Ancient remedies can be used to cure common ailments even today, here are some to keep handy for everything from a cold to irritated skin.
Colds and Flu
Hot peppers will help you breathe easier. Slippery elm bark and honey prepared as a tea is good for coughs and sore throat. Garlic in many forms is a major player. Ancient people did not have chicken soup at the ready, perhaps wild turkey, but they have it now and it contains high amounts of niacin and iron. The roots of snakeroot are revered west of the Rockies for their relief of colds and coughs.
Perhaps the best remedy for colds and flu is vitamin C. It is in so many foods, rose hips for example, but with various percentages. Cranberries have many medicinal qualities, which use this high vitamin C carrier.
Juniper berries as a tonic to disinfect the urinary tract was used with great care. Today, cranberry juice is used and recommended for kidney issues as well. Watercress is a good food for urinary problems and also helps indigestion. Dandelion root is another helpful plant for many complaints here. Asparagus, a newcomer to Native pharmacopeia is also finding its place as a blood purifier.
Lungs & Respiratory
Mullein leaves have many medicinal uses, yet one of the major ones is smoking the dried leaves. This was done to help with lung problems. The leaves were also steeped in boiled water and then the steam inhaled for sore throat or asthma.
These remedies needed to be close by, and many were. Bullet wounds were said to be treated with blue cornmeal mush and chia seeds in the Southwest. Wounds need to be treated quickly, kept very clean and the dressing changed frequently. A short list of helpful herbs is creosote (steeped in boiling water), elderbark (used as a poultice), the powdered leaves of goldenrod, mugwort (as a poultice), plaintain (as a poultice using the whole plant) or as a tea, tobacco, sumac and yarrow. Yarrow is used best as a local numbing anesthetic. The fernlike leaves are chewed for toothache relief.
Yerba mansa, a plant that grows in the marshes with hollow red stems and flower heads with tails and a spicy odor, is a multi-purpose medicinal herb. The boiled leaves go into a bath for muscle aches or aching feet. Taken internally it was prepared in a drink as a tea for stomachache for adults, a milder version for colicky babies.
For pain in general, there is either heat therapy or cold therapy, and alternating the two for some injuries is often recommended. Herb treated warm water soaks are also good to promote healing. A liniment made from yarrow is a good thing for muscle aches.
The best thing is WATER, lots of it, like 8-10 glasses everyday. Things like Jerusalem artichoke, butternut bark, chickory, and green leafy vegetables and fresh fruit can also help.
Black cohosh is used for relief during menstrual pain and childbirth as well. Chamomile is very helpful here, raspberry and strawberry leaf teas as well. Cinnamon, ginger, and papaya are helpful in various forms as well.
Listen to cravings, our ancestors did. If you crave nuts, you might need more B vitamins or fat, or even salt. Certain fruits indicate the need for potassium. A good vitamin reference book can help you determine what food or supplement can ease your symptoms.
Arnica has wonderful healing qualities. Aloe Vera is good for burns and scrapes. For skin irritations birch and sap, burdock, red sumac and tobacco leaf poultices were used.
There is a tea, or drink remedy for just about everything and anything that ails you. Growing up, my mother and grandmother had herbal stashes of juniper berries, yarrow, raspberry leaves for “ladies” issues among other things for wellness. Others they gathered and kept were rose hips, chamomile, sassafras, various mints, comfrey and more.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.