One of the greatest gifts Native Americans have given us, in addition to their rich culture, holistic outlook and their deep connection to the planet and its resources, is their powerful system of medicine. Over thousands of years Native Americans discovered the therapeutic uses of hundreds of powerful healing herbs and orally passed down that vast knowledge from generation to generation. Here are several excellent ones:
Blackberry Leaves and Roots
Of course Native Americans ate the delicious blackberries that grow particularly well in the Pacific Northwest. But, the berries weren’t the only part of the plant they used. Both the leaves and roots of the blackberry plants were also used medicinally. They used a strong tea of the roots (known now as a decoction) to address joint and tissue swelling. A tea from the leaves was used as a total body tonic to strengthen the system.
Native Americans have used licorice medicinally for many years, primarily as a tea, a laxative and a remedy for coughs and colds. Licorice root is one of a relatively small group of herbs known as adaptogens that have the ability to improve overall body health, regulate bodily functions as needed and give the body a boost to help it cope with physical, mental or emotional stress of just about any kind. In other words, adaptogens help the body adapt (hence the name) to just about any stress it encounters. The root can be made into a tea (one teaspoon of chopped dried root per cup of water) that is boiled on the stovetop for 45 minutes to an hour. Licorice root should be avoided by people with high blood pressure, kidney failure or those using heart medications. It should be discontinued after a few weeks.
Some tribes of Native Americans would burn and smolder the leaves of this herb and recommend inhaling the smoke to soothe asthma and chest congestion. Mullein is an excellent herb for a wide variety of respiratory conditions, such as coughs, whooping coughs, emphysema and asthma. It is used by many herbalists in tea or tincture form. To make a tea, use one to two teaspoons of the dried herb per cup of water, infused for at least 10 minutes. Drink one cup three times daily.
Cherokee made a tea from the root of the wild ginger plants for a variety of digestive complaints as well as an expectorant to expel mucus from the lungs. Since wild ginger may be difficult to obtain, fresh ginger available in most grocery stores can act as an excellent substitute. Boil a 2 inch piece of root, coarsely chopped in a quart of water for about 45 minutes to an hour. Strain and drink one cup three times daily.
Fresh leaves of the yarrow plant were crushed and applied to open wounds and sores to stop excessive bleeding, a practice still in use. Diluted fresh juice from the yarrow plant is often diluted in water and drunk to help heal stomach wounds and internal bleeding. Consult with a qualified practitioner of Native American medicine or an herbalist to use yarrow for this purpose.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty Cooking.