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31 Long-Forgotten Native American Medical Cures

Image source: NIH.gov

Image source: NIH.gov

When it comes to herbal remedies, many of us are familiar with the benefits of Echinacea or purple cone flower as an antibiotic, willow bark as a pain killer and aloe as a topical anesthetic and treatment for skin conditions. But that’s common knowledge compared to the insights and treatments that Native American medicine men discovered and used.

Native American medicine men developed a wheel very similar to the yin/yang of Asian medicine. The use of herbal remedies and other alternative forms of treatment was the cutting-edge medicine of their day. This was a holistic approach to medical treatment that relied heavily on plants and their unique benefits.

What follows is list of indigenous plants, trees, fruits and flowers unique to North America that have surprising benefits as defined by Native American tribes. If and when times are tough, it might be good to keep some of these ancient cures in mind. They also are good for everyday needs when you consider how effective some of them can be.

Licorice tea for a sore throat is a good example. It’s also interesting that many of these natural cures are still in use today, including beeswax and bee pollen, chamomile and others. It’s a good demonstration of the benefit of wisdom developed over centuries.

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It’s hard to know how Native Americans determined which plants might have medicinal properties, although trial and error was probably one approach. It’s also thought that they observed sick animals eating certain plants and determined that those plants must have a certain property worth exploring.  Since that time, scientific studies have verified the medicinal value of many plants. In fact, common aspirin is derived from salicin, a chemical in the inner bark of willow trees that was used in ancient times for fever and pain.

These medicines were usually administered via teas or pastes that were either ingested or applied externally. Sometimes the plants were eaten as food or added to food or water. On occasion, a salve or poultice was applied to open wounds. I would strongly recommend that you avoid the latter, given the risk of infection from wild sources.

I’ve omitted many of the natural remedies. There was a use for mistletoe that I came across, but mistletoe is essentially poisonous and if not used properly the results could be counter-productive, if not deadly.

I’ve also found a great deal of redundancy. It seems like everything is good for a cough or diarrhea. Rather than endlessly list plants that cure the same conditions over and over, I’ve tried to isolate this grouping to the most prevalent plants that you may find and recognize. As always, if you are pregnant, check with your doctor and do plenty of research before using any of these.

Here’s the list:

1. Alfalfa: Relieves digestion and is used to aid blood clotting. Contemporary uses included treatment of arthritis, bladder and kidney conditions and bone strength. Enhances the immune system.

Aloe

Aloe

2. Aloe: A cactus-like plant. The thick leaves can be squeezed to extrude a thick sap that can be used to treat burns, insect bites and wounds.

3. Aspen: The inner bark or xylem is used in a tea to treat fever, coughs and pain. It contains salicin, which also is found in willow trees and is the foundation ingredient for aspirin.

4. Bee pollen: When mixed with food it can boost energy, aid digestion and enhance the immune system. If you’re allergic to bee stings you will most likely be allergic to bee pollen.

5. Beeswax: Used as a salve for burns and insect bites, including bee stings. Intended to only be used externally.

6. Blackberry: The root, bark and leaves when crushed and infused in a tea are used to treat diarrhea, reduce inflammation and stimulate the metabolism. As a gargle it treats sore throats, mouth ulcers and inflammation of the gums.

7. Black Raspberry: The roots of this plant are crushed and used as a tea or boiled and chewed to relieve coughs, diarrhea and general intestinal distress.

8. Buckwheat: The seeds are used in soups and as porridge to lower blood pressure, help with blood clotting and relieve diarrhea.

9. Cayenne: The pods are used as a pain reliever when taken with food or drunk in a tea. Also used to threat arthritis and digestive distress. It is sometimes applied to wounds as a powder to increase blood flow and act as an antiseptic and anesthetic to numb the pain.

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10. Chamomile: The leaves and flowers are used as a tea to treat intestinal problems and nausea.

11. Chokecherry: Considered by Native American tribes as an all-purpose medicinal treatment, the berries were pitted, dried and crushed into a tea or a poultice to treat a variety of ailments. These include coughs, colds, flu, nausea, inflammation and diarrhea. As a salve or poultice it is used to treat burns and wounds. The pit of the chokecherry – much like apple seeds – are poisonous in high concentrations. Be sure to pit the cherries if you’re considering this for any use.

Echinacea

Echinacea

12. Echinacea: Also known as purple coneflower, this is a classic Native American medicine that is used to strengthen the immune system, fight infections and fever. It also is used as an antiseptic and general treatment for colds, coughs and flu.

13. Eucalyptus: The oil from the leaves and roots is a common treatment when infused in a tea to treat coughs, sore-throat, flu and fever. It’s used to this day as an ingredient in cough drops.

14. Fennel: A plant with a licorice flavor, this is used in a tea or chewed to relieve coughs, sore-throat, aid digestion, offer relief to diarrhea and was a general treatment for colds. It also is used as a poultice for eye relief and headaches.

15. Feverfew: Used to this day as a natural relief for fever and headaches – including severe headaches like migraines – it also can be used for digestive problems, asthma and muscle and joint pains.

16. Feverwort: Another fever remedy that also is used for general pain, itching and joint stiffness. It can be ingested as a tea or chewed, or crushed to a paste as a salve or poultice.

17. Ginger root: Another super plant in Native American medicine, the root was crushed and consumed with food, as a tea or a salve or poultice. Known to this day for its ability to aid digestive health, it also is anti-inflammatory, aids circulation and can relieve colds, coughs and flu, in addition to bronchitis and joint pain.

18. Ginseng: This is another contemporary herb that has a history that goes back across cultures for millennia. The roots were used by Native Americans as a food additive, a tea and a poultice to treat fatigue, boost energy, enhance the immune system and help with overall liver and lung function. The leaves and stems also were used, but the root has the most concentration of active ingredients.

19. Goldenrod: Commonly thought of today as a source of allergies and sneezing, it was actually considered another all-in-one medicine by Native Americans. As a tea, an addition to food and a topical salve, it is used to treat conditions from bronchitis and chest congestion to colds, flu, inflammation, sore throats and as an antiseptic for cuts and abrasions.

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20. Honeysuckle: The berries, stems, flowers and leaves are used to topically treat bee stings and skin infections. As a tea, it is used to treat colds, headaches and sore throat. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.

21. Hops: As a tea it is used to treat digestive problems and often mixed with other herbs or plants, such as aloe, to soothe muscles. It also is used to soothe toothaches and sore throat.

22. Licorice: Roots and leaves can be used for coughs, colds, sore throats. The root also can be chewed to relieve toothaches.

Mullein

Mullein

23. Mullein: As an infusion in tea or added to a salad or other food, this is a plant that has been used by Native Americans to treat inflammation, coughs and congestion and general lung afflictions. It is quite common and you probably have it growing in your backyard or somewhere close.

24. Passion flower: The leaves and roots are used to make a tea to treat anxiety and muscle pain. A poultice for injuries to the skin such as burns, insect bites and boils also can be made from passion flower.

25. Red clover: It grows everywhere and the flowers, leaves and roots are usually infused in a tea or are used to top food. It is used to manage inflammation, improve circulation and treat respiratory conditions.

26. Rose hip: This is the red to orange berry that is the fruit of wild roses. It is already known to be a massive source of vitamin C and when eaten whole, crushed into a tea or added to food it is used to treat colds and coughs, intestinal distress, as an antiseptic and to treat inflammation.

27. Rosemary: A member of the pine family and used in food and as a tea to treat muscle pain, improve circulation and as a general cleanser for the metabolism.

28. Sage: A far-reaching shrub across much of North America, it is a natural insect repellent and can be used for the standard list of digestive disorders, colds and sore throat.

29. Spearmint: Used consistently by Native American tribes for treatment of coughs, colds, respiratory distress and as a cure for diarrhea and a stimulant for blood circulation.

30. Valerian: The root as an infusion in a tea relieves muscle aches, pain and is said to have a calming effect.

31. White Pine: Ubiquitous and the needles and the inner bark can be infused in a tea. Used as a standard treatment for respiratory distress and chest congestion.

If you’re an expert on Native American cures I’m sure you can add many to this list. There are some excellent books on nature’s cures and the specific medicinal properties that Native American tribes discovered. Natural remedies are worth considering both from an historical and potentially practical point-of-view. Just make sure you identify them properly and check with your physician before using.

What would you add to the list? Do you believe Native Americans knew more about medicine than they are given credit? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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30 comments

  1. marshall reagan

    We use yellow root ,which is a plant that grows along streams ,for mouth ulsers & stomach ailments .we either chew on the root that has been washed good or we put some of the root in a glass of water & let it sit overnight . it is very bitter .

  2. Dear Sirs: You might want to add warnings to the following herbs/plants:

    Ginger: Do not use during pregnancy. Can cause a miscarriage.

    Passion Flower: Can cause very bad nightmares in some people. Speaking from experience.

  3. Passion flower can also be helpful in relieving symptoms related to narcotic drug withdrawal.
    I also didn’t see plantain, purslane, dandelion, lambs quarter, or stinging nettle on your list which are easily found in most yards.

  4. I am so happy to see someone else trying to share the good words about herbs and plants that are native to our land. These are just the tip of the iceberg so to speak. But there are many many advantages to using these especially when you use them with the right frame of mind-grateful for natures gift.

  5. Irene van den Berg

    Hello friends, I am Dutch, from The Netherlands, Europa. I wish you had put the latinplant names after you english plant name. Now I have to do so much looking up. Maybe more people are finding it useful.
    Otherwise i have learned a lot from you. Thank you very much for that.

  6. Valerian root acts as stated, although it’s smell could gag a maggot (as we used to say in the old days). I use it often before bedtime for its calming effects.

  7. Aloe: also for stomach ulcers.
    Cayenne: very hot variety, 2 tsp in 1 cup hot water (if conscious), or tincture of this strength under the tongue (if unconscious) treats cardiac arrest.
    Rose hip: squeeze out juice or boil into tea – NEVER eat a whole or crushed rose hip. Can either block or rip up your intestines.
    White pine: made as tea, excellent source of Vitamin C for treating or avoiding scurvy.
    Turmeric is another root used for multiple illnesses and conditions, including brain ailments – but don’t use it if you already have autoimmune conditions. It ramps up your immune system, and can cause crisis in those already afflicted.
    Asparagus: along with onions, eggs, and other sulfurous foods, is very helpful in treating liver and kidney congestion, and aids in preventing stones.

    • Do you have anymore remedies. I’m just getting into this stuff and can’t get enough. I’d like to learn how to make the medicines also.

  8. WHERE CAN I GET A COPY OF THIS BOOK PLEASE?

  9. Phillip Robinson

    A very common one we use is Stinging Nettle which we harvest every year from our chookpen. Also garlic is another one we use lots of. A lady gave us a mixture of lemon and garlic in a paste which tasted disgusting but helped when I had pneumonia and the flu in one hit.

  10. garlic- lowers blood lipids

  11. I have a question? Hoping one of you might know the answer. Several years ago I had a major shoulder operation and with the pain medications I was on along with anti inflammatories I became very constipated. Nothing over the counter worked. My ex-mother in law gave me a hot tea. For the life of me I cannot remember what kind of tea it was. After drinking one cup of it and 30 minutes later I was no longer constipated. If anyone knows I would appreciate knowing myself once again. Because it really does work.

    • More than likely it was Senna tea and can. be purchasedat anyhealth food store or. on amazon

    • When I was pregnant I read that raspberry leaf tea was an overall tonic for women and it also helped constipation. I try to buy it by itself and take it first thing in the morning on an empty stomach for best effect. It is a good replacement for the effect of coffee taken this way. Otherwise it is an ingredient in some of the Celestial Seasoning Teas.

  12. Hi everyone! Something I discovered a few years ago was the benefits of Sage tea as a sunburn preventive lotion. All you need to prepare is use fresh sage leaves (4-6) depending on their size and boil them in a small 1/2 liter water solution (tap water can be fine, but I’d suggest mineral, distilled or filtered water for best results). Once cooled. apply the solution to exposed body parts before coming into contact with the sun. Amazingly, the skin’s natural defense system against solar rays are enormously enhanced. Try it and I’d be interested in knowing people’s experiences with it.

  13. Not all the herbs mentioned here are native to the Americas. Also any authoritative article on herbal medicine must include the scientific name so as to avoid confusion and suspicion. I believe that among the native americans there were occasional psychics that could communicate with the plants. The plants do have a surprising intelligence and awareness of their surroundings and qualities.

  14. i would like to suggest to readers that a soup made out of coriander will eliminate heavy metals out of your body by 100% daily after eating the soup. this is natural and excellent for your heart and nerves.

  15. Too bad they didn’t have a cure for smallpox!

    • when General Amherst introduced smallpox blankets to the Indians at Pittsburgh there wasn’t time for them to know how to deal with lf.

    • when General Amherst introduced smallpox blankets to the Indians at Pittsburgh there wasn’t time for them to know how to deal with it

  16. Good article, what a wise and humble culture the american indians are. Thnx a bunch.

  17. Eucalyptus is not an American plant! It’s Australian and it is now listed as an invasive species in America so I would delete that from the list. I do not think roses are an American plant when it was an English species to start out with.

  18. Great article – these plants have been used worldwide for centuries… and many of these plants could have a book written about it on all it’s abilities as medicine and food.

    One comment above from Stephen is correct – not all the plants mentioned in this article were native and First Nations people learned about some of these from Europeans. Ie… goldenrod is not native to North America.

  19. You forgot Cedar and Red Willow

  20. Re: sage. Does this refer to the culinary herb sage or to the wild sagebrush? They are different species so one would need to know which to use.

    Also I wonder how native Americans had access to ginger root. I thought it was an Asian plant.

    • There is a wild ginger plant (Aristolochiaceae) that grows in the US, although it is completely unrelated to Asian ginger. There are other plants similar though, that serve the same purpose. It’s said in our culture, that each plant and animal that Creator put on this Earth, serves a purpose for the 2 leggeds. It’s just knowing which one, and what it does, how to harvest and how to use it, to make it’s purpose worthwhile. Sage, most of our ancestors used white sage. It’s a different species of the same family of plants (salvia). Common sage is the one used for culinary purposes and can be used for medicinal needs also. White sage is salvia apiana, used in ceremonial purposes as well as medicinal purposes by the ancestors. Sagebrush isn’t even of the salvia genus…it’s artemesia. It’s no where near the same thing. Our ancestors knew that the bark and inner wood of many trees contained medicinal properties, like slippery elm, dogwood, walnut, hibiscus and others. We knew that some flowers were poisonous, and knew the differences between the two (like Queen Anne’s Lace and hemlock). They knew whether to use the leaves, roots, or flowers in their medicine making, knew which time of the year to collect the plants or the roots so that the “medicine” was at it’s strongest. And, they knew what combinations of herbs enhanced the other’s effect. As was stated earlier, at least a couple of plants on your list are erroneous as they are not plants indigenous to the North American continent. It’s not to say that the Europeans didn’t bring them over with them and that the American Indians didn’t use them, but they weren’t in use until most likely the late 18th or into the 19th centuries. Other than that, the article was good. Thanks for posting.

  21. How do you prepare all these?

  22. “I’ve also found a great deal of redundancy. It seems like everything is good for a cough or diarrhea. Rather than endlessly list plants that cure the same conditions over and over, I’ve tried to isolate this grouping to the most prevalent plants that you may find and recognize. As always, if you are pregnant, check with your doctor and do plenty of research before using any of these.”

    These symptoms have different causes: therefore the redundancy is likely more approaches to a similar problem. If you simply look at the end result, you miss the big picture. Will you please post your sources?

  23. i am n8ive. and i knows medicin. weed is num 1

  24. I am trying to write a book set in 1870’s Wyoming. In one chapter I have a man shot and after they get the bullet out he developed infection with fever. With Native American remedies, what would be a good thing to use? Thanks in advance.

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