Native American Traditional Herbal Medicines
on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every
person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”
— Mourning Dove, Salish, 1888-1936
Many modern remedies and medicines
are based on the Native American knowledge of the different plants and
herbs they used for thousands of years. You may already have some of
these medicines growing ornamentally in your gardens.
The major difference between Native
American healing and conventional medicine, is the role of spirituality
in the healing process. Native Americans believe that all things in
nature are connected, and that spirits can promote health or cause
illness. Therefore, it is necessary to heal not only the physical parts
of an individual, but also their emotional wellness, and their harmony
with their community and the environment around them. In addition to
herbal remedies, the community often came together to help an ill person
in ceremonies, dances, praying, and chanting. Today, modern medicine
still focuses only on science, while many Native Americans continue to include
the spirit as an inseparable element of healing. Many health
institutions and medical schools have begun to incorporate traditional
medicine in their hospitals and curriculum.
It is believed that the Native
Americans first started using plants and herbs for healing, after
watching animals eat certain plants when they were sick. In order to
protect these plants from over-harvesting, the medicine men used to pick
every third plant they found.
plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen,
we can hear them." -Arapaho
learn more about, or design a garden including Native American herbs and
remedies, visit this page
about creating a Medicine
Wheel garden. To
grow a medicinal herb garden, visit this page.
Important - This is not a list of what herbs you
should use. Do not diagnose or treat yourself.
Trust your physician or an herbalist to help you decide which
herbs you can safely take. If you have medical issues, it's wise to get a
physical and listen to your doctor or holistic healer. You may be unaware
of underlying medical issues that make herbal treatments risky. This page
is to be used as a source of information, not advice or suggested
treatment. I grow many medicinal herbs to make teas, salves, or to infuse
for specific ailments. Do not mix herbs with your medications without
consulting an expert, and never replace your prescribed. medications with
This list eliminated
suspected or proven toxic or poisonous plants ingested in ancient
medicine, because I saw no sense in listing those. This isn't an
encyclopedia of native herbs. I don't want you to even think
about using them. You can easily search for poisonous herbs. There are
many. But they do not belong in your gardens. The herbs marked with an
asterisk is growing, or has grown in my gardens.
You can grow a beautiful
Native American Medicine garden using some of these plants for ornamental,
culinary, and topical medicine usage. I like to make homemade sage sticks
and burn them in my home during the winter, of if i feel that the house
needs a spiritual "lift".
Blossom - (Buck Brush)
The Native Americans used this plant for treating mouth and
throat conditions, as well as cysts, fibroid tumors, and inflammation. It
can be made into a poultice to help treat burns, sores, and wounds. A
diuretic that stimulates kidney function can be made using the roots of
this plant. The early pioneers utilized this particular plant as a
substitute for black tea. Recent scientific studies have shown that
hummingbird blossom is effective in treating high blood pressure and
Out A Sticker - (Greenbrier)
This root tea was used as a blood purifier or for relieving
joint pain. Some healers made a salve from leaves and bark mixed with hog
lard, which was applied to minor sores, scalds, and burns.
Native Americans used it to heal various conditions, from
treating fever to soothing skin conditions, improving digestion, and
treating arthritis. The tea can reduce the effects of diabetes, while a
concoction made from the plant’s roots reduces swelling and helps with
joint disease, arthritis, gout, back pain, headache, and sores. It has a
very pretty flower.
Because of the bear’s affection toward this plant’s fruits,
it is also known as Bearberry and Beargrape. The Native Americans used
this plant mainly for treating bladder and urinary tract infections.
Used since Ancient Greece began using to stop excess bleeding.
It is said that Achilles used it on his wounds. Pioneers and aboriginal
people applied this on open wounds and cuts as a poultice made from the
leaves to help clot the blood. They also combined fresh yarrow juice with
water to help an upset stomach and for intestinal disorders. A tea made
from the leaves and stems will act as an astringent.
Healers used this plant for treating earache and ear
infections. They also made a mild tea from the rootstock for stimulating
the digestive system and relieving bloating. It also helped with bronchial
infections and nausea.
This plant has been used by healers for treating inflammation
and respiratory conditions. Recent studies have shown that red clover
helps to prevent heart disease by improving circulation and lowering
Native Americans used this plant as a preventive and a cure for
a mild common cold. The tea stimulates the bladder and kidneys and is a
mild diuretic. A petal infusion was used for a sore throat. Rose hips
contain large amounts of vitamin C.
A large genus of about 3,000 species of herbs and small shrubs, it
is native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Common names
include milk-vetch (most species), locoweed (some species in the western
U.S.), and goat’s-thorn. Used in both traditional Chinese and Native
American remedies, the dried roots was often in combination with other
herbs, to strengthen the body against disease. It is also thought to help
protect the body from diseases such as cancer and diabetes and
is also used to protect and support the immune system, for
preventing and treating colds, upper respiratory infections, lower blood
pressure, treat diabetes, and to protect the liver.
The native tribes of Florida, such as the Seminoles, used the
plant for food, but medicine men used it as a natural remedy for abdominal
pain. It also helps digestion, reduces inflammation, and stimulates
appetite. Studies show promise as a medicine for prostate problems.
Sage is a sacred plant for many indigenous tribes as it was
thought to have effective purifying energies and to cleanse the body of
negative energies. Many ceremonies include the burning of sage. As a
remedy, it was used for treating medical conditions like abdominal cramps,
spasms, cuts, bruises, colds, and flu.
Healers used this plant as a remedy for insomnia, anxiety,
depression, headache, and fatigue. The essential oil has antiseptic and
anti-inflammatory properties. Infusions were used to soothe insect bites,
as well as burns.
Long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, this herb is used for indigestion,
stomachache, bloating, fluid retention, diarrhea, loss of appetite,
weight loss, allergies, and rheumatism. It is used with other
herbs for treating the lungs and kidney problems.
Has been used as both a food and medicine. Native Americans
made a poultice from mature pads as an antiseptic and for treating wounds,
burns, and boils. Tea was made to treat urinary tract infections and to
help the immune system. Research shows that the prickly pear cactus
helps to lower cholesterol and prevents diabetes and diet-related
cardiovascular disease. It tastes pretty good, and has beautiful blossoms,
A tobacco-like plant, it was mainly used to treat respiratory
disorders. The Native Americans made concoctions from the roots to reduce
swelling in the joints, feet, or hands.
Native Americans used the inner bark to fashion bow strings,
rope, thread, and clothing. Tea was made from the bark and leaves to
soothe toothaches, respiratory irritations, skin conditions, stomach ache,
sore throats, and spider bites.
Licorice – Glycyrrhiza Lepidota
Sometimes called wild licorice, it is native to most of North
America, from central Canada south through the United States to
California, Texas and Virginia, but not in southeastern states.
Its roots have been
widely used by a number of Native American tribes in teas for
the treatment of cough, diarrhea, chest pain, fever,
stomach aches, and used as a wash or poultice on swelling . The
chewed root is retained in the mouth as a treatment for toothache and sore
throats. The mashed leaves are used as a poultice on sores.
This fragrant spice is not only used in cooking and seasoning, but
also as an herbal remedy. Also known as Jamaica Pepper, Kurundu, Myrtle
Pepper, Pimenta, Clove Pepper, and Newspice, it owes its healing powers to
“eugenol,” a chemical component in its oil that aids digestion and
is an effective pain reliever. It’s dried unripe berries have
long been used in teas.
Ginseng – Panax Quinquefolius
This herb is of the ivy family and native to the hardwood forests
of eastern North America. Used by Native Americans not only to heal a
wide variety of ailments; but, also for spiritual and ceremonial purposes.
Recognized as one of the five most valuable plant medicines by the Seneca,
traditional uses included flu, colds, fever, sinus
problems, to reduce swelling, and as a laxative. The herb was smoked
like tobacco by the Iroquois, and used in sweat baths by the Seminole. It
was also dried for use in teas and tonics by the Cherokee, Creek,
Houma, Mimac, Mohegan, and Potawatomi for a variety of medicinal
This is one of the most
well-known survival plants that the indigenous population
used for food, and also as a preventative medicine. Because it’s an
easily digestible food, it’s helpful for recovering from illness. It is
called "the supermarket of the swamp", because* it can be used in
multiple dishes. Beats me how you cook it, but Google has it covered. I
grow the dwarf variety in my bog garden.
This plant can be used for multiple medicinal remedies, but it is
one of the only plants that the healers used in treating eye problems.
The Cherokee used this plant for treating an upset stomach.
They used blackberry tea for curing diarrhea and soothing swollen tissues
and joints. An all-natural cough syrup to heal sore throats can be made
from blackberry root mixed with honey or maple syrup. To soothe bleeding
gums, they chewed the leaves. This plant is also good for strengthening
the whole immune system.
Antelope Sage –
A species of wild buckwheat also known as James’
Buckwheat. Native to southwestern North America, in Colorado, Utah,
Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. Often used to ease the
pain of childbirth, and a wash was used for sore eyes.
Aspen trees are native to cold regions with cool summers. In North
America, this includes the far north portions and extending south at high
altitudes in the mountains. There are several varieties of Aspen trees,
one of which — the Quaking Aspen, which was used by both Native
Americans and early pioneers to treat fever, scurvy, cough, pain,
and as an anti-inflammatory. The inner bark of this tree contains salicin,
a substance similar to the active ingredient in aspirin.
*Willow Bark - same
uses as Aspen. Before we learned to take totally natural herbal compounds
and turn them into chemicals for profit, willow bark was used to safely
treat pain and headaches. It was turned into a chemical with many
undesirable side effects. I grew weillow trees and used to make a tea with
dried bark and some tasty flavoring herbs to cure my stress headaches and
Many cultures have discovered the stomach-soothing properties
of mint. It's available in all grocery stores and health food shops. The
Cherokee used to make a mint tea to soothe digestion problems and help an
upset stomach. They also made a salve from the leaves to relieve itching
skin and rashes. I make my original Gingermint Tea with fresh mint, grated
or powdered ginger (it only takes a wee bit) honey/lemon, to soothe my
stomach and ease nausea. Grow mints in pots..... every variety is
aggressively invasive in the ground. You'll never get rid of it if it
escapes the area you planted.
– Medicago Sativa
***Avoid alfalfa is you have an auto-immune problem,
as it has been known to aggravate these types of disorders.
Alfalfa is a flowering plant in the pea family. Grown all
over the world, it has been utilized in herbal medicine for centuries.
High in protein, calcium, plus other minerals, B vitamins, vitamin C,
vitamin E, and vitamin K, and it is best known to relieve digestive
disturbances of all types..
|Medicine man, also
called medicine person or healer, member of an indigenous society
who is knowledgeable about the magical and chemical potencies of
various substances (medicines) and skilled in the rituals through
which they are administered. The term has been used most widely in
the context of American Indian cultures but is applicable to many
others as well. Women perform this function in many societies.
Medicine Man is a priestly healer and spiritual leader of Native
American tribes, who believed that physical nature might be
brought under the control of man, in the person of a Medicine Man.
Native American tribes adhered to a range of beliefs, ceremonies
and rituals regarding communication with the spiritual world in
which their religious leader enters supernatural realms
particularly when the tribe is facing adversity or need to obtain
solutions to problems afflicting the community including sickness.
The medicine man commonly
carries a kit of objects—feathers of particular birds,
suggestively shaped or marked stones, pollen, hallucinogenic or
medicinal plants, and other items—that are associated with
healing. In some cases these materials are considered to have been
drawn out of the body of the practitioner at his or her initiation
to the healer’s arts, and the work of healing often involves the
extraction of offending substances from the patient’s body.
Medicine Bag was a sacred container for various objects, or
amulets, of supernatural power used, or provided by, a Medicine
Man or Shaman, to carry 'medicine', or symbols of animal spirits,
good luck, protection and strength in battle. The Medicine Bag
contains both symbolic and ritual items. Typical items found in a
Medicine bag, or bundle include various herbal remedies including
tobacco, cedar, sage and sweetgrass used in Smudging Rituals.
Other objects include a pipe, paint and skins. The Shaman of the
Pawnee tribe also included a Star Chart and Astrology Map in their
Medicine Bag or bundle.
a medicine bag or bundle contains something from the plant, animal
and mineral kingdoms and from the life of man. Medicine bags of
Shamans were often made from pelts of panthers, raccoon, otter,
beaver, reptiles or birds and included items to aid in healing, in
rituals, Spiritual Healing
and altering the weather.
word 'medicine', associated with the Native Indians, means mystery
and this word was applied by Europeans to anything mysterious or
unaccountable. The Native Indians do not use the term 'Medicine
Man' but in each tribe they have a word or term of their own
construction that is synonymous with mystery or mystery man. Their
principle deity, the Great Spirit, is
also referred to as the Great Mystery.
Medicine Man is believed to have a spiritual connection with
animals, supernatural creatures and all elements of nature.
Spirits were believed to inhabit the rivers, lakes, mountains,
trees, plants, sky, stars, sun, animals, insects, fish, flowers
and birds. The belief and practice of Native American Indians
incorporates a number of beliefs such as Animism, Totemism,
Shamanism, Fetishism and Ritualism. These beliefs, taken as a
whole, have strong religious connotations. This belief system, and
the role of the Medicine Man, is particularly associated with
primitive cultures of hunter gatherers who believed that every
natural object is controlled by its own independent spirit, or
Medicine Man used appropriate words, chants, objects, dances and
rituals to protect men from evil spirits - his role is that of
opponent to the bad spirits and of guardian to the ordinary man.
The role of the Medicine Man differs from tribe to tribe, as there
are some regional and tribal variations to their beliefs in
Shamanism. There are several common roles that are shared by every
Medicine Man. A Medicine Man was a healer, communicator, educator,
prophet and mystic. In many tribes, including the Cheyenne and the
Sioux, the Medicine Man also had the role of the head warrior or
war chief which made him the most influential man of the
and Bad Spirits
The good spirits helped
men, and the bad spirits wreak havoc and harm on people and their
tribes. It is the bad spirits that cause trouble, suffering,
sickness, death and disease. When a man became ill, it was
believed that a bad spirit had entered his body and taken his soul
away. It is therefore not surprising that the Native Americans
would wish to gain power over these spirits. If a Medicine Man had
control over the spirits he became extremely powerful. A Medicine
Man would know protective chants and words, and have a special
knowledge of objects which he carried in a Medicine Bag that would
disarm bad spirits and protect their owners. This type of
knowledge is what the Native Americans mean by “medicine” or
“mystery.” The Native Americans who spent their lives trying
to gain such knowledge, are referred to as Shaman, medicine
people, mystery men, or a Medicine Man.
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