Foqueria s. (Ocotillo)

Fouquieria splendons

common name: "Ocotillo"

Family: Fouquieriaceae


Ocotillo is truly one of the most bizarre-looking plants in the southwestern deserts, seemingly transplanted from Mars or some other extraterrestrial world. This plant is as beautiful and useful as it is bizzare. The plant, which is dormant during the winter season, has a couple of amazing "tricks" up its metaphorical sleeve. In the early spring (in the Sonoran desert), and early summer (in the Chihuahuan desert), Ocotillo plants form 4 - 6 inch crimson-orange-red racemes of flowers at the ends of their durable limbs, which are between 12 and 15 feet long. From a distance, the ends of the branches appear to be on fire. Later in the season, when abundant summer rain makes itself available in the desert, during our annual monsoon season, the limbs, push out a layer of leaves along their lengths, turning the plant into a mass of green, leafy stalks. This usually happens in the early and later summer, but the plant responds to soaking rains at any time during warm periods of the year, by adorning this green, leafy cloak.

The entire Ocotillo plant emerges from one large central root (which must remain untouched). When an area containing a large colony of these plants is encountered, they become a delightfully imposing presence in the desertlandscape. Older plants may have as many as 20 or more thick branches, varying in thickness from an inch to two inches near the base. These sturdy, graceful branches gradually taper to about 3/4 ths of an inch near the tips. An abundance of sharp thorns cover each limb from bottom to top. These thorns are quite rigid and will easily penetrate human skin if allowed the opportunity. Therefore, when collecting this herb, it is advisable to wear leather gloves. The limbs are covered with a rough bark which varies from a mottled grey to a medium green-grey. Layers of the bark will peel off like some strange, thick paper flakes in older sections of the bark, usually near its base or on lower sections of the plant.

Collection & processing:

When collecting this plant for medicine, it must be done carefully, taking only a stem or two from each plant, so as not to harm them by our actions. The collected limbs are cut into 2 ft lengths for ease of handling and processing. If the stems are full of new green leaves, it is advisable to remove these before processing, as the bark is the most medicinal part, however the new leaves are not high in medicinal value.

The sections of spiny stem are taken, one piece at a time, and smashed (gently) with a hammer, along their entire length (use a clean rock or slab of cement (or anvil) for this process). After a gentle pounding, the bark peels off of the center hardwood stem easily. Before discarding the hardwood core, which is also not a medicinal part, scrape it with a sharp knife or, unlikely as it may seem, a potatoe peeler... until all the remnants of the inner bark have been removed. (Pieces the strong, inner core of hardwood makes excellent sticks for making drum sticks.) Once you have stripped off all the bark, begin to cut it up into smaller ( 1/2 inch) pieces. Pack these into a clean canning jar, leaving a small space near the top, and proceed to cover these with pure grain alcohol. (this is the "field method" to achieve a 1:2 fresh plant extract). If processing the bark at home or in the lab, use a scale to achieve the 1:2 ratio, which indicates the strength of the finished extract, and is a weight to volume ratio. This ratio indicates that for each 1 ounce (weight) of the plant material, 2 fluid ounces (volume) of pure 95% ethyl alcohol is to be used in the process of making the finished extract.

After shaking daily and macerating (soaking) it for a minimum of two weeks, the jar is decanted, and the liquid poured off through a clean filtering cloth, and the bark is pressed in a press, to remove the last small bits of the liquid (which is then ocotillo bark extract). Be sure to adequately label your extract with name, date, and any other information you wish to include, such as lot #, etc.). Store in a dark, dry, cool room for the longest shelf life (usually many years). This is one of the plants in our repertoire, which MUST be prepared as a fresh plant extract, as it loses its medicinal effectiveness when dried.

Medicinal Uses:

Ocotillo is highly useful and has little if any toxicity associated with it. It is used in cases of poor circulation in the pelvic area, which is usually accompanied by a heavy, bloated feeling of congestion, slight abdominal swelling, hemorrhoids, prostate enlargement, or the frequent urge to urinate. Most of these symptoms are caused by pelvic lymphatic or venous congestion. This herb can help the assimilation of dietary fats, helping to make portal venous circulation more efficient. The portal blood supply circulates around the digestive tract, removing fats, and metabolic waste from the cells which make up the intestines themselves. Improving portal blood circulation and lymphatic drainage from this area affects nearby organs such as the uterus or prostate in a positive way, increasing circulation to them significantly.

Ocotillo is an especially important medicine for women who have pre-menstrual congestion or uterine pain caused by congestion. It may also be an important part of a formula, which takes into consideration a larger clinical picture of hormonal imbalance and its physical manifestations. This herb combines well with Chaste tree berries (see Vitex on the womens page).

This herb will almost always have a positive effect when used in cases of prostate enlargement or congestion. For this purpose, it combines very well with saw palmetto berries and nettle root.

See our Male Systems Ally formula on the Combination extracts page.

Since dietary considerations and liver health may also play key roles in creating congestion of the pelvic region, it is suggested that appropriate dietary modifications, aimed at reducing poor quality dietary fats, exercise, and improvment of ones water-drinking habit can all have desirable, beneficial effects, which may help amplify Ocotillo's good effects. If the liver is sluggish, other herbs, such as dandelion root or other bitter herbs may help to relieve congestion. For lymphatic congestion, Ocotillo combines well with Poke root, Red root, Stillingia, and Cleavers.

See our Emphatic Lymphatic formula on the Combination extracts page.


Tincture: (fresh bark, 1:2), taken in 10 - 30 drop increments, up to 4 times daily.
(ref.1) "Herbal Materia Medica" , pg. 81-82. (by Michael Moore, 1991)(ISBN 0-89013-182-1)

Contraindications for use:

"Ocotillo should be avoided when: "organic disorders, thrombosis, cholinergic dominance, pregnancy, or overt lymph or immune pathologies are present."
(Ref. 2) Herbal Tinctures in Clinical Practice, pg. 81-82) by Michael Moore)(ISBN 0-89013-182-1)

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