Native Americans have always relied on healing plants. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans were almost disease free but still needed herbal remedies to use for things like rashes, wounds, and snake bites. They also used herbs to treat arthritis, frostbite, broken bones, and other injuries.
Chief Harry Dakota and ceremonial dances - Photo by Janice Boling
Native Americans had a good knowledge of the human body. They understood the antiseptic value of certain plant juices, were skilled at pulling teeth, and used complex pain relievers. It is well documented that Native Americans could tie off arteries to prevent blood loss, practiced advanced personal hygiene, and used sophisticated childbirth techniques.
Healers were available in most villages, but every member of the tribe knew about herbs. Herbal practices were not kept secret. Most families gathered and stored their own herbs for use when needed.
In today’s Native American communities, many people still have a spiritual relationship with herbs. It is believed that health is a gift and comes from good living. They do not have a sharp division between medicine and religion. Most Native Americans understand that everything depends on everything else. Many Native Americans believe that everything flows together in a giant circle supported and connected by the spirit world.
They cured the sick, studied the weather, looked into the future, and dealt with evil spirits. Native American healers used herbs along with elaborate ceremonies to treat specific problems such as drought, sickness, and other maladies.
Many Native American remedies were complex blends and recipes were handed down from generation to generation.
Chief Two Moons was one of the most famous Native American healers of all time. In the fall of 1930, Chief Two Moon and his wife traveled to Europe where they had a private audience with Pope Pius XI. The Vatican newspaper called Chief Two Moon the Leader of the Indians, and Italian physicians saluted him for his cures, calling him the Great Medicine Man from America.
Chief Two Moon’s Stomach Tea recipe included senna, coriander seed, gentian root, juniper berry, centaury plant, calamus root, buckthorn bark, ginger, cascara sagrada, rose buds, lavender flowers, anise seed, and fennel seed.
During the last years of his life, Chief Two Moon spent much of his time in courtrooms. In the New York City Court, he was convicted of practicing medicine without a license.
Well known Native American herbal remedies include skunk cabbage for treating nervous disorders, arnica for bruises, horsemint for back pain, thistle for burns, catnip for colic, wild cherry for coughs, white pine for colds, black raspberry for diarrhea, dandelion for spring tonic, willow bark for fever, witch hazel for swelling, honeysuckle for bee stings, and yellowroot for stomach disorders.
Native Americans have contributed a lot of knowledge to modern medicine including aspirin, syrup of ipecac, quinine, morphine, curare, cocaine, and hundreds of lesser known drugs.
* Always consult with your healthcare provider before using any herbal remedy especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medicines.
"The only way to really learn about herbal medicine is to touch and smell herbs, taste them, use them daily, and grow them if possible. Herbal medicine is a way of life. It is not a quick fix." ... Janice Boling, herbalist, web designer, writer, photographer
* Note - the information on this website has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
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