(Grindelia squarrosa var. Nuda, Grindelia nuda)
• Common Name(s):
Curlycup Gumweed, Pega Pega (New Mexico Spanish), Bktasaefuoia (Jemez), Hardy Grindelia, Scaly Grindelia, Rosin Weed, Pitch Weed, Yellow Tar weed
• Plant Family
• Personal Observations
I’ve been in love with Grindelia since I first learned about and met them in Arizona in my 20’s going to school with Michael Moore. Since then I’ve worked with many varieties and a few species as I moved from Montana to California to New Mexico. I’ve found them all to be of very similar personality and medicinal uses.
I love sticky fingered summer days popping flowers off of twisted scraggly bushes, the smell of pungent resin wafting in the heat shimmers. Some years here in the northeaster New Mexico mountains, there will be field after grazed field full of blooming yellow bushes, and roadsides packed with Grindelia, shoving each other out of the way for more room.
Fresh flower bud and flower tincture has been my preferred preparation method. I learned to use Grindelia for lingering respiratory issues where there is stuck thick mucus and it has been consistently effective for this presentation for me for years. Although I have tended to pigeon hole Grindelia in this specific use until now, I feel excited to branch out to some of the other indications that follow.
• Botanical Description
Grindelia squarrosa is a warm season perennial or biennial. Here in northeastern New Mexico at 7500 feet it flowers in late summer, usually August and September. The plant is fairly unassuming, ½ a foot to a few feet tall depending on growing conditions.
The stems are branched and vary in color from white, grey, green to red.
The clasping cauline leaves also vary in shape, being oval, ovate, obovate, or oblong to spatulate, oblanceolate, lanceolate, or linear. Their margins are usually crenate to serrate. If you look closely at the leaves you can see resin at the tip of the teeth, and the dots of tiny glands.
Once the flower buds start to appear this plant is much more easily recognizable. The green phyllaries are curled back, layered and three dimensional, making a porcupine looking sticky globe with a center filled with white gummy resin. Although the white sticky stuff looks like a polysaccharide gum, it’s actually a diterpene labdene-type acid closely related to pine resin (Mills and Bone).
The flower then starts to open and the sticky white resin gives way to a yellow asteraceae disc and ray flower head in a corymbiform array (SEINet).
Grindelia reproduces by seed. The seeds have a pappus and are dispersed by the wind.
There are many variations of Grindelia squarrosa and it has been known to cross breed with a few other species of the genus.
You can find Grindelia squarrosa from Manitoba to Chihuahua, and from the west to the east coasts of the U.S. It has been brought to and naturalized in parts of Europe including the Ukraine and Germany, and probably more places around the globe. It’s area of origin is most likely the Great Plains and maybe into the Rocky Mountains (SEIN Portal, FEIS, iNaturalist).
Grindelia squarrosa likes to grow in alkaline soil, waste places, grazed fields, and roadsides. Michael Moore’s cultivation is, “throw the seeds out into the worst soil you can find and then disavow them when they sprout”.
Although they are plentiful and can be weedy in certain situations, in my experience Grindelia can be locally very abundant one year and hardly around at all the next. It seems to thrive in drought conditions when other plants are struggling.
When harvesting Grindelia, check to see that you are in an environment where the plants won’t be picking up a lot of toxicity from the ground or air, because they tend to grow along roadsides and in disturbed areas, this can sometimes be difficult. When harvesting flowers and buds you’ll quickly find your fingers covered in the sticky resin. Please use the same respect and caution harvesting Grindelia as you would any plant. Think about your impact on its populations and how you can be an ally in mutual thriving and survival.
Relaxant, Diuretic, Expectorant, mildly Sedative, Warming
• Parts Used
Flower, Flower Bud and Above Ground Plant
Resinous/Sticky/Balsamic, Aromatic, Bitter, Yellow, mildly Acrid
• Tissue State
• Degree of Action
• Indigenous and Traditional Use
Grindelia squarrosa has been a medicinal plant that people have worked with throughout its range and over time. The following information on indigenous use comes from ethnobotanical sources which are notoriously colonizer centered and misinformed. I will replace this information as I get more first hand accounts that are consensually shared and with permission to include in writing.
The Blackfoot make a decoction or infusion of the above ground plant for liver trouble.
The Cheyenne decoct the flowering tops and apply topically for sores, skin lesions, skin diseases and scabs and apply the resin from the flowers to the outside of the eyes for snow blindness. The Mahona apply a poultice of the plants to cuts and use a wash as a disinfectant. In the Jemez Nation a decoction of the dried and powdered above ground plant is used to clean cuts on humans and horses (Cook, 1930). The Shoshoni apply a poultice of the boiled plant to swellings and broken legs.
The Cree use an infusion of the flowers to ease and lessen menses. They also use Grindelia in treating gonorrhea and with chamomile for kidney pain. The Shoshoni make an infusion for bladder trouble and stomach pain.
The Crow use Grindelia for respiratory issues including coughs, colds, pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma and whooping cough. They sniff an infusion up the nose for catarrh and give a decoction of the above ground plant to children for colic. The Gosuite also use the roots as a cough medicine. And the paiute make a decoction of the plant as a cough medicine.
The Flathead work with Grindelia similarly to the Crow, with the addition of use with tuberculosis and rubbing the flower heads on horses hooves for protection against injury.
The Lakota similarly use a combination of Grindelia and Fetid Marigold for the spitting of blood (NAEB).
In the San Luis Valley of Colorado, and similarly in northern New Mexico, Grindelia squarrosa is used as a tea for stomach ulcers, a wash for wounds, and, “to clean you from the inside out,” with cancer, especially administered with the first signs (Bye, 1986).
Historical Western Herbalism Clinical Use
Western herbal use of Grindelia was learned, as was common in the U.S., from indigenous medicinal use. However, at some point, the indications for Grindelia squarrosa and robusta, originally quite similar, and having again today returned to being similar, diverged for a time.
Grindelia squarrosa made a short appearance in the United States Pharmacopeia, from 1890 to 1910. Although differentiation was made in the Pharmacopeia between different species of Grindelia, it appears that identification and harvest was not consistent, with robusta, camporum, cuneifolia, and squarrosa often being misidentified, sold under different names, or together under a single species name (Proceedings of American Pharmaceutical Assoc, 1906). King’s American Dispensatory suggests that Grindelia squarrosa, “sensible properties,” are the same as those of G. robusta.
Interestingly, however, despite the mixing of species in commerce, and the similarity of action I have found between species, there is quite a difference in action given in multiple texts of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Grindelia squarrosa was said to be of use in intermittent fevers, malarial infections and to lessen the splenic enlargement that often followed and to G. robusta were attributed the respiratory actions, and tissue healing properties. Both are given the use of calming poison oak rashes.
King’s American Dispensatory gives this explanation for the differences in action given by species,
“Grindelia squarrosa has been highly eulogized as an efficient remedy in intermittent fever, and in other malarial affections, also to remove the splenic enlargement which so frequently follows those disorders. Why two plants so closely allied as the G. robusta and the G. squarrosa, and possessing nearly identical constituents, should give such discordant therapeutic results, is certainly enigmatical. The fact is, that many physicians have a great proneness to run after new remedies, especially when introduced under some pretentious name, and to place a marvelous credulity in the statements of interested parties, who are incapable of determining accurate conclusions as to the value of a remedy.”
Is it possible that Grindelia squarrosa really has a specific use in intermittent fevers, malaria and splenic issues that other species in the genus don’t? I’m not sure, but since we are currently seeing more intermittent fevers, now might be a good time to find out.
Dr. Webster seems to be the originator of the divergence in use. He speaks of Grindelia squarrosa specifically for,
“Headaches with masked intermittent symptoms...and accompanied with dizziness, and some nausea, where the subject walks with the sensation that he is going to stagger.”
He also gives another specific headache symptom picture for Grindelia squarrosa, stating that a fresh flower tincture in 98% ethanol is the preparation to us here, 10 to 15 drops every 2 to 3 hours for,
“Headache from slow autointoxication. It is persistent day after day and there is dullness, drowsiness and dizziness. There is apt to be torpor of the liver and spleen in these cases. There is lassitude and the patient tires easily. A dull headache is present when he awakes in the morning and with some exacerbations continues all day.”
Eli Jones writes in 1911,
“Many cases where quinine has been tried and failed to break up the chills, may be cured by grindelia squarrosa. When there is a heavy dull headache, obstinate constipation, pain in region of the liver, burning pain under right scapula, tongue dirty brown, skin yellow, cough with frothy sputa, and scanty high colored urine, grindelia squarrosa is the remedy. Add one ounce of Fl. Ext. grindelia to five ounces of Syr. of orange and give a teaspoonful of this mixture four times a day. It is the remedy to be thought of when other remedies fail” (Jones, 1911).
This story has lessons for us today as well, as in the middle of a pandemic, specific herbs that have been eulogized as potentially effective in COVID-19 protocols are being bought in such large amounts that they are practically unavailable in commerce. What lessons can we learn from history here? What similar species can be substituted, what plants with similar actions are common weeds? How do we love plants and espouse their virtues without putting them at risk of over harvest?
In 1902 Samuel Potter lists Grindelia spp. therapeutics as palliative for spasmodic asthma, hay fever, chronic bronchitis and emphysema, whooping cough, coughs of habit, spasmodic coughs, spasmodic dyspnea, chronic pyelitis and cystitis, and Rhus poisoning (Potter, 1902).
Professor Mundy is quoted in his use of Grindelia squarrosa in lithemia (uric acid in the blood), where the patient sees only the dark side of life, and there is long standing dyspepsia with enlargement of the spleen (Thoma, 1907).
Ellingwood jumped on the splenic bandwagon, suggesting that Grindelia squarrosa be tried in Leukemia (Ellingwood, 1910).
By 1922, The Eclectic Materia Medica did not differentiate between Grindelia species with the exception of still attributing malarial and splenic uses only to squarrosa. Here the actions of Grindelia are explained by its route of secretion through the lungs and kidneys.
“The grindelias have a bitter, acrid taste, leaving an unpleasant, persistent, acrid sensation in the mouth and cause an increased flow of saliva. The kidneys are excited by them and diuresis is increased, while upon the bronchial membranes they produce a primary increase of secretion followed by a lessened expectoration and diminution of the rate of breathing...Marked relaxation of the bronchi is produced by grindelia.”
The Eclectics find the use in chronic bronchitis is found especially useful in older people and with emphysema. The use in acute asthma is found to be useful in people that it works with, but not predictably effective. They also specify that it’s topical use is especially good in, “ chronic skin diseases with feeble circulation and tendency to ulceration” (Felter, 1922)
• Key Uses
-Bronchial Spasmolytic and Antitussive in Asthma, Bronchitis and other Respiratory Infections and Irritations, especially with increased heart rate and stress from labored breathing. Effective with dry coughs and with seasonal allergies.
-Thinning Stuck Cement-Like Mucus and Moving it Upwards.
-Soothing Wash for Poison Oak/Ivy and other allergic dermatitis and eczema
-Topical wound wash: tissue regeneration, rubefacient, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory
-In bladder infections and cystitis, with caution with larger doses due to possibility of kidney and urethral irritation.
-Potential for use with intermittent fevers and splenic inflammation with headache.
•Current Clinical Uses
Rob Hawley of Taos, NM uses Grindelia as a tea or tincture for thick stuck mucus in the lungs, to quiet a spastic cough, both as part of a cough syrup or as an individual remedy. He uses it as an antimicrobial in bladder infections, a bitter tonic for indigestion, and as a fresh tincture topically for poison oak (Hawley 2013).
Anna-Marija Helt uses Grindelia for both stuck, hard phlegm and to clear, “boggy/wet, mucus-laden lungs”. She notices it helps her sleep when awake with the flu and respiratory infections and uses it to calm an increased heart rate due to respiratory distress. She categorizes it as both a stimulant and relaxant expectorant, adjusting as needed and also uses it to calm an itchy throat that’s stimulating increased coughing. She finds it to be an ally in bacterial infection, and follows the traditional southwestern use of taking Grindelia right at the first signs of cold or flu, and thinks that it may have anti-viral and immune-stimulating or modifying effects based on the effectiveness of this use and some of the antiviral constituents in its essential oils. She also works with Grindelia for seasonal allergies because of its, “snot busting”, antihistamine, bitter, and aromatic activities (Helt, 2017).
Sam Coffman uses Grindelia topically for poison oak/ivy reactions. He recounts his use of a Grindelia salve at first signs of itch, after washing the area well with soap and cold water. He states that the itching went away in 15 minutes, then would come back in about 8 hours. Application of the salve would take the blistering down for about 8 hours as well. He recounts that Grindelia application can keep a full blown reaction from happening. He has also crushed the fresh flowers while hiking and applied them topically while hiking preventatively (Coffman, 2010).
David Hoffman uses Grindelia for asthma with the symptom picture, “Breathing labored, hard cough, distinct mucus rales, sense of soreness in the chest,” and suggests that, “ it combines well with Lobelia or Drosera.(Winston, 2002)”
Michael Moore used the tea of leaf and flower as an expectorant and antispasmodic in bronchitis, and for dry hacking coughs, as a simple or with Yerba Santa. He found the fresh flower tincture especially useful for bladder and urethra infections. Topically he used the tincture or a poultice of the crushed flowers for poison oak. He found the sedative and cardiac relaxant properties to not be reliable with everyone, but effective when it was. He used it as a bitter tonic as well as a tissue-healing agent which he claims to rival calendula topically in its ability to stimulate epithelial regeneration, increase surface blood supply, limit unwanted inflammation, and discourage antimicrobial activity. For this purpose he used a poultice of the fresh plant, or dry plant mixed with water, or tincture applied directly or cut with water.
The British Pharmacopeia 1983 lists the specific indication for Grindelia as bronchial asthma with tachycardia (Mills and Bone, 2013)
Grindelia hasn’t been the focus of many studies. A pubmed search comes up with many articles pre-1930 and a few ecological investigations. I found two studies that included Grindelia species, although not any on squarrosa.
Grindelia inuloides aqueous and methanolic extracts were found to have anti H. Pylori activity in vitro. This study is not super relevant as many other plants also showed similar activity, and very few have been tested in vitro (Salehi, 2018).
Grindelia camporum was found to have moderate inhibition of human MAO-B in an in vitro study. This study was looking for potential herbal therapies for idiopathic Parkinson’s disease and other CNS neurodegenerative diseases. The conclusion I draw from this study is that a diverse range of medicinal and spice plants have the potential for neuroprotective qualities, grindelia being one of them but not one of the most potent (Mazzio, 2013).
-Resins, mostly labdane type diterpenoid resin acids similar to pine resins
-Volatile Oils including essential oils germacrene, D limonene, beta-caryophyllene, camphene, and alpha- and beta-pinene
-Possibly small amounts of saponins
• Dosage and Method of Delivery
-Fresh tincture of flowers and buds: 20-60 drops 3x/day to hourly.
-Wash, spray or compress: equal parts fresh tincture and water in fridge if skin feels hot.
-Standard infusion or decoction of leaves and flowers: 1-3 cups sipped throughout the day
tincture (1:5) - 2-3 ml. TID
tea - 1 tsp. dried herb/flower buds in 12 oz. water, decoct 15-20 minutes, reduce water to 8 oz., take 4 oz. TID
Flowers: Fresh or dry tincture (1:5, 70%) 15-40 drops to 5x/day
“A tablespoon in tea as needed”: expectorant and antispasmodic
1/4tsp tincture in water every 4 hours: bladder and urethra infections
Wash: tincture cut with 3 or 4 parts water
• Cautions and Contraindications
Larger doses may cause kidney, urinary tract and gastrointestinal irritation.
Grindelia may cause mild symptoms of exhaustion in large doses, possibly due to its observed mild cardio tonic and cardiac depressant qualities.
The Botanical Safety Handbook suggests limiting use in pregnancy to short term and with caution (Gardner, 2013 and Moore, 2003)
There is a hypothetical chance that selenium accumulated from the soil in Grindelia could cause an issue, although this has never been reported in humans, only grazing animals, who generally don’t like the taste of Grindelia anyways and tend to leave it alone.
(Woo hoo! Grindelia! You sticky scraggle. Down by the river, in the gravel parking lot, growing up through the trash. I love you!)
Fire Effects Information System. Index of Species Information. https://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/forb/grisqu/all.html
SEINet Arizona New Mexico Chapter. http://swbiodiversity.org/seinet/taxa/index.php?taxon=3741&clid=4266
No Author Cited. (1906) Proceedings of the American Pharmaceutical Association at the Fifty Fourth Annual Meeting. https://books.google.com/books?id=SHQCAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA370&lpg=PA370&dq=Power+Tuttin+Grindelia+American+Pharmacological+Association&source=bl&ots=zzYjlhfyos&sig=ACfU3U2nt71vC0V4mhlNfkzgIyJc8dBg2Q&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiyw_yattHoAhUES6wKHde3AiYQ6AEwAHoECA0QKw#v=onepage&q&f=false
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Felter, H (1922). The Eclectic Materia Medica. https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/felter/grindelia.html
Thomas, R (1907). The Eclectic Practice of Medicine. https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/thomas/lithemia.html
Ellingwood, F (1910). The Eclectic Practice of Medicine with Special Reference to the Treatment of Disease. https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/ellingwood1/uricemia.html and https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/ellingwood1/leukemia.html
Jones, E (1911). Definite Medication. https://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/jones/liver.html
Young, D (2015). A Cree Healer and His Medicinal Bundle, Revelations of Indigenous Wisdom. https://books.google.com/books?id=QIaIBAAAQBAJ&pg=PT136&lpg=PT136&dq=Grindelia+squarrosa+Michael+Moore&source=bl&ots=GMc3LUtocW&sig=ACfU3U2osYm_bFag8CXZp5Wig8oOKndvmg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwih9aTktbjoAhUVHzQIHfKiAOcQ6AEwEXoECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=Grindelia%20squarrosa%20Michael%20Moore&f=false
Hawley, R (2013). Yerba del Buey - A Helpful Herb. Taos News. https://www.taosnews.com/stories/yerba-del-bueya-helpful-herb,2925
Helt, A-M (2017). My Favorite Osha Substitutes. http://www.osadha.com/2017/12/my-favorite-osha-substitutes/
Coffman, S (2010). Poison Oak and Gumweed. https://blog.mysanantonio.com/samcoffman/2010/10/poison-oak-and-gumweed/
Winston, D (2002). Eclectic and Specific Botanical Protocols for Asthma. https://www.herbalstudies.net/_media/resources/library/EclecticProtocols-Asthma(1).pdf
Moore, M (2003). Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. Museum of New Mexico Press.
Mills and Bone (2013) Principles and Practices of Phytotherapy, 2nd edition. P. 256. (Class PDF)
Salehi, B. et al. (2018) Phytochemicals in Helicobacter pylori Infections: What Are We Doing Now?. Integrative Journal of Molecular Science. doi: 10.3390/ijms19082361. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6121492/
Mazzio, E. et al. (2013) High throughput Screening to Identify Natural Human Monoamine Oxidase B Inhibitors. Phytotherapy Research. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4795. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3521852/
Gardner, Z et al. (2013). American Herbal Products Association Botanical Safety Handbook 2nd Edition. https://s3.amazonaws.com/thinkific-import/5076/AmericanHerbalProductsAssociationsBotanicalSafetyHandbook2ndEd11529438093468-1559675898898.pdf