cigarette, so he’d get creosote leaves and rub them all over his hands to cover the smell,” she says.
Creosote is the magic ingredient in several locally made products. Garza uses it in a salve that can be used to help everything from dry, scaly patches of skin to itchy bug bites and even smelly feet.
Despite its curative properties, though, she mostly sells the salve to people who’ve left Tucson and are nostalgic for the desert.
“The majority of people who buy it are people who’ve moved away,” she says. “They want that smell again.”
Some locally made products that use creosote:
• Creosote salve, $9 for 1 ounce, $14 for 2 ounces at La Yerberia Botanicals, layerberia.com, 205-2930, and Tucson Botanical Gardens gift shop, 2150 N. Alvernon Way.
• Creosote-infused jojoba oil, starting at $20 for 3 ounces at Tohono Chul Park’s gift shop, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte; Nature Medica Naturopathic Clinic & Detox Spa, 1 W. Wetmore Road, Suite 101; Hush Salon and Spa,120 S. Country Club Road; Sweet P’s online store, sweetpskincare.com or call 909-1192 to make an appointment at Sweet P’s eastside studio.
• Creosote lotion, $16 for 8 ounces at Alchemista Aromatherapy Sanctuary & Spa, 6955 N. Oracle Road, alchemistallc.com or call 334-1919.