Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Native American Medicine

      Medical ailments, general sickness and ultimately death cannot escape any of us.Within human populations, the medicine used to treat medical conditions historically
Herbs at Sundance Natural Food

came from plants and was steeped in deep traditions. The Native Americans used native plants and ceremonies to treat whatever ailed them. This was a holistic and natural way totreat the many conditions they faced.  These practices remain valid today, such as the use of herbalism.
Native American Bertha Blondin says, “if you believe it is true, if it appears to be true then it is true”; and that “healing is an everyday job you have to do, it’s not only for 1 min, 2 min, or 5 hours, its not like that. It has to do with a 24 hour job.  It’s what we call the holistic healing.” Holistic healing is using body, mind, and emotions and combining them with your spirit, since “we can never heal without our spirit.” Back then what nature provided was all there was. Native Americans experimented for centuries with trial and error and “knew what would keep them from getting sick, what potions would ease the pain […], what would heal the wounds of arrows and gun shots […].” They used what was found near them to heal and also traded with other tribes to get medicinal plants found farther away.
Indian Tribes and Bands of Historical Western North America

Western United States Native American Medicinal Plants

  • Balsam fir (Abies lasiocarpa) was used to treat colds by making a tea with the needles and resinous blisters found on the trunk. It was used in the Owyhee, Nevada and Montana areas.
Blue Gilia
  • Blue Gilia (Gilia spp.) was made into a tea. The tea was made from the whole plant totreat children's colds. It was milder than other plant species, which made it good for children. It was found in Austin and Ely, Nevada.
  • Coral root (Corallorhiza maculata). The whole plant was dried and made into tea to treat colds.  It was thought to have supernatural origin. The plant was found at Owyhee and Pyramid Lake, Nevada.
  •  Alumroot (Heuchera glabella). The root was steeped for an eye-wash the leaves were also used to make teas for other ailments. The Blackfoot Indians used it. 
  • Acacia was used for the treatment of eye inflammation, due to “dusts, vaqueros or
    Indian Balsam
    travelers” often carried the seeds and put four in each eye before bed.
  • Indian Balsam (Leptotaenia multifida) had many uses. After the seeds became ripe the roots were dug up. They would cut the roots into small chips and string on a line to dry in the shade. The roots smelled like celery and looked like small carrots. After dry a tea was made from the chips and the ill person was supposed to
    Indian Balsam Root
    stay in bed and drink only this tea as their liquid for a week. It was considered a Big Medicine in the Inter-Mountain area and in the Pacific Northwest, meaning it was used to treat many ailments and was very important. Tribes in Warm Springs, Oregon and all throughout the Inter-Mountain and Pacific Northwest used it.

  • Mountain balm, snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus). A tea was made from the leaves for “puzzling illnesses.” It was said that they would breath out a fresh odor after drinking it. Used primarily by Warm Spring Native Americans. 
Wild Cucumber
  • Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis spp.). The seeds were roasted and eaten to treat kidney problems. This was especially troublesome in desert areas where water was scarce and impure. It was widely used by California Native Americans.
  • Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa). The whole plant was used to induce urine. The Moapa Paiutes used it. 
  • Bud Sage (Artemisia spinescens). The whole plant was cooked and the juices were used as the medicine to treat bladder issues, common in desert areas where water was scarce and impure. The Fort MacDermitt Paiutes used it.
  • Sweet Anise (Osmorrhiza occidentalis). The root was made into a tea and leaves were chewed for physic. Leaves were also boiled and placed on the skin for small pox. Shoshone Indians used it.
  • Oregon Grape (Berberis repens). The root was collected, peeled, dried, and steeped, to check for dysentery and rectal hemorrhaging. Used by the Shoshone, Paiute, Warm Spring and Blackfeet Indians.
Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape Root

  • Elderberry (Sambucus glauca). The root was boiled till soft and applied to inflammation. The Shoshone and Paiute Indians used it.
  • Bulrush or Joint Grass was used for blood poisoning; the stems were smashed and applied to the skin. The Chippewas used it.
  • Plantain (Plantago major) was used to treat battle bruises and wounds. A tea was made and they covered the body in the whole plant. The Shoshones used it.
  • Juniper (Juniperus spp.) was used for rheumatism. They burned a fire down to coals and placed green Juniper boughs over it and then the person laid on these. They also drank tea from the leaves. Used by the Paiute, Shoshone and Washo Indians.
  • Juniper, Antelope brush or Parosela were used for small pox. It was burned on a stove as a disinfectant and for cleaning. It was also used to make a tea. Tribes all over the Inter-Mountain and Pacific Northwest used it.
  • False Hellebore (Veratrum Californica) was used as a birth control. They use the fresh root in tea daily for birth control or for sterility they made a tea for life made from dried root. Sho and Washoe Indians used it.

            Native Americans utilized what they could gather from the land to heal and cure sickness. Today we synthesize the main ingredient(s) rather than take them directly from plants. Some believe this synthesis, which is generally only of the main ingredient, diminishes the medicinal impact and increases side effects because all the other parts of the plant are taken out. Using the whole plant or whole parts of the plant may cause the main ingredients to have a stronger or different effect, thought to be due to the interaction of the different chemicals and compounds in the plant. This may cause it to work better, worse or different in curing a sickness or healing, than the synthesis of just the main ingredient.
Western vs Traditional Medicine
            In our society today we forget that many of our medicines originally came from the earth, and that without them, and thus the earth, we could cease to exist. The Native Americans were in tune with this and were conscious of their impacts on the land. They were arguably healthier than we are today as a society, especially with all our processed foods, genetically modified plants, chemical preservatives and coloring and the range of undesirable chemicals absorbed from the air affecting our food sources, and water. This lack of consciousness and healthy lifestyle contributes to many of the disease, sickness and cancers we encounter. When the Indians owned the land they did not have factories producing pollution, impacting their food and water.
            Our use of antibacterial wipes and soap are also thought to contribute to our illnesses. Our society is terrified of the natural world and the bacteria it holds. We believe we must be clean all the time. This actually causes us to be more susceptible to disease because exposure to bacteria helps us to gain a strong immunity against it. The antibacterial solutions are thought to cause bacteria to mutate into various diseases as they become more resistant to antibacterial products, again increasing our susceptibility to stronger disease and sickness. Many of our advances in medicine have been beneficial in curing various illnesses and disease from the past and present. Although western medicine has saved many peoples lives we can't forget about natural medicine. It too can aid in healing and curing disease. Natural medicine is what Native Americans and herbalists today recommend.

Blondin, B. (n.d.). Native American Healing In The 21st Century - richheape.com - YouTube. YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved May 13, 2012, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEGMzXq6W4A&NR=1&feature=fvwp

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