Holistic medicine

Native American medicine - medicinal plants and medicine

The Indian, who says wise words about Mother Earth with a howling wolf in front of the full moon, has turned into a cliché. But every cliché has a real core: understanding animals and plants was one of the most valuable skills that a first American could develop. Indian medicine is a natural medicine of experience that has been handed down from generation to generation.

“The white man's books are not enough for me. The Great Spirit gave me the opportunity to study nature, the forests and rivers, the mountains and the wildlife at the university. ” (Tatanga Mani)

North American cultures did not know an abstract hereafter that was confronted by a here and now: death meant another dimension of life in which the cycle of life and decay continued. In doing so, they understood animals and plants not as things but, like humans, as part of the secret of life. Long despised in the West, spiritual practices of Indian teachers have gone into psychotherapy.

A romantic picture of the shaman, who is in contact with spiritual powers, haunts the esoteric scene and obscures that the American Natives believed in supernatural beings, but also had a comprehensive knowledge of medicinal plants and minerals.

Holistic thinking

Traditional cultures of North America saw diseases in a cosmic context that included all life as well as metals, stones and elements. Healing meant balancing the patient with these forces.

The Natives believed that the spirits only supported healing if the rituals were right. A wrong move ruined the whole process. Indian medicine men deliberately put themselves into a state of higher awareness in order to establish a connection to metaphysical beings.

The European conquerors outlawed the medicine men as charlatans and madmen, the Christians saw the devil at work in the rituals; the missionaries fought the shamans as direct competition.

While the immigrants scourged the shaman's work as superstition, they used their medicine wherever they could. Around 1800 there were over 200 Indian medicinal plants in the pharmacies of the whites and many Euro-American doctors described themselves as "Indian Doctors".

Medicine men

In addition to chiefs, medicine men were the most important people in the tribe. There were bear, snake, bison, wolf, and otter medicine men who specialized in various diseases.

According to a theory, the word bullhorns the term Mededwiwin from Chippewa for the specialists. These medicine men healed illnesses, but they could also cause them and mediate between the natural and the supernatural, preserve the tradition as Indian historians, call the weather, initiate hunting luck with rituals, drive evil spirits out of the bodies of sick people, and bring in the spirit world lost souls and made people mentally healthy.

Medicinal plants

Shamanic rituals interact with philosophy and psychotherapy, but healing was also based on extensive knowledge of hundreds of medicinal plants.

Modern medicine today recognizes more than 600 Indian medicinal plants and uses their own substances. These include everyday plants such as dandelions as well as witch hazel, which stops small bleeding and is used in pharmacies as an itch remedy in ointments.

In 1536, Indians rescued French pioneers in the St. Lawrence River who suffered from a lack of vitamins. Every fourth seafarer had already died of scurvy, the locals provided the survivors with wild berries and saved their lives with the vitamins they contained.

Indigenous people used the bark of the fennel tree against colic and flatulence, its leaves and berries helped against rheumatic diseases, as a wound plaster and the root marrow as a narcotic.

Natives took mold from trees and painted them on wounds, thereby anticipating penicillin.

They used the yam as a contraceptive. Yams contains progesterone, a major component of the contraceptive pill.

The Indian water east is found today in Contramutan, a remedy for flu infections, inflammation in the nose and throat. The natives used it to promote the flow of sweat and took the leaves and branches against fever.

American Natives brewed a tea from bear grapes to promote urine flow, speed up and control contractions. They mixed this tea with wood ash. This makes the urine alkaline.

They pounded a porridge out of the comfrey root and put it on wounds. They treated broken bones as well as sprains, bruises, swelling and gout. They drank tea from the roots against coughs, colds and hemorrhoids. Infusions from the leaves were used against diseases of the bile, against inflammation of the skin and stomach problems, and also against infections in the kidney pelvis.

Californian gold poppy, also known as golden poppy, is common from Mexico to the state of Washington. The Natives used its taproot as a means of falling asleep and the fresh juice as a light narcotic.

They placed birch wood on hot stones and inhaled the smoke. This helped against respiratory diseases and bronchitis. They smoked tents and houses with birch wood to clean them, accompanied by disinfection and spiritual cleansing. Boiled birch bark placed them on swellings and used them to treat cuts.

They drank a tea made from birch leaves to promote urine flow.

Willow bark played a role in the prairies and forests to lower fever and relieve pain. The Cheyenne prepare tea with her. Today, aspirin is one of the most important medications, and acetylsalicylic acid is found in the bark.

Natives knew the laxative Mayapell, the pinkroot for worm infestation, the dogwood for fever, the virgin snake root to promote perspiration, the squaw root to relieve cramps and to induce menstruation.

The Kiowa used soapwort to wash out dandruff, the Lakota used the smelly cabbage to alleviate asthma, the comants used deadly cherries for tuberculosis, the Pawnee Indian beets for headaches, the Seneca a "rattlesnake root", which was later successful in inflammation of the pleura.


We know this flowering plant in three types as narrow-leaved, purple and pale coneflower. The Midwest American Natives from Illinois to Iowa and Missouri to Texas put this mush on burns, cuts, swollen lymph glands, and mumps. They chewed the roots and so relieved pain - especially a sore throat. The coneflower also served as a remedy for snake bites.

The medical doctor H.C.F. Meyer heard about Indian medicine. He lived in Nebraska, where the coneflower naturally grows, and tried it against migraines, rheumatism, syphilis and hemorrhoids. The plants have been spreading in Germany since the 1930s.

A tea made from slices of the root relieves pain and has an antiseptic effect.

The black cohosh

The grape silver candle is also called rattlesnake, consumptive root, bug herb or snake root, which already indicates its healing properties.

It grows in the eastern United States from Ontario in Canada through New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Carolina and Tennessee to Illinois and Missouri.

The natives cut the roots and slices and dried them. They harvested the plant before sunrise. Then she should alleviate birth pains as well as problems with menstruation.

They also used the silver candle against rheumatism, arthritis, asthma and snake bites. Then they harvested at noon. They mixed the juice of the fresh roots with maple syrup against cough and liver and kidney problems.

European immigrants learned about the power of the plant from the indigenous people and also used it to facilitate menstruation and childbirth. In the 19th century, the plant also established itself among Anglo-American doctors. They now used them against inflammation and treated rheumatism with silver candle.

As more and more American Natives suffered alcohol poisoning, Indian healers treated the sick with powder from the roots.

Grape silver cherry works in a similar way to the hormone estrogen. Therefore, it helps if the female genital organs are damaged. However, a 2012 Cochrane Society study is skeptical of the positive effects on menstruation.

Why the natives used them for liver diseases is a mystery. The side effects of drugs with the substance Cimicifuga derived from the plant include severe liver damage that corresponds to endogenous hepatitis.

The natives used American ginseng, which promotes blood circulation, lowers blood sugar levels and delays vitamin C breakdown; they knew the diuretic effects of dandelions and brewed tea made from corn leaves against indigestion and diarrhea. The tea also lowers blood pressure and helps against kidney problems.


Yucca grows in the dry southwestern United States and Mexico. The local natives such as Apatschen, Navajos, Zuni, Hopi, Pueblo, or Yaqui placed them on rashes, treated wounds with the root as well as inflamed joints. They also made a soap from the roots, because the plant contains a lot of saponin, a soapy substance.

White sage

Salvia apiana, the white sage reaches a height of one meter and grows as subshrubs in California, Nevada, the Sonoran and Mojave deserts. He loves full sun exposure and waterlogging harms him.

For the cultures of the Southwest, the sage was a sacred plant. They lit bundles of sage on one end, extinguished the flame and made the embers glow. They also threw the leaves into an open fire and inhaled the smoke.

Sage is an essential element of the sweat lodge ritual. It is supposed to drive out harmful spirit beings and purify them internally and spiritually.

The natives cleaned the house and tent with sage, and when they moved in, the first thing they burned was the plant, sometimes only symbolically at the entrance opening.

Sage actually has a disinfectant effect, the smoke cleanses the skin down to the pores and acts against sweat flow.


American natives used all types of goldenrod found in North America. The Ojibwa called it solar medicine and used it to treat colds, snake bites and toothache. The goldenrod essential oils drive urine and relieve cramps; the plant also inhibits infections.

Golden balm

The gold balm is also called Indian nettle in German. It loves sun as well as moist soil and grows one meter high. It tastes like lemon balm and bergamot; the natives boiled the leaves into a tea that loosened mucus and promoted digestion.

Vanilla grass

This grass grows in North America, Asia and Europe, mostly in humid regions. It loves poor soil. The indigenous people cut and dried it, burned it with sage to purify themselves and used it for the sweat lodge.

The strong smell of coumarin is reminiscent of a mixture of woodruff and vanilla. It helps against colds.

Traditional Indian medicine today

"Indian medicine" did not go under, although the American colonial power for a long time prohibited shamans from pursuing their profession. In particular, the Navajos not only have a sophisticated traditional healing system, they have also developed it further with modern methods and knowledge of "western" science: Shamanism can now be completed as a subject at the Navajo University; modules in psychology and anthropology are just as much part of the content as the philosophy and mythology of the people.

Medicine men of the natives are no longer just “superstitious” in the established scientific world. The suggestive healing methods, trance and ecstasy rather enable the sensual experience of the patient, their unconscious, their intuitive thinking and their feelings to be involved in the healing process and are therefore a useful psychotherapy. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dr. phil. Utz Anhalt, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch


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