Traditional Medicines

A Sampling of Herbal Medicines Used by Eastern Native Peoples
Sacred Medicine Ways – Part 11

A Teaching by Ghost Dancer

In many places today, Native peoples still practice living in harmony with nature and trust these ways before they will go for modern medical treatments because they actually work. So for those of us who do or want to walk this way, I put together this small list of medicinal plants and other practices. These ways should be preserved and kept for the people who need them and want them. 

Key to tribes: Cherokee (C), Muskogee (M), Iroquois (I)

When something is listed as Muskogee remember that this can be applied to all or most of the tribal nations of the Southeast, the Creek Confederacy and its allies. This would include tribes from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, South Carolina, parts of Tennessee, Arkansas, Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Medicines for Women

Slippery Elm – (C) Bark boiled in water (decoction) to treat prolonged labor, to soothe a pregnant woman’s stomach and bowels and assist in a dry birth.

Eastern & Carolina Hemlock – (C) Roots boiled in water (decoction) used to make afterbirth come out. Bark made into a poultice was used for any type of itching or a decoction applied externally to all types of skin problems.

Catnip – (C) A tea for female obstructions.

Gopher Apple – (M) Roots and leaves made into tea to relive labor pain and strengthen labor.

Cabbage Palmetto – (M) Used the seeds and berries for weight loss, fever and headaches.

Flowering Dogwood – (M, C, I) Used the bark to make into a tea for back aches and as a wash for pregnant woman’s belly to ease swelling pains.

Purple Angelica – (C) Root made into tea for difficult menses and fever.

American trout lily – (C) Leaves and stem (not root) eaten raw as a contraceptive.

Canada Wild Ginger – (C) A tea made from the whole plant used for painful menstruations or to help start menstruation. The tea was also used as a wash for swollen breasts.

Red or Silver Maple – (C, I)  A bark tea for cramps and female complaints.

White snakeroot – (M, C, I) Root made into a tea for prolapsed or irritated womb.

Rich Weed – (C) Leaves and flowers mashed together used as deodorant. A tea made from the whole plant for swollen breasts.

Royal Fern – (M, I) Whole plant made into a tea and a wash to reduce odors during menstruation.

Sassafras – (M, C) A bark tea to drink 4 times a day to lose weight and maintain drinking each day to keep weight off.

Fox grape, frost grape, summer grape – (C, M) pick leaves, let them begin to wilt, then lay on the woman’s breasts to draw out any soreness or pain. Also use the juice in the grape vines to make  a wash for the breasts to help let the milk down. 

White & Prairie willow – (M, C) Make the bark into a wash for the hair to help it grow long and strong. Use the whole plant to make a wash to help sore nipples.

Virginia tephrosia – (M, C) Decoction of the root made into a wash helps with irregular  menstrual cycles. Also roots pounded and boiled to make a wash used as a shampoo to prevent hair loss.

Hobble bush – (C, I) Roots used as a tea as a fertility aid.

Large-bracted plantain, narrow-leaf plantain, common-leaf plantain – (C, M) Make a tea of the whole plant to use as a douche. (May add the oil or juices from flowers or fruits for fragrance.)

Wand black root (Pteroculon virgatum) – (M) Use the whole plant to make a tea for menstrual cramps, pain and excessive bleeding after child birth or backaches during pregnancy.

Flameleaf sumac – (M, C) Make bark into tea to help breast milk to flow strongly.

Soaps and Shampoos – Take wood ashes, mix with a little grease, cook until it turns soupy. Add your fragrance  of choice using apple juice, plum juice, rose oil or mashed up petals, honeysuckle petals, blackberry, wild grapes, melons, or basically any good smelling scent or oil. All these were and still are used by traditional Native women.  They also used honey, syrup, walnut, hickory nut, corn oil, pecan, and morning glories. The difference between soap and shampoo is  how strong you make it. The stronger mixture is soap and a light mixture is your shampoos.

Perfumes and Lotions are made simple by taking sunflower oil or corn oil and adding these same fragrances.

Makeup is made by making a paste from oils and dried roots, berries or clays to get the desired color or look wanted.

In the old days we all used wet red clay and river bank clay to rub on our bodies. Women especially did this and let the sun dry it on to help draw any impurities from the body and tighten the skin to appear younger. Once the clay hardened and became powdery, the face and body were washed clean with water.

The clays also acted as a dye and helped shade the skin evenly. The term redskin came from this practice when the whites saw the people with all this red clay dye on our bodies.

Medicines for Men

Red cardinal (M) Take berries and root to make a decoction, use for weak stomach, constipation, urinary problems. Also take the inner bark and berries, boil in water and take cloth, dip in the water , rub this on your joints, arms, legs, and whole body for all aches, pain, numbness and stiffness .

Virginia tephrosia (M) Use the root to make an infusion wash for penis and drink the tea for males who have E.D., lack of interest, and for impotency.

Coastal plain willow (M) Take the plant to make infusion (tea ) and a wash, use for soreness in the body, stomach ache. Use the wash and tea both for menstrual sickness (this means close encounter with a female on her moon cycle), not because she is cursed but she is very powerful medicine at this time and her spirit could overpower his and mess him up.

Also use the root to make a tea to drink and a wash for all your clothes, weapons and body for hunting medicine. Note: there are many plants that are used for hunting and fishing medicine. I’m only listing this one and the next one below this as examples. It is important you notice that they not only washed their clothes , but their weapons and even drank the teas. This is so their sweat would release the odors of the teas.

American trout lily (C) Chew on root spit juice out on all fishing equipment including the hook, spears, baskets, nets, and then spit juice in the water where you will be fishing as a fishing medicine.

Appalachian mountain mint and hoary mountain mint (C) Make wash out of the whole plant to bathe inflamed or sore penis.

Live oak & willow oak (M) Take bark and soak in water to make a wash. Used for aches, pains, back, limbs, cuts, wounds, for all warriors and athletes.

Sassafras (M, C) Take bark to make into a tea. Drink (4) four times a day to lose weight and continue to drink to keep the weight off.   

Steam – There are numerous plants and roots (some considered poisonous) that can be used in steam to help limber the joints, help you have good wind and extra strength and agility. It may be surprising to learn the use of steam was a common practice in the old times to help warriors have endurance, and agility to do things that most people could not do.

Red bay (M) Play flute and sing over these leaves and name the girl that you love and she will come to you.

Canadian lousewort (M, C) Take root, chop it up good and then grind it up fine. Put this in food as an aphrodisiac.

Crinkle root (C) Chew this root if the love medicine you made is too strong. This will help dilute it in you.

Shell bark, sand & mockernut hickory (C) All of these work! Make a wash by steeping the bark.  Place wash on arms and legs to make them more flexible.

American ginseng (M) When your wife divorces you and kicks you out, take this plant and rub on your whole body and clothes. (Make sure you do this before you see her and you know you are fixing to see her) – that is if you want her to take you back.

Quinine (C) Make tea from plant for impotency.

Common St. John’s wort (C) Take roots make into a tea to drink to prevent being sterile.

Medicines for Babies and Children

American basswood (C, I) Use branches to make a wash for babies legs and feet. This is for baby who should be walking but is not for some unknown reason.

Canada goldenrod (I) Use the tubers to make a tea for when a baby is suddenly startled and wakes up from sleep for no reason.

Christmas fern, (C, I) wash made from the whole plant, applied to feet and back. This is for sore back, spinal problems or sore feet. Using the leaves and root, smash them up to make a wet poultice. Placing on top of baby’s head is to stop convulsion. Take root to make tea. Give to baby to drink to stop cramps.

Rattlesnake master (M) Take roots to make tea, give to babies for diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite and bird sickness.

American spikenard (M) Root, berries used to treat colic in children, make tea and add sweetener.

Pink sundew (M) Take the sticky glands of plant rub on ringworms.

Downy milk pea (M) a tea from roots mixed with mother’s milk to get baby to suckle. Also used in a tea for the babies, children for vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches, and loss of appetite.

Honey locust (M) make into a decoction, using the thorns, branches, and twigs, to make a wash and bathe baby or children to prevent them from getting smallpox.

Also using the pod only helps babies and children with many complaints.

Rabbit tobacco (M, C) decoction of leaves and blossoms boil in water, make it steam and use it to inhale the steam for lung troubles, congestions, nose clogged. You can also use the leaves and blossoms and make into a poultice for mumps.

American false pennyroyal (M, C) roots can be made into tea or chewed for a cough or cold. Chew leaves up for teething or toothache and hold juice in mouth. Take the leaves rub them together get the juices flowing and rub on body as an insect repellent.

Glazed myrtle (M) Chew leaves or smash them in your hands, then when the juices are flowing rub these leaves over the body to repel mosquitoes and gnats.

Southern red cedar (M) Take leaves and bark, boil in water, take towel or cloth  put  over head and hold over the boiling pot. Inhale the steam for coughs, runny nose, sore throat, stuffy head. Use leaves to make a wash, bathe the body for fever, chills, eye sickness.

Virginia tephrosia (C) Tea made from root to make children strong and muscular and stay healthy. (This  was one of Maw-Maw Jay Bird’s specialties for me.)

Medicines for Animals

A few of the wild plants used by the Muskogee, Cherokee and Iroquois people for their animals. In other parts of the country there are similar plants that do the same things. This sampling will give you some ideas, but there is a whole lot more you can research and learn on your own.

Virginia snakeroot (C) Used as an antiseptic. Make whole plant into a wash to put on the area needed.

Devil’s walking stick  (M, C) Tea made from root to use as an eye wash for sore, irritated or infected eyes for all your animals or birds. Apply with an eye dropper.

Common gypsy weed (C) Use whole plant to make some a wash and save some of plant to mix in with feed. Use the wash to wipe down a cow’s udders when she is drying up to stimulate milk production.

Spreading dogbane (C) Use whole plant and make a wash for your dogs with mange. Also small pieces of the root can be mixed with feed for horses and cows as a  worming medicine. (this is poisonous, use only small amount).

Canadian wild ginger (C) Make a decoction of whole plant, feed to horses for the heaves or a bad cough .

Fox sedge (C, I) Take root, chop up and feed to rooster as fighting medicine.

American spikenard (M, C) Roots and berries made into a tea or wash as an antiseptic.

Jack in the pulpit (C) Grind the plant up and mix with feed of a mare that is restless and to help induce pregnancy.

Black locust (M) Make a tea give to cows for a health drink .

Flowering dogwood (C) Make a decoction from root bark as an antiseptic.

Carolina horse nettle (C) Add the berries of this plant to grease, fry and mash them up, now rub this on dog with mange .

Common, four-leaf & aquatic milkweed (C) Take the bark scrape it up good, put it in dog’s food to deworm him.

Common prickly ash (M) Take bark to make a tea or wash, rub this on your dog’s nose to help him be better at smelling scents to hunt.

Virginia pepper weed (C) Make a tea from the plant and give it to any of your sick birds, chickens, turkeys, ducks, guineas, etc.  If your birds are healthy and you want to make them start laying eggs, mix this in with their feed.

Fox grape (C) Take root mash it up mix it with the feed to help horse with constipation.

Curly dock (C) Smash root up and mix with feed give to a horse that has belly ache.

White snakeroot (C) Give horse the plant to help stop him sweating .

Feather Solomon’s seal (C) Take root mix it up with your pig’s food to prevent them from getting pig cholera.

Sundial lupine (C) Mix plant in with feed of your horse to get his spirit lifted up and he will fatten up too.

American chestnut (C) Take bark scrape it up and put in your dog’s food this will deworm him.

Carolina redroot (M) Dry root out to make powder. Make a tea, give to your horse to drink as a health tonic.

Virginia water horehound (C) Take root of the plant mix it up with your pig’s feed and this will prevent them from getting cholera 

Spotted lady thumb (C) Take the whole plant and rub on your horse’s back to keep flies away.

Wild quinine (M) Burn the leaves of the plant. Rub the ashes on your horse’s back for soreness.

White & black ash (C) Use as a laxative for horses who ate too much green grasses. Make a decoction from the leaves and bark and mix with the horses feed.

Canadian lousewort (M, C) Rub in sheep’s or goat’s hair or wool to delice them. Also chop up root and feed to your horse to make him fatten up. Also put plant in dog’s bed to delice puppies, and rub on birds to get rid of their lice.

Rich weed (C) Used as a wash to bathe horse with colic.

Knot wood (C) Plant mixed with feed to get cow’s milk to flowing again.

Violet wood sorrel (C) Smash the bulbs up and feed them to your horse so it will run faster.

Partridge berry (C) Mash up berries and mix with food give to your pregnant cat. This will help her with getting her milk to flow. Also give to kittens when they are born to help them want to nurse, by rubbing on mama cat’s nipples and on kitten’s lips.

Cinnamon fern (C) Chop all up mix with pregnant cow’s feed to help her with a rough birth.

This listing of old-time medicinal plants and how they were used is just a little of what I have learned over a lifetime. So if you are interested in learning more about herbal medicines, please, I encourage you to research the many resources available today.

Published by E.P.Dixon

I am an elder and a seeker. Many years ago I was given the honorary name, Sings Many Songs by a lifelong friend and leader of Creek, Shawnee, Cherokee, Métis descent. The name was a gift to honor my interest and prayers for his people and my work to help him restore and keep alive the rightful place of the Creek Peoples in the history and cultural fabric of the Southeastern homeland. I’m an outsider by nature, always looking through cracks in the fences of life, just trying to make sense of the world. Being an outsider can be lonely sometimes, but oh, what treasures can be found in most unexpected places. The name “Sings” began to take on a its purest meaning as I reached out for understanding and came to know some remarkable Native warriors hidden in a world of their own. As a writer and editor of sorts, my goal with Journeys of the Spirit is to give voice to two who have so enriched my life and my journey. My hope is more and more people will come to know, love, and understand these two kind and generous Native elders through their own stories, art, wisdom, knowledge, humor and insights into worlds few of us can even imagine as we follow their personal “Journeys of the Spirit.” I may also have a few worthwhile things to say from time to time, and I might even invite some other writers to share stories about their spiritual journeys.

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