Though considered a weed, desert broom (baccharis sarothroides), or Cascol caaco, was often used as a tonic by the Seri people; an indigenous group in the Mexican state of Sonora. Seeping the twigs of the plant could produce a rich tea, and was routinely administered to treat colds and sinus headaches. For general soreness and achy ailments, the tea was also used as a rub. Subsequent studies on desert broom have shown that it is rich in leutolin, a flavonoid (yellow pigment) that exhibits anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and cholesterol-lowering capabilities. It also contains apigenin, which binds to the same brain receptor sites as the pharmaceutical drug, Valium, which is used to treat anxiety, lower alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and relieve muscle spasms and stiffness.
Native to Arizona, desert broom grows well in the Southwestern desert, preferring heavy clay soil. As a decorative plant, this bright green shrub can be used as a hedge or wind block, and provides nectar to butterflies and other insects. It is also good to remember that “weeds” are nature’s way of recovering after a major land disturbance by trapping moisture, preventing erosion, and stabilizing bare soil until other plants like trees or grass can be established. So the next time you feel the need to pull this “weed” out of your yard, first express gratitude, and then consider getting to know this plant a little better.