Native Americans and herbal medicine

Native Americans have always relied on healing plants. Before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans were almost disease free. They mainly used herbal remedies for things like rashes, wounds, and snake bites. They also used herbs to treat arthritis, frostbite, broken bones, and other injuries. Today, medicinal herbs are still a big part of Native American culture.

Chief Harry Dakota and other Native Americans gather in Blairsville, Georgia
Chief Harry Dakota and ceremonial dances - Photo by Janice Boling

Native Americans were practically disease free until the Europeans arrived. They used herbal medicine for broken bones, frostbite, rashes, wounds, snake bites, and other problems.

Native Americans and the use of herbs for disease, injury, and sickness.

Native American "medicine men" have a good knowledge of the human body. They understand the antiseptic value of certain plant juices, are skilled at pulling teeth, and use complex pain relievers. It is well documented that even hundreds of years ago, Native Americans could tie off arteries to prevent blood loss, practiced advanced personal hygiene, and used sophisticated childbirth techniques.

Healers passed on knowledge of herbal medicine.

Healers were once available in most villages -- plus every member of the tribe knew about the use of herbs and where to find them. Herbal practices were not kept secret. Most families gathered and stored their own herbs for use when needed.

A spiritual relationship with medicinal herbs

In today’s Native American communities, many people still have a spiritual relationship with herbs. It is believed that health is a gift and comes from good living. They do not have a sharp division between medicine and religion. Most Native Americans understand that everything depends on everything else. Many Native Americans believe that everything flows together in a giant circle supported and connected by the spirit world.

Centuries ago, Native American healers were powerful figures.

Native American medicine men cured the sick, studied the weather, looked into the future, and dealt with evil spirits. Native American healers used herbs along with elaborate ceremonies to treat specific problems such as drought, sickness, and other maladies.

Many Native American herbal remedies are blends of different ingredients.

Many Native American remedies are complex blends and recipes that have been handed down from generation to generation.

Chief Two Moons is a famous healer.

Chief Two Moons was one of the most famous Native American healers of all time. In the fall of 1930, Chief Two Moon and his wife traveled to Europe where they had a private audience with Pope Pius XI. The Vatican newspaper called Chief Two Moon the Leader of the Indians, and Italian physicians saluted him for his cures, calling him the Great Medicine Man from America.

Chief Two Moon’s Stomach Tea recipe included senna, coriander seed, gentian root, juniper berry, centaury plant, calamus root, buckthorn bark, ginger, cascara sagrada, rose buds, lavender flowers, anise seed, and fennel seed.

During the last years of his life, Chief Two Moon spent much of his time in courtrooms. In the New York City Court, he was convicted of practicing medicine without a license.

Well known Native American herbal remedies

Well known Native American herbal remedies include skunk cabbage for treating nervous disorders, arnica for bruises, horsemint for back pain, thistle for burns, catnip for colic, wild cherry for coughs, white pine for colds, black raspberry for diarrhea, dandelion for spring tonic, willow bark for fever, witch hazel for swelling, honeysuckle for bee stings, and yellowroot for stomach disorders.

Native Americans have contributed a lot of knowledge to modern medicine including aspirin, syrup of ipecac, quinine, morphine, curare, cocaine, and hundreds of lesser known drugs.

SInce my ancestors are from Northeast Georgia, my grandparents used a lot of Cherokee remedies including mullein, yellowroot, and blackberry. I still find these to be valuable plants today. For in-depth info on Cherokee herbs visit

* Always consult with your healthcare provider before using any herbal remedy especially if pregnant, nursing, or taking other medicines.

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Herb Articles by Janice Boling

"The only way to really learn about herbal medicine is to touch and smell herbs, taste them, use them daily, and grow them if possible. Herbal medicine is a way of life. It is not a quick fix." ... , herbalist, web designer, writer, photographer

"Ointment and Perfume Rejoice the Heart." Proverbs 27:9

Every Green Herb is a place to learn about medicinal herbs and essential oils. Visit my online store to buy wild harvested yellowroot, mullein, bee balm, and other herbal products at Payne Mountain Farms.

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