Rediscover Native American Herbs


native american herbs

From the very first time the Native peoples of America met travelers from Europe, natural herbal remedies from the Western Hemisphere have embarked on their own travels — into the lives of people on every continent. One of the first exchanges occurred when the Powhattan tribe taught Europeans how to grow corn using natural fertilizers.  Soon these settlers were discovering how Native Americans protected themselves with herbs against deadly afflictions and infections that might otherwise have mandated drastic medical treatments like amputations.  Native health practitioners could even cure snakebites and deep wounds with carefully selected plants, barks and herbal mixtures.

Their general philosophy evinced great respect for their homeland and allowed them to commune with their natural surroundings instead of trying to subdue the natural forces that influenced their lives. Fortunately, despite the bloody history of the “New” World during the past 500 years, Native American knowledge and practice of natural medicine has survived and today provides a pathway to healing that promises to improved health for everyone.

Kiowa Indians

The Kiowa Indians, originally a nomadic tribe that inhabited the Black Hills of South Dakota, enjoy a rich and varied tradition. A proud people that cling to tradition, the Kiowas employ many exciting dances and medicinal practices. Included among these practices are specialized forms of aromatherapy, acupressure, herbal cleansing, sweats for purification and other healing methods that promote not only the physical well-being of the individual but also boost spiritual well-being.

For instance, a typical visit to a medicine man may include the burning of cedar chips, careful questioning of recent behaviors, herbal teas and mixtures and even recommendations (a kind of prescription) for the future.

Cleansing Herbs and Botanicals

As a general rule, Native American herbs cooperate with the body’s own systems, helping the body help itself become well.   One example of the practice of this philosophy is the use of quit chem boo (keet-chem-boo), or licorice root, to sooth a sore throat.  Most synthetic throat syrup medicines contain sugar and alcohol and dull the pain by numbing the throat.  Licorice root eases discomfort without causing side effects such as nausea or sleepiness. (note: Licorice root is also 50x sweeter than sugar and tastes better!)

licorice root

Nettle is a powerful herb often able to heal toothaches.  The nettle plant doesn’t merely numb the pain, but clears the infection.  This herb, known to the Kiowas as say-goo-mo-goo-boo provides Native Americans with a tool for treating a variety of other complaints including obesity, lack of hair and kidney imbalances.

stinging nettle plant



Native Herb                        Common Name                 Uses


Ba ti pi                                 Wild peony                         Dried form treats colds

Wan go be                          Balsom fir                           Chest congestion

To ya bawanna                  Horsemint                          Stuffed nose or cold

Quit chem boo                  Licorice root                      Sore throat

A sat chiot sake                 Rattle weed                       Kills sore throat infection

Apos ipico                          Alum root                           Eye problems

So yaits                               Pink Plums                          Eye infections

Pah oh pimb                       Acacia                                 Eye problems

Sebu mo goon bu             Turtle back                         Eye irritation

Sam mapo                          juniper berries                   Kidneys, birth control

Ku be                                   Sage                                    Bladder problems

American Indian Medicine

American Indian medicine practitioners employed plants, barks and roots to heal.  Since these herbs prevent disease while promoting a balanced wellness, they rarely cause adverse physical reactions.   Taken as teas, applied as topical ointments or inhaled, natural herbs formed an integral part of purification ceremonies.  Aged cedar chips are a traditional element of healing still being used today to effect cleansing and well-being.

While it may seem hard to believe, approximately 3 1/2 million herbs grow around the world.  Although many people reach for a pill to take care of a headache or a sore throat, or often take antibiotics, herbs would be much more effective, less expensive and without side effects.  The Native American philosophy is simple: use what God has given in the best way for the best results. Don’t limit healing to those who can afford to pay for it.   God gave us herbs to use.  Use these plants and be thankful for them.

Herbal Guidance

To most effectively tap the healing power of herbs:

  • Never combine herbs, barks or roots with prescription medication, as they can be incompatible (herbs can either inhibit or potentiate the prescription drugs). Consult an herbally aware physician (in other words, actually trained in herbal medicines) or another knowledgeable health practitioner if you take prescription medication.  A professional should, at the very least, advise you to wait at least 1-2 hours between the taking of any herb and the ingestion of a prescription medicine or an over-the-counter remedy to avoid any interaction.
  • If you experience any side effects or ill feelings after taking an herb, discontinue using the herb and consult a professional herbalist.
  • Educate yourself about any herb before you ingest it by talking to professionally trained and certified herbalists.

Be patient when you take herbs.  Herbs work in an entirely different, as they express their preventative/healing properties in more subtle ways; they work in a gradual and slower manner than western medicines, which brings about better healing.


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