Presented by: UT El Paso / Austin Cooperative Pharmacy Program & Paso del Norte Health Foundation

Allthorn castela

Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.

Scientific Name:

Castela texana

Botanical Family:


Other Common Name:

Crucifixion thorn, Crown-of thorns, Goat bush, Holacantha, Bitter bark (Schoenhals, 1988; White, 2002; Dodge and Janish, 1985; Vines, 1960).

Common names in Spanish:

Chaparro amargo, Chaparro amargoso, Chaparro prieto, Corona de Cristo, Amargosa, Bisbirinda, Bisvirinda, Cuasia, Palo amargoso, Hierba del perro, Quassia (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; White, 2002; Martínez, 1994; González-Ferrara, 1998; Torkelson, 1996; Schoenhals, 1988).
*Some of the common names in Spanish used in Mexico may also refer to other closely related species, such as C. emoryi, C.retusa, C. polyandra, C. peninsularis, and C. tortuosa, which have similar medicinal properties.

Where is it found?

This very thorny shrub and related species are found in the semi-arid and subtropical regions of Mexico (Mabberley, 2008; Johnson, 1999; González-Ferrara, 1998; Martínez, 1994), but also grow in various regions of the southwestern United States (Kane, 2009; Bowers and Wignall, 1993; Moore, 1990; Dodge and Janish, 1985; Vines, 1960).

Parts of the plant used:

The branches, leaves (if present), and root (Adame and Adame, 2000; González-Ferrara, 1998; Moore, 1990).

How is it used?

In Mexico, the dried twigs are boiled in water (decocted) to make a very bitter-tasting tea (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; González-Ferrara, 1998). The decoction can also be applied externally as a wash (Martínez, 1989). The stems can be soaked in water and taken as cold tea, which may be a safer option (Moore, 1990). Tinctures made from the plant and taken orally as drops, as well as capsules containing the dried and pulverized bark are also available in commerce (Adame and Adame, 2000).

What is it used for?

In Mexican traditional herbal medicine, the tea made from this shrub has many applications, such as the following: Anti-protozoan (including Entamoeba and Giardia species), antiviral, astringent, anti-eczema, for gastrointestinal problems, to treat amebiasis (oral as well as gastrointestinal), colitis, diarrhea, dysentery, fever, leukemia, as a liver tonic, malaria, stomachic, against stomach flu, to improve appetite, and to improve vision (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Kane, 2009; González-Ferrara, 1998; Johnson, 1999; Davidow, 1990; Martínez, 1989; Moore, 1989).

For gall bladder problems, a decoction made for the root is taken as a tea, in the mornings before breakfast. Externally, the decoction of the stems can be applied as a wash or poultice to treat eczema and psoriasis, as well as abrasions (Moore, 1990). A tincture made from the branches can be applied as drops on the skin to treat acne (Adame and Adame, 2000).

A methanolic extract obtained from C. texana showed anti-trypanocidal activity against cultured Trypanosoma cruzi epimastigotes and could be an important source of new natural bioactive compounds for treating trypanosomiasis (Molina-Garza et al., 2014).

Allthorn castela has been used in Mexican traditional medicine to treat amebiasis and has been found to be active against the species Entomoeba histolytica (Moore, 1989). An aqueous extract obtained from the bark of C. texana was evaluated regarding its possible mutagenic, genotoxic and cytotoxicity properties in prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells. The results showed that the extract did not show mutagenic activity when assessed with the Ames test in Salmonella typhimurium in TA98, TA100 and TA102 strains. Additionally, the plant extract was not genotoxic in unscheduled DNA synthesis in cultured liver cells, even at the highest concentrations tested. The extract’s effective antioxidant capacity could explain its protective effect against pre-cancerous lesions in rat liver cells. The authors of the study mentioned that further clinical studies are necessary in order to extend its use to human beings (Reyes-Lopez et al., 2005).

Safety / Precautions

  • The safety of using products made from this plant (either internally or externally) during pregnancy and lactation has not been established.
  • Avoid taking this plant during pregnancy and lactation.
  • Experiments with laboratory animals indicate that the plant may decrease the number of red blood cells (erythrocytes), as well as causes venous congestion, chronic tubular nephritis, and acute hepatitis (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011; Martínez, 1989).
  • The tea should not be taken continuously for more than 20 days, since its active ingredients may accumulate in the liver (Mendoza-Castelán and Lugo-Pérez, 2011).
  • Avoid taking this pant if you have preexisting liver or kidney disease.

Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with a health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!


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