Introducing Desert Willow

Desert Willow

Desert Willow - Chilopsis linearis

Family – Bignoniaceae

Desert Willow is a beautiful small tree found all over the southwest.  In Silver City, New Mexico (my new home), it is a commonly used in landscaping.  The flowers are lovely in the late spring and early fall.  However the plant is lovely all year long.  I’ve only moved to the area a short time ago and am pleased to be making new plant friends.  This is a handy one too.  I hope you enjoy the introduction.

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    Other Names

    Also known as Mimbre, Flor de Mimbres and catalpa linearis.

    Desert Willow’s names are descriptive. In Latin, Chilopsis means lip and refers to the large lip-like flower. Linearis describes the long narrow willow like leaves. The Spanish name, Flor de Mimbres means the flowers used to make wicker and describes how the plant was used to make baskets and furniture. The common name Desert Willow describes the willow-like look of the plant, especially the leaves. But Desert Willow is not in the willow family of Salicaceae. It is in the begonia or trumpet vine family.   

    Botanical Description of Desert Willow

    The Desert Willow is an upright shrub or small deciduous tree native to the Southwest, where it usually grows along desert washes, creeks and drainages. Wherever you see it growing, you can bet that water is close to the surface. Desert Willow grows as high as 25 feet, has brown scaly older bark and a trunk that grows about 6 inches in diameter. The leaves are long and thin, about the size of a pencil, and light green. The twigs are often hairy and sticky. The flowers bloom in the spring and sometimes later in the summer, depending on the summer rains. They form terminal clusters of 2-inch-long pink to purple flowers that have a pleasant, musky fragrance. The seed pods are long and thin and hang on the tree long after the leaves have fallen in the fall.

    Parts Used

    All parts of the plant can be used as medicine and is best harvested in the late spring or early summer when in flower. Collect the last 8 to 12 inches of branch ends, giving you the newest leaves, flowers and some bark. The flower may be harvested separately and dried loosely and gently. The leaves and bark are much hardier and may be dried loosely in a box, basket or net. The bark is usually only harvested late in the year when the leaves are absent.

    Medicinal Use of Desert Willow

    Desert Willow is highly anti-fungal and anti-microbial. It is traditionally used to treat ailments of the lungs with respiratory anti-spasmodic and respiratory sedative effects similar to wild cherry bark. According to Michael Moore in his book Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West; “the flowers are used in a tea and a moist hot poultice for a hectic coughing with a flushed face, rapid pulse and the sensation of chest and lung tiredness.”    

    All sources agree that Desert Willow has strong anti-fungal properties. Traditionally it has been used when working with internal and external fungal infections such as skin and nail infections, yeast infections, thrush and candida overgrowth. Michael Moore writes, ” As a tea (strong infusion, 2 to 3 ounces, twice a day) or the tincture (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon twice a day), it inhibits Candida supra infections. After antibiotic therapy or anti-inflammatory drugs, many people get episodes of foul burping; acid indigestion; loose, abnormal stools; hemorrhoids; or rectal aching; and even varicose veins. This can be the result of a subtle and intransigent Candida albicans infection in the upper and lower ends of the intestinal tract. ” It is effective as a wash, either as a tea or a little a bit of tincture added to water, for thrush, or for genital Candida outbreaks. Desert Willow tea makes an excellent vaginal douche for moderate yeast infections. Try combining with some Yerba Mansa (Anemopsis californica) leaf tea or root extract in the douche water.

    Michael Cottingham and Charles Kane talk about the effectiveness of Desert Willow when working with Desert Fever.  Desert Fever is caused by Coccidioidomycosis immitis, a soil mold common to the American Southwest. We become exposed when the wind kicks up and the sky becomes dusty, filled with soil dust seeming to hang in the air. Susceptible individuals can manifest fever, malaise, a cough, skin rashes and more. People with compromised immune systems and those of color seem to be most susceptible.  As a preventative it may be benefitable to supplement with 15 drops of Desert Willow tincture once or twice a day, when such conditions are present. I’ve had Valley Fever, and it is no fun! The symptoms seem to last forever. Even with treatment that helped, the whole lung grungy, fever thing lasted about a month. I wish I knew about Desert Willow then. All sources indicate Desert Willow’s effectiveness to help resolve the symptoms and the infection, especially when combined with Yerba Mansa, Linquisticum or Lomatium for mild to moderate valley fever infections. Sever infections would best be seen by a doctor.

    Desert Willow has also been employed successfully for respiratory mold infections. Lung mold is a very serious, debilitating and sadly common health problem. Particularly for those living in living in moist or humid climates, or housing that has “black mold” infestation in the walls or basement. Combine Desert Willow with Yerba Mansa, Black Walnut and possibly Artemisia spp.

    Flower Essence

    Desert Willow Flower Essence is nourishing. It nurtures, restores and empowers feminine energy and the use of positive thought through imagination. It is often recommended to help heal patterns of abundance, appreciation, beauty, communication, and feminine sexuality. Desert Willow flower essence teaches us to go-with-the-flow. To open our lives and our heart to beauty, faith, compassion and love. It helps us to open to our true feelings and encourages freedom to express love and sexuality in a healthy, nurturing and self-empowering way.

    Preparation and dosage

    Fresh plant tincture is made with the branch ends in 50% alcohol. Dry leaves and bark may be used to produce dry plant tincture either by the percolation method or by maceration. All are used 30 to 60 drops 2 to 3 times per day.

    Dry plant material makes an infusion or decoction to be used both internally and externally. For internal use take 4-6 oz 2 or 3 times per day. Use as a wash or douche 2 or 3 times per day.

    Dried and powdered leaves and bark may be added to oil to make a salve for first aid application due to its anti-microbial effect and for skin fungal infections.


    None known


    PallasDowney, Rhonda; The Healing Power of Flowers, Woodland Publishing, 2007

    Kane, Charles W; Medicinal Plants of the American West, Lincoln Town Press, 2013

    Moore, Michael; Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1989


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