A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of getting to know our next door neighbors.

We were outside tackling the tumbleweeds, sharing some of our plans with our neighbor and enjoying watching Simmi run around with a small shovel in one hand and going up to the porch and blowing bubbles with the other hand.

I gave our neighbor our website for the High Desert Chronicles and the other day she had a side note about tumbleweeds and what I had written.

Our neighbor explained that “goatheads”, those nasty little spiky seeds that get stuck to the bottom of your shoes and that we trail into our house are actually the handy work of the plant I have pictured to the left.

Goatheads just seem to be EVERYWHERE, and they hurt, but thanks to my good neighbor explaining that those goatheads don’t come from the tumbleweeds, but in fact from the plant known as Puncturevine, it gave me real food for thought concerning this curious and painful plant!

I started to do some research on it, because it was the one plant that my GUT was saying not to remove. Why would my gut say such things to me? Well maybe its because my gut doesn’t have to feel the sharp razor like qualities of a goathead as it penetrates through the heel of a foot! That’s right…guts don’t have feet, right? LOL

Anyway, in permaculture, its important to know what is growing on your property, is it friend or foe (seems like goatheads are a foe huh?), and seek solutions to any problems that may arise, going one step further, look at problems as opportunities. Are weeds the enemy?

Is puncturevine really a formidable foe? Yes they cause serious harm to the bottom of our feet, trail their stinging seeds all over the ground and into our homes via the bottom of our shoes, but is that all they are good for?

When pulling up tumbleweeds, I asked Noah and anyone else working around the property not to touch the sweet little trailing plants with the delicate leaves and beautiful little yellow flowers.

Well that delicate little plant packs a punch! But is it beneficial for us to keep it? The answer is yes. While my family may protest at my new found love for this power packed plant, I must insist on keeping it viable and growing.

The trick is to utilize this plant for its medicinal properties and sow the seeds where it can not be stepped on, yet easily harvested. I’m even considering making a contraption for sifting the dirt on the ground in order to collect all the seeds for later propagation in an actual raised garden bed. On our porch, in the house and backyard, its as easy as taking a broom and sweeping up the goatheads, but something must be made to collect them from the dirt. Puncturevine is a perenial, and their abundant seeds are viable for up to five years. Now, I don’t want puncturevine all over our property, hence collecting the seeds that are now everywhere. I also will be removing the crowns of these plants and hopefully prevent some of them from resurfacing next year. There are several methods for getting rid of puncturevine, these include pulling out the crowns without disturbing the seeds, Roundup (we won’t be using this product), and a biological aid called the Puncturevine weevil. Of all the ways to combat Puncturevine (if you are looking to get rid of this weed) puncturevine weevils look like the most promising. There are two kinds of weevils, those who’s larvae burrow into the seed eating the seed, and those weevils that eat the stems. With both kind of weevils working together, I’ve read that releasing the weevils can have up to a 90% success rate in eradicating puncturevine. The question remains…Do I want to harvest weevils as a viable livestock to sell, or utilize the puncturevine seeds for the needs of our family?

So what is the good of having Puncturevine in your garden? What’s all the excitement I’m feeling? Well, I’ll copy and paste a few things that I’ve researched for everyone to read about concerning Puncturevine and its amazing medicinal properties:

Even the lowly, detested weed called puncture vine – toritos in Spanish and Ci Ji Li in Traditional Chinese Medicine – has health benefits.

The ancient Chinese herbal book The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica makes references to the health benefits of Ci Ji Li, known in the western world as puncture vine, goat head or bull thorn. In Spanish the weed is known
as toritos, as in little bulls, (toro-bull ito–little). The Latin family and species designation is Tribulus terristris.

Herbalists have claimed for centuries that the seed, and to a lesser degree the foliage, is beneficial for lowering blood fats, including cholesterol. Some extensive scientific studies have shown that to be true. Puncture vine has also been shown to lessen the severity of atherosclerosis and arteriosclerosis, clogging and hardening of the arteries.

The constituents in the plant act as a mild diuretic, contribute to a slight lowering of blood sodium and aid in lowering intestinal and abdominal fluid retention levels. Studies on high blood pressure have shown puncture vine to be beneficial in cases of mild essential hypertension. It works by slowing the adrenergic (nerve fiber) stimulation, increasing myocardial (heart muscle) contraction force and functioning as a catecholamine liberator (eliminating excessive hormones from the blood stream). By doing that, the heart rate is slowed, the strength of the heart contraction is increased, the relaxation period between beats is lengthened and the diastolic blood pressure is reduced.

It was discovered at the 1988 Olympics that the gold medal Bulgarian weight lifters had used puncture vine as a natural endocrine system stimulant to help increase muscle mass through boosting testosterone levels. Tribulus terrestris stimulates the endocrine system in both men and women.

Finding the plant can be relatively easy if you walk barefoot or ride a bicycle. If neither is an option, look in vacant lots or almost anywhere in the southwest. Roadsides are a good place for finding the plant but the
pollution from the pavement runoff and vehicle traffic make it not a good choice. When I was young and living in Southern California, I became very well acquainted with bull thorns as soon as I got my first bike. The plant survives, and thrives, in cold and wet areas as well as in dry hot regions. When the dams on the Snake River were built, a few seeds came in with the equipment or materials. Now, puncture vine grows on the roadsides and in the dry, gravely, vacant areas.

Collecting the herb can be a sticky situation. The seed, thorny part, is best when harvested green. The active ingredients lose their potency when the seed turns brown and becomes hard. I’ve found, if I hold the very end of one of the vines radiating out from the stem, and gently slide the vine between my thumb and forefinger, I can strip the seed from the plant without too much effort, or pain.

After harvesting, the plant and/or seeds need to be dried and then powdered. It is possible to use the seeds fresh and in their green state, by grinding them up in a coffee or seed grinder. If the ground up seeds are added to cereals, soups or stews, be sure there are no thorny parts left after grinding. Most herbalists recommend one half to one teaspoon of the powder, taken with a full glass of water, morning and night. Twelve fresh, large seeds are equal to approximately the recommended dosage.

Some remedies can have adverse effects and puncture vine is one. Puncture vine can cause or aggravate kidney, liver and heart problems, especially if taken in large doses. In the case of puncture vine: if small doses don’t work, more won’t be better and you need to find a different treatment. Prevention through diet and exercise are always superior to trying to find a remedy or quick fix after the fact.

Ref: Folk Remedies, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) And Health Options From Around The World.

Ref: Medicinal Plants Of The Desert And Canyon West. Michael Moore

Ref: Charles Martin NMSU

Now my little research didn’t just stop there, but went one step further, because I was curious about the connection between Viagra and the heart. I know, I was being really nosy and extremely curious to find out if like Viagra, which originally was for heart patients with a very “potent” amorous side affect, if the same holds true for Puncturevine…here is what I found out:
Tribulus Terrestris (Puncturevine)

A branching weedy shrub to vine with distinctive burr fruit with sharp hard spines that grow as weeds in pasture and agricultural land. The leaflets are less than a quarter-inch long. The whole plant is a tap rooted annual about three to thirty inches across. The plant flowers with  very hard sharp “seeds”, each one a single-seeded wedge of the intact fruit. The herb has worldwide distribution including Asia and the Pacific realm. There are some 10 species of Tribulus indigenous to Australia where the herb is very popular.

Traditional uses:
Tribulus Terrestris has been used in past centuries for improving sexual function in both men and women, improving stamina and endurance and promoting a generalized feeling of well-being.

Tribulus terrestris increases muscle mass and improves erections by increasing testosterone levels in a unique fashion. Unlike, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) or Androstenedione, which simply act as testosterone precursors, Tribulus terrestris increases testosterone levels by increasing the levels of Lutenizing Hormone (LH). LH is responsible for signaling the leydig cells in the testes to release testosterone.

Studies have shown an increase in excess of 50% testosterone levels when taking the Tribulus terrestris herb. The increase in testosterone levels will promote protein synthesis, positive nitrogen balance as well as a quicker recovery from muscular stress. The plant has also been shown to increase in sperm production and motility.

Clinical studies:
An interesting correlation of dehydroepiandrosterone-sulphate (DHEA-S) level with the incident of low sex drive and higher occurrence of impotence was discovered in studies with patients diagnosed with diabetes mellitus.  In order to test the further relationship between DHEA-S and erectile dysfunction, a clinical trial was done with 30 non-diabetic men with Erectile Dysfunction, 30 non-diabetic men without Erectile Dysfunction and 15 diabetic men with Erectile Dysfunction.  These men are given extract of Tribulus terrestris (Libilov) at 3 x 250 mg / day for 3 weeks. The DHEA-S levels, as well as other blood and liver parameters were evaluated.

Clinicians found a significant increase of DHEA-S levels in diabetic and non-diabetic subjects after treatment, and a significant increase in the frequency of successful intercourse by 60% in both the diabetic and non-diabetic groups with or without Erectile Dysfunction. Protodioscin from herbal plant tribulus terrestris L improves the male sexual functions, probably via the DHEA. Adimoelja A, Ganeshan P. Adaikan A University, Indonesia and National University of Singapore in 6th Biennial Asian-Pacific Meeting on Impotence in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (1997)Int. J. Impotence Research v9, supp 1 (1997)

In another study clinicians investigated the effects of Tribulus terrestris L. on sperm morphology and acrosome reaction in subjects with oligoasthenoteratozoospermia. A double-blind placebo-controlled trial was performed with 30 primary and secondary infertile men. Half received oral Tribulus three times per day for 60 days, and the rest were given sugar pills. The ejaculate volume, sperm concentration, morphology, acrosome reactions, and other parameters were evaluated before and after treatment.

A significant increase in the percentage of slow or sluggish progressive motile sperm in the treated group was observed when compared to the control group. The percentage of the sperm with normal acrosome (a process at the anterior end of a sperm cell that produces enzymes to facilitate penetration of the egg) reaction was also increased, whereas, the percentage of immotile sperm decreased significantly. The frequency of sexual intercourse was also increased significantly in the Tribulus group. The study concluded that Tribulus terrestris L., given at 500mg three times a day for 60days proved to be effective in restoring some of the sperm functions, such as motility and acrosome reactions.

Tribulus terrestris L. extract improves spermatozoa motility and increases the efficiency of the acrosome reaction in subjects diagnosed with oligoasthenoteratozoospermia L. Setiawan Airlangga University, Surabaya, Indonesia (1996).

Modern day uses:
Today, Tribulus terestris is prescribed by physicians and herbal specialist for the following:

* Increase spermatozoa motility
* Treatment of erectile dysfunction (impotence)
* Increase testosterone levels
* Diseases of genito urinary tract including dysuria chronic cystitis, phosphaturia, incontinence, etc
* Spermatorrhoea (Involuntary discharge of semen without orgasm)
* Immune system deficiencies
* Uterine disorders after parturition

Precautions and/or adverse effects:
Individuals with preexisting medical conditions should consult with their physician particularly if they are taking prescription or over-the-counter-medications or supplements. Women who are pregnant or breast feeding and children should also consult with there physician prior to taking any new supplements. Very few side effects have been reported with the use of Tribulus terrestris except for periodic cases of an upset stomach at the time of this writing. This situation can usually be avoided if individuals take the herb on a full stomach.

Please note: The above information is intended to supplement, not substitute for, the expertise and judgment of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professionals. The information should not be construed to indicate that the use of the product is appropriate, safe, or effective for each individuals use. Individuals should consult their healthcare professional prior taking any new product.