It's time to step back and remember the roots of some of our most beloved herbal remedies. September 23rd celebrates Native Americans and while it's a very small gesture for the original ancestors of this land, it's a great opportunity to talk about their massive contribution to the health industry.
You may not be surprised to learn many of the most-loved herbs used today have been in use for thousands of years since they were applied by tribes of the Americans for healing. We have a lot to thank our ancestors for, including:
Saw Palmetto - Used by the Seminoles and other tribes in the Florida region, these berries were made into a drink and used as a tonic. Traditionally it was used for infertility, increased lactation, decrease painful menstrual cycles and reduce large prostates. It's still taken today for prostate health but it's also become a great supplement for hair loss as well. Skullcap - The calming effects of skullcap were used by native tribes as a gentle sedative when brewed in a tea or tonic. They also used it as a rabies treatment and it helped promote menstruation for the transition into womanhood. Today it's still a great way to combat nervousness and anxiety. You can often find it in the ingredient list of many sleep supplements as well. Slippery Elm - Tribes were the first to discover the antiseptic quality of this substance. Made from the "slippery" insides of elm tree bark, it was applied to sores and toothaches or it was swallowed to treat urinary infections. It has FDA approval for nonprescription use and is still popular for things like diaper rash, sore throats and ulcers. Agave - The Southwestern tribes of America along with the Aztec were the first to use the agave plant as an antibiotic for cuts, sunburns and rashes. Of course the agave plant is still well loved today. Aloe vera is still used topically for skin conditions and orally for the laxative effects. Tequila is made from the blue agave plant and I'm sure it has it's own share of stories. Echinacea - The Great Plains Tribes, such as the Sioux, used echinacea to treat viral infections including blood poisoning and the flu. It was another popular rabies treatment. It's still a popular natural cold remedy that is widely used throughout Europe as a regular cold treatment. Peppermint - Not just a great flavor, peppermint was discovered by Native Americans to have many uses. They treated pain, indigestion and an array of other illnesses with this herb. Some brewed it in tonics while others like the Easter Woodland tribes boiled it and inhaled the steam to treat head colds. Today we still use it for aromatherapy, in teas to stimulate digestion and similar uses that mirror the past. Witch Hazel - Used by several tribes in it's wide growing area, witch hazel treated skin conditions like ulcers, sores, and tumors. It was also brewed to treat coughs and colds and dysentery along with other ailments. Today it's still used to sooth skin irritations, bruises and abrasions. Goldenseal - If crushed, this herb was an insect repellent for the Cherokee. Goldenseal could also be brewed as a diuretic or stimulant and helped wash out eyes, often irritated by smoke or allergies. Today it's a well-loved remedy to treat the cold and respiratory problems. Others take it for digestion issues.
This is only a few of the herbs that were developed by the tribes of the land centuries ago that we still use today.
When I say "Native Americans", I'm speaking of the combined health practices of over 500 unique nations. Because many traditions were passed on orally, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what tribe contributed what and with over 500 of them, it would be a very long blog indeed.
Whether we have native blood in our veins or can trace our history to other native lands, we owe the original civilizations here for the trade of herbs and knowledge of herbal medicine. Some of these treatments haven't changed at all. Many were passed onto European settlers, taken back home or to other parts of the world and developed into the remedies we love today.
Not only did the Iroquois influence the US Constitution but their health was advanced beyond the current state of European healthcare at the time. Tribes performed complicated surgery and crafted precise tools for the task but their real claim to fame is their development of anesthetics. By numbing the pain during surgery with peyote and "Jamestown Weed", patients were more susceptible to procedures and handled the recovery much better.
Yes, we have the Inca, Aztec and Virginia tribes to thank for pain killers. Without them, we might still be punching surgery patients in the jaw or pumping them full of alcohol to knock them out. (That actually happened
. Page 13.)
Not only that but because of their understanding of the human body and herbal medicine, First Nation people should hold credit for many synthetic drugs that came from the investigation behind their techniques.
If you have the time, take a look at any of the source material for this article to learn more about the contributions the many nations had to our current way of life. If you know of any remedies inspired by or taken from real Native American tradition, tell us about it on our Facebook
! Check back next week for more interesting facts about living healthy.