Readers weigh in on snakeweed

Spraying snakeweed 1938

Spraying snakeweed in an Arizona field, 1938.

Our recent post on broom snakeweed brought in a lot of comments—mostly pointing out the good side of this plant.

One person opines, “I love snakeweed. It’s pretty and unique, and grows more when it rains. In September the tops turn yellow, and is the precursor to fall… I’ve been here over 20 years (and in New Mexico over 60 years) and I’d say this is just a slightly better than average crop year for the plant.”

In contrast to our BLM expert’s advice, a reader writes that  NM State University says chemical spraying is the best way to control it [on large-acreage rangelands]. Another reader writes, “The other terrible plants that will come up with snakeweed are goat heads and eventually cholla. While some folks like cholla for its flowers, it is a nasty plant well deserving of its name Jumping Cactus.”

Why the moniker snakeweed? “There are two reasons for the name,” writes a local farmer. “One is the roots snake out far from the base. The other is a tincture of the root is a good antidote for snakebite, externally and internally. It works best on dogs.” That sent us to a botanical database, where we learned broom snakeweed contains some of the same chemical compounds found in Amazonian plants traditionally used to treat snakebite.

Snake Clipart“Another reason to call it snakeweed is that rattlesnakes use it for cover,” writes one reader. “The one that bit me was hiding in one.” Yikes!

Several Native American tribes have traditionally used snakeweed to treat respiratory infections and other ailments, and a local Placitan notes that, “One of the old Spanish remedios for hemorrhoids, documented in the late Judge Tibo Chavez’s book [New Mexican Folklore of the Rio Abajo], is smoke from a snakeweed plant.” Okay, we’ll keep that in mind.

And let’s not overlook perhaps the plant’s most practical use: a bundle of dried broom snakeweed stems is just the thing for sweeping out one’s dusty casita, a never-ending task in this beautiful land of wind and sand.