PDT Outdoors Columnist
Buck Owens had a song in the 70’s about “All I gotta do is act naturally.” Way before that, the Native Americans had figured out that Mother Nature provided food, shelter, clothing, tools, and pharmacy.
We’re all aware that streams, fruits, animals, and shrubs gave the Indians food, while trees and caves provided shelter, but some well-kept pharmaceutical secrets are quite ingenious also.
We see “weeds” along the streams and paths and as long as we have C.V.S., why would we need to doctor with weeds? Believe it or not, there was life before prescriptions, child-proof bottles, and co-pay. Today, we are prone to cure with a band-aid or temporary fix. The trend is to take a drug for any ailment and then another the next time we feel a pain. This is expensive in both dollars and length of life. Yes, our life expectancy is up due to modern science, but is the quality of life up?
The Indian developed cures, but he was mainly into preventative and healthy lifestyle. He believed in “grow where you are planted” and this stemmed from the belief that Mother Earth would provide all his needs both physically and spiritually.
These alleged “savages” actually had developed quite sophisticated healing and health measures before the colonists and pioneers encountered them. There were about 500 Indian Tribes in North America prior to their “discovery” by the Europeans and they were living proof of their healthy and self-sufficient lifestyle. The exception to this would be, of course, their exposure to European diseases, such as small pox, for which they had no natural immunity. Things like this take time.
From Columbus to Coronado to now, we observe the reverence associated with the Indians and their herbal medicinal recipes. It has been noted that they valued their cures more than their precious metals.
Let’s take a look at how those here before us valued and used our weeds of today, in their harmonious and practical walk through nature. Their life was very entwined with both flora and fauna. They would show respect and thanks to an animal’s body after they killed it for food and clothing, and they would not spit on a fire, these were both ways to prevent the gods from anger. This is a spiritual reverence for nature.
Blackhaw – healing wounds and menstrual cramps
Buckeye – hemorrhoids
Dandelion – antiseptic, healing, laxative, nutrition
Echinacea – (Cone Flower) gum disease, mucus membranes, healing, fighting viral and bacterial disease
Fennel – sweetening bad breath, joint pain, conjunctivitis, colic
Ginseng – For 5000 years this root has been used (as sassafras) to cure what ails you
Golden Rod – bladder, U.T.I., kidney stones, gall stones
Gravel Root – (Joe Pye weed) bladder, kidney stones, aches, pain, cold, flu, constipation, menstrual and respiratory named for the Indian doctor Joe Pye
Hawthorn – cardiovascular, circulatory, blood pressure, liver
Hops – beer to sedative toothache, insomnia, ulcers, indigestion,
Jewel Weed - found in shade or along creek and used to rub on poison ivy rash
Juniper – bladder infection, herpes, flu, arthritis, congestion, sore joints
Lady’s Slipper – pain killer for menstrual and child birth, insomnia, hysteria
Licorice - fatigue, cough suppressant, depression, gingivitis, sores, asthma
Magnolia – tea, colds, sores, toothache
Milkweed – fever, asthma, pleurisy, congestion, bruises, snake bite, and bleeding
Nettles – They traded pain with this one. They would swat the aching spot with stinging nettles. This is sort of like removing chiggers or ticks with an ice pick, isn’t it?
Oak – From pain reliever to enema and from tonsils to hemorrhoids
Oats – From breakfast to diarrhea, boils, hives, and cold sores
Peppermint – Mint was used like sassafras for everything and for one of the same reasons – it smelled medicinal.
Pine – Another smell good used for everything from chewing gum to headache, burns, wounds. It could be a drink or poultice but it smelled like the right thing to do.
Plantain – Brought here in 1600’s by Europeans and then used by everyone as a “green” like dandelion. Now we pay to kill them and have a better lawn.
Raspberry – Today, the fruit is used for flavoring but the Indians used the leaves for nausea, bowel problems, and assisting child birth.
Sage – At one time the Indians and the first Europeans here thought sassafras could cure everything you’ve read in today’s article and more, including gas, scurvy, and syphilis.
Squaw weed – As the name suggests, it was prescribed by 9 out 10 medicine men as woman’s best friend.
Violet – Not just another pretty face. The Ojibwa and Potawatomi used the blue and yellow violet roots for sore throat, bladder pain, diarrhea, heart problems, fever, gas, and indigestion. The rutin in the violet is used today for strengthening vein and capillary walls.
Watercress – is rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, and copper. It was used to treat liver and kidney problems internally, while they rubbed the leaves on skin for acne, ringworm, and baldness.
White Poplar (aspen) – was used to reduce pain. The Indians would boil the bark and pour the water over a broken bone, set the bone and form a wooden cast from the poplar wood to stabilize the break. White poplar contains the same ingredients found in aspirin.
Willow – used very much by Indians in the same way they did white poplar. The willow has the aspirin ingredients to reduce pain and inflammation and help injuries heal more quickly.
Today we still see ginseng, Echinacea (cone flower), allium (garlic), salvia (sage), hypericum, bee balm, and salix (willow) on medicine labels. In their infinite wisdom, U.S.D.A. still allows some common sense to slip through the cracks and remain in modern medicine. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Doesn’t all this make you wonder how many ‘trial and error’ Indians they went through to discover these things?” May the forest be with you.