Spring has come to the desert early this year. Our unseasonably warm weather has pushed the blooms to full yellow along the sides of the highway.
Please tell me you’ve noticed. Life is hectic and we are rushing to and fro but hopefully you have seen the beautiful yellow blossoms waving from the side of the road around Phoenix. Resembling a miniature sunflower, each long bare stem holds a solitary flower several inches above a mound of greenish, white leaves. The entire bush seems to wear a crown.
Those beautiful bushes are called Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa is the botanical name. The common name Brittlebush is a testament to its low growing habit and brittle woody stems. It flowers from March to June (except when spring comes early) and the green leaves are covered with a thick mat of short hairs which form an insulating layer against heat and cold. The hairs also help the plant capture any moisture in the air and reduce the amount of moisture lost through the leaves.
I am in love with Brittlebush. When we started the Peaceful Spirit Enrichment Center there were none on our property. I was already enamored with this plant and using it in my herbal practice but I always had to go off grounds to harvest it for use. I would talk to the plants I met while gathering and tell them how much I respected the medicine of this plant and ask them to send their sisters to grow at my place. After several seasons I squealed like a kid when I found the first baby shoot growing along the wash that cuts through our land. For many weeks I would go out and talk to that little shoot willing it to take hold. And take hold it did, growing to full glory and blessing me with her crown of yellow. Now there are many Brittlebushes growing on the property and I still squeal every time I find a new one. I now have enough to harvest from my own yard.
Brittlebush is a very helpful shrub, the stems secrete a yellowish resin that can be collected and used to relieve a toothache or as a toothpaste. Ancient peoples used the ground resin to heal sores and relieve pain. Known as “Incensio” in Spanish, the dried sap was burned in early New World Spanish Missions as incense.
But by far the greatest use for Brittlebush in my practice is for treating allergies. Taken as an alcohol tincture, Brittlebush lessens symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, itching and watery eyes. The leaves and flowers are collected, macerated in an alcohol mixture, strained and bottled for use. A powerful tincture for people that have acclimated to the desert and suffer seasonal allergies here, simple muscle testing can guide this remedy to the right person.
So the next time you are driving down the highway take a moment and wave back to those healing yellow blossoms.