-  Native American Traditional Herbal Medicines

“… Everything 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.

Spirituality and Healing

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. 

"All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and if we listen, we can hear them." -Arapaho Proverb

To 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 herbs.

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".

Hummingbird 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 lymphatic blockages.

Pull 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.

Devil's Claw
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.

Uva Ursi
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.

*Yarrow - Achillea
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.

Wild Ginger
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.

*Red Clover
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 cholesterol.

Wild Rose
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.

Saw Palmetto
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.

Atractylodes – 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.

*Prickly Pear Cactus
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, too!

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.

Slippery Elm
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.

American 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. 

Allspice – Pimenta Dioica
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.

American 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 purposes.

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 – Eriogonum Jamesii
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 – 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 ease tendonitis.

*All Mints
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.

Alfalfa – 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.

A 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.

A 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.

Traditionally 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.

The 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.

The 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 soul.

The 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 tribe.

Good 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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