Native American Herbs and Their 
Uses in Healing, Native Recipes

There are hundreds of herbs with dozens of uses in Native American medicine, no room here to list all of them.  You can find books and internet resources for more detailed information on specific herbs used by specific tribes.  Below is just a small sampling.  As with all other forms of herbal medicine, get a checkup before treating yourself with herbs, research each carefully for possible side effects. Get in touch with Native Americans who might be well-versed in herbs and healing.

Traditional healing herbs

* Rabbit tobacco (Gnaphalium obtusifolium). These annual herbs reach a height of 1 to 3 feet and have erect stems with brown, shriveled leaves persisting into winter and stems covered with feltlike hairs in summer. The leaves are 1 to 3 inches long, and alternate. The flowers, minute in whitish heads, appear in late summer to fall. Fields, pastures, and disturbed areas are the sites of this common native plant of the eastern United States. It is used to treat colds, flu, neuritis, asthma, coughs, and pneumonia. This is one of the most popular plants used by the Lumbee. The decoction is drunk hot, like most medicinal teas, and is said to cause profuse sweating.

* Poke (Phytolacca americana). Also a common native plant of the eastern United States, poke is a robust, perennial herb that reaches a height of 9 feet. It has a large white root; a green, red, or purple stem; alternate leaves up to 1 foot long; and white flowers in a drooping raceme. The fruit is a dark purple to black berry, round, soft, and juicy. Poke is found in waste areas, road sides, disturbed habitats, fields, and pastures. It is used to treat asthma, spring tonic, boils (risings), sores, intestinal worms in people or chickens, cramps, and stomach ulcers. Poke is said to inhibit gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria and is listed as a parasiticide in the British Herbal Pharmacopoeia.

* Pine (Pinus echinata, P. palustris, P. virginiana). Pines are resinous evergreen trees with needlelike foliage leaves in bundles of two to five. The male and female reproductive structures are in separate cones on the same tree; the female cone matures to a large woody cone with winged seeds; pollen sheds in the spring. Pine is used to treat colds, flu, pneumonia, fever, heartburn, arthritis, neuritis, and kidney problems.

* Oak (Quercus laevis, Q. phellos). These deciduous trees have alternate, unlobed, or variously lobed leaves and minute flowers; the fruit is an acorn. Oak is used to treat kidney problems (including Bright's disease), bladder problems, virus, menstrual bleeding, diarrhea, sores, sprains, and swellings. It is also used as a booster for other remedies.

* Sassafras (Sassafras albidum). These deciduous, aromatic, small trees or shrubs have green twigs and--when mature--thick, furrowed bark. The leaves are 2.5 to 5 inches long; alternate; and either unlobed, lobed on one side, or three-lobed. Flowers are small and yellow in clusters at the end of twigs. The fruit is a dark blue, fleshy drupe on a bright red stalk and cup. This common native plant of fencerows, woodland borders, and old fields of the eastern United States is used to treat measles, chicken pox, colds, flu, and fever. It is also used as a "shotgun heart remedy," a blood purifier, and a spring tonic.

According to the Handbook of Northeastern Indian Medicinal Plants Native American Indians used about 25 percent of the flora of Maryland for medicinal purposes (Duke, 1986). A few examples of medicinal plant species in Maryland are as follows:

* Sweetflag or calamus (Acorus). The root has been used to treat flatulence, colds, coughs, heart disease, bowel problems, colic, cholera, suppressed menses, dropsy, gravel, headache, sore throat, spasms, swellings, and yellowish urine. Some tribes considered the root a panacea; others thought it had mystic powers.

* Bloodroot (Sanguinaria). This very poisonous plant is emetic, laxative, and emmenagogue. It has been used to treat chronic bronchitis, diphtheria, sore throat, uterine and other cancers, tetterworm, deafness, and dyspepsia; it has also been used as a pain reliever and sedative. In Appalachia it is carried as a charm to ward off evil spirits.

* Yellowdock. Contains anthraquinones of value in the treatment of ringworm and some types of psoriasis. Rumicin from the roots reportedly destroys skin parasites. The anthraquinones are proven laxatives.

* Coneflower (Echinacea, Rudbeckia). Echinacea (purple coneflower) reportedly increases resistance to infection, bad coughs, dyspepsia, venereal disease, insect bites, fever, and blood poisoning.

* Witch hazel. A proven astringent and hemostat (to stop bleeding).

* Lobelia (Lobelia cardinalis). Cardinal flower was used to indurate ulcers and to treat stomachache, syphilis, and worms. The leaf tea was used for cold, croup, epistaxis (nosebleed), fever, headache, rheumatism, and syphilis. Lobelia inflata (Indian tobacco) yields lobeline sulfate, used in antitobacco therapy. It is used as an antiasthmatic, an expectorant, and a stimulant for bronchitis; it also is used to treat aches, asthma, boils, croup, colic, sore throat, stiff neck, and tuberculosis of the lungs. Some smoked the herb to break a tobacco habit.

* Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum). Early Native American Indians used the roots as a strong purgative, liver cleanser, emetic, and worm expellant. A resin made from the plant has been used to treat venereal warts and exhibits antitumor activity; it also is used for snakebite and as an insecticide for potato bugs.

* Wild cherry (Prunus virginiana). The bark has been used to treat sores and wounds, diarrhea, cold and cough, tuberculosis, hemoptysis, scrofula, sore throat, stomach cramps, and piles. Native American Indians treated snow blindness by leaning over a kettle of boiling bark "tea." Some smoked the bark for headache and head cold.

* White willow (Salix alba). The bark is astringent, expectorant, hemostatic, and tonic. It is used to treat calluses, cancers, corns, tumors, and warts. Salicylic acid (used to make aspirin) is found in white willow. Leaves and bark of different willows are used in a tea to break a fever. Some Native American Indians burned willow stems and used the ashes to treat sore eyes.

article from a report published in natural health village

Native American Healing

Natural healing has been used for thousands of years.

Other alternative treatments - acupuncture and ayurveda - developed in parallel to Native American healing.

American and South American Indians have given modern society more than 200 drugs.

The plant osha is a strong antibiotic.

St. John's wort is a natural anti-depressant that outsells Prozac in Europe.

Pitch of pinon pine is "nature's own Band-Aid"

Indian sweat lodge

Thistle combats the ravages of alcohol and liver damage.

Today's patient-centered approach reflects the holism of Native healing practices.

Mixing natural remedies and traditional treatments can be unwise

information from

Native American Recipes - from

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Native American Spirituality