Manataka® American Indian Council

 

 

 

 

 

POTAWATOMI MEDICINES

By Huron H. Smith

 

POTAWATOMI CULTURE & RELIGION

INTRODUCTION

MEDICINAL PLANTS PART I
MEDICINAL PLANTS PART II
MEDICINAL PLANTS PART III

MEDICINAL AND FOOD PLANTS PART IV

VEGETABLE FIBERS

 

 

PART I - Introduction

 

 

POTAWATOMI ETHNOBOTANY

The writer will again follow the established custom in this series of bulletins on ethnobotany. All of the plants of the region were collected whether they were known by him to be used by the Forest Potawatomi or not and are included in this list. Subsequent investigators may find that they were really used. The listing of each plant will be by family and English name, followed by the Latin binomial according to Gray's Manual of Botany, then the Forest Potawatomi name and its literal translation, if this is known, and finally other facts about this plant.

 

Following this there will be the uses, the supposed properties, its value as an officinal or eclectic drug by the whites and any known myths connected with it. The same procedure  will be followed in the other subheads under investigation, viz.: foods, fibres, dyes and plants of miscellaneous uses.

 

PREPARATION OF VEGETAL MEDICINES

A majority of the Forest Potawatomi still believe in their medicine lodge and retain a considerable amount of their ancient, medicinal lore, knowing the plants used as remedies and the ceremonies and observances necessary in gathering each. Father Allouez32 describes the art of medicine in vogue in Wisconsin in 1665. "Their science consists in ascertaining the cause of the ailment and applying their remedies. They deem the most common cause of illness to come from failure to give a feast, after some successful fishing or hunting excursion; for then the sun which takes pleasure in feasts, is angry with the one who has been delinquent in his duty, and makes him ill. Besides this general cause of sickness, there are special ones, in the shape of certain little genii, malevolent in their nature, which thrust themselves of their own accord, or are sent by some enemy into the parts of the body that are most diseased. Thus, whenever anyone has an aching head, or arm, or stomach, they say that a Manitou has entered this part of the body and will not cease its torment until it has been drawn or driven out. The most common remedy, accordingly is to summon the juggler, who comes attended by some old men, with whom he holds a sort of consultation on the patient's ailment. After this, he falls upon the diseased part, applies his mouth to it, and by sucking, pretends to extract something from it, as a little stone, a bit of string, or something else, which he has concealed in his mouth beforehand and which he displays, saying, ‘There is the Manitou; now thou art cured, and it only remains to give a feast.’  

 

"The Devil, bent on tormenting those poor blinded creatures even in this world, has suggested to them another remedy, in which they place great confidence. It consists in grasping the patient under the arm, and making him walk barefoot over the live embers in the cabin, or if he is so ill that he cannot walk, he is carried by four or five persons and made to pass slowly over all the fires. A treatment which often enough results in this, that the greater suffering thereby produced cures or induces unconsciousness of the lesser pain they strive to cure. After all, the commonest remedy, as it is the most profitable for the physician, is the holding of a feast to the sun, which is done in the belief that this luminary, which takes pleasure in liberal actions, being appeased by a magnificent repast will regard the patient with favor and restore him to health." The writer has encountered this same fire testing in another tribe, but in this particular case it was to determine whether the patient had St. Vitus's dance. 

 

Usually the practice of medicine in mild cases of disease is carried on by near relatives in the home, but more difficult cases are taken to specialists in the use of medicinal plants, who are the recognized medicine men or medicine women. The Forest Potawatomi still use the necessary songs for the digging of the plant roots and observe all the ancient ceremonial forms in acquiring their medicinal materials. They consider that the plant roots are the hairs from the head of their grandmother, the earth. The ceremonial gathering of these medicines gives them their potency. Such gathering requires special songs, and also the placing of tobacco in the hole that is dug. This is a sacrifice to the culture hero, to grandmother Earth, and to the ruler of the universe, all of whom are asked to lend their strength to the medicine. After the roots, or whatever parts of the plants desired for medicine are collected, they are taken to the home and carefully washed, sun dried, and preserved for future use. Most of the medicine men have a special bowl and pestle, by means of which they grind the medicinal roots or other parts of the plant to a powder. They often immediately mix the various ingredients of the medicine together.  

 

Such a medicine is then tied up in a bit of calico and placed away for winter use. One might suppose that a great chance for error would arise in identifying these various mixtures, but the acute sense of smell or taste always indicates the particular remedy in hand. Doses usually consist of copious draughts of the infusion of the remedies. Rarely are small doses used. 

 

Some of these remedies are made as lukewarm infusions and others by boiling. Indian tea is the usual form of medication except for external applications. These may be salves or poultices. Poultices are used extensively. In some types of disease, they use injections of medicine, filling a bladder or fish sound with the medicine and tying at the neck a hollow goose bone. With this primitive syringe they force medication into the body. It is quite a common thing to find the various teas seasoned with an ingredient used merely to mask or disguise some unpleasant taste resident in the real remedy. Wild ginger is a common and universal seasoning agent.  

 

The Indian medicine man has his own method of diagnosis. He is usually a shrewd analyst of symptoms. In the same manner as the white doctor, he feels the pulse, looks at the tongue, at the pupil of the eye, feels the temperature of the body, notices any complexion variation and asks the patient where he is suffering pain. From the symptoms, he is able to make his diagnosis and select the medicine he believes is indicated. But usually he does not commit himself until after he has gone home and dreamed over the case, that is, had a vision as to the proper medicines to use. Oftentimes there are as many as fifteen ingredients in the remedy employed. This is not unlike the old "shot gun prescription" used by the general practitioner in former days among our own people. The Forest Potawatomi doctor or medicine man also uses the "teacup diagnosis" for his chosen medicine. The powdered drug is placed in a teacupful of water and carefully observed. If it floats around the rim of the cup four times before sinking into the water, then the patient is sure to recover.  

 

Most of our Algonkian Indians use four as their magical number and expect their medicine to take effect in four hours or four days. If there has been no marked effect of the medicine in four days then the medicine man will seek a further vision on the  case and probably change the medicinal agent.  

 

The fees charged by the medicine man or woman are usually in goods. There is no such thing as a free treatment. Both the medicine man and the patient believe that the medicines are valueless unless they have been properly paid for, otherwise the spirits of the medical societies will be displeased and not lend their power to the medicaments. It often seems to the white man that they place an undue value upon drugs intended to cure trifling ailments, and often the medicine man  exaggerates the case and requires a very large fee for curing it. Such a fee may be a wagon and two horses, so many blankets or whatever he thinks the remedy is worth, and usually the fee must be paid before the medicine is administered. The payment by the patient or by his family entitles them to the cure, and also to the medicinal knowledge which has effected it.  

 

Therefore the medicine man will tell them what he used and how he used it and it becomes the property of that family for all time to come.  

 

They in turn, will not divulge it to anyone in a similar case of sickness without again extracting a fee similar to that which they paid for the information. Such practices explain the difficulty the investigator has in getting formulas for treatment, even though he might be thoroughly honest in his contention that he does not want it for treating any person, but merely for record purposes. It is comparatively easy, however, to get them to talk about the different plants themselves that go into the making of medicines if one does not insist upon knowing the quantities and the other ingredients required in the preparation of a medicine ready for administration.  

 

As is the case with other tribes investigated, the Forest Potawatomi medicine men know the proper season to gather their medicinal materials and seem to understand when the medicinal principles of the plant are most active. They also know that this may be a very short period, sometimes only three or four days. In this case, they stop whatever they are doing to go out and procure the medicines if the time is ripe.  

 

We have never seen any of these medicine men lay in any large supplies of medicines or collecting in any wholesale manner. They seem to have set certain limitations for themselves and these entirely without regard to the fact that they may need a great deal more than they are gathering. As previously stated, the Forest Potawatomi find that they have to travel to other parts of the country to get some of their valued remedies and oftentimes they bring the seed from these widely separated parts of the country and try to grow their own medicines in the neighborhood of their homes. It seems that no price is too high to pay for something that they need to use in their medicine practices.  

 

The Indian medicine man is a great believer in the power of suggestion and, while treating a patient, will often sing over and over that he is getting better and that he (the medicine man) can see that he is going to recover. He thus builds up faith in his patient and faith in the efficacy of the medicine. Confidence is half of the battle with them as it is with the white patient.   

 

Among the Forest Potawatomi there is a small group of expert medicine men who have taken a fourth degree of the medicine lodge and have become what is known as jugglers or conjurers. These men have the supposed ability to see into the future and do tricks to mystify. They often build a tiny wigwam of poles and manipulate small figures in a mystical manner. It is thought that they have the power to bewitch various members of the tribe, even without coming near them. Even today some believe that it is possible for these men to wreck vengeance upon whomsoever they choose. The juggler will draw a picture of the intended victim either upon the sand or upon a piece of white birch-bark and draw a line piercing the heart of the victim. They believe that this will actually come to pass. One so affected with a spell will often go to a juggler to have him break the spell that has been put upon him by some other juggler or conjurer. Of course, all of this is done for a suitable fee.  It is believed that the juggler is able to cure peculiar ailments like insanity, or twisted face or some of the less understood diseases to which the human flesh is heir, merely by their conjuring and without the use of any actual remedies. If they do use medicines, these are usually of a supernatural nature, such as the hearts of animals or bones and medicinal materials that really have no value whatever except in their psychological effect.   

 


 

 

POTAWATOMI MEDICINAL MATERIALS

 

 

While the writer heard of a few odd remedies from other than the plant kingdom, he collected no such specimens. These were things such as the flesh of a fish or a snake, or the bones of some mammal, or pieces of horn from a cow. The Potawatomi also said that they used white clay but it was not obtained around that part of the country. The medicinal plants used are as follows: 

 


 

 

POTAWATOMI MEDICINAL PLANTS   PART 1

 


 

ACERACEAE (MAPLE FAMILY) 

Red Maple (Acer rubrum L.) "cicigīme'-wīc" [red maple]. The inner bark of the red maple is boiled and used as an eyewash. Pammel mentions the same thing in his treatise on poisonous plants,33 so that it appears that this use by the Indians is fairly widespread. Among the whites,34 a solution of the inner bark is astringent and ophthalmic.  

 

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum Marsh.)35 "kisinamī'c" [cold tree or timber].  The inner bark of the sugar maple is used as an expectorant. This bark yields an infusion which is accounted tonic, anthelmintic, and ophthalmic, by the white man.36 

 

Mountain Maple (Acer spicatum Lam.), "caca'gobimīc" [soft wood]. The inner bark is employed with other medicinal materials to make a combination syrup for coughs. The National Dispensatory says37 the bark very closely resembles Viburnum Opulus and is entirely substituted for it. The bark extract has been used by the white man as an antispasmodic in asthma, hysteria, puerperal convulsions and dysmenorrhoea. Among the whites,38 the bark extract is considered ophthalmic and diuretic.  

 


 

ALISMACEAE (WATER-PLANTAIN FAMILY) 

 

Broad-leaved Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia Willd.)39 "wabasi'-binik" [white potato]. The starchy corms that are produced on short lateral rootlets of this plant are pounded into a pulp. The pulp is used for poulticing wounds and sores. Among the whites,40 the root is considered refrigerant, astringent and detergent, cooling the body and exerting a cleansing action upon wounds, boils and ulcers. Lyons41 says that the California Indians also used these corms under the name "wappate" or "wapatoo".  

 


 

ANACARDIACEAE (SUMAC FAMILY) 

Poison Ivy (Rhus Toxicodendron L.) "makaki'bag" [toad weed]. The Forest Potawatomi consider this plant to be poisonous, as do the whites. Even the eclectic practitioners who formerly used it have abandoned it because they did not get good results from it. However the Prairie Potawatomi, according to John Macintosh42 know it under the name "tatapa'kwe" [climbs trees] and-say that only the most skillful medicine men know how to use it. They pound the root to make a poultice and place it upon a swelling to cause it to open.  

 

Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina L.)43 "bakwanimī'c" [puckering? bush]. Most of our Wisconsin Indian tribes make use of the staghorn sumac for medicine and use various parts of the shrub. The root, bark and leaves all are medicines. The root bark is used as a hemostatic. The leaves are steeped to make a tea, used in gargling for sore throat, tonsilitis and erysipelas. The berries are used to make a medicinal tea. They are also often mixed with other plant medicines to expel worms. It is quite likely that the abundant hairs upon the fruit, irritate the stomach lining and cause worms to be expelled. Among the whites,44 the bark and leaves are considered tonic, astringent, and antiseptic, while the fruit is diuretic, refrigerant and acidulous. 

 


 

APOCYNACEAE (DOGBANE FAMILY) 

 

Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium L.)45 "dodoca'-bowūng" [woman's breast weed]. This is the usual term used by the Forest Potawatomi, but it is also called "magosä'sīngä'sikīk" [awl-shaped], according to Mrs. Spoon. This same plant was known among the Prairie Potawatomi as "makosä'kasźkūk" which is almost the same term that Mrs. Spoon employs. The majority of the Forest Potawatomi used the root of Spreading Dogbane as a diuretic and urinary medicine, although Mrs. Spoon and the Prairie Potawatomi informant called it a heart and kidney medicine and used the green fruits, which they boiled to extract the active principle. Nickell46 says that this plant has similar properties to the official Apocynum cannabinum L., which is used as a diuretic and in cardiac and renal dropsy. The root extract has been used among white men as an emetic, cathartic, sudorific and expectorant.  

 


 

AQUIFOLIACEAE (HOLLY FAMILY) 

 

Mountain Holly (Nemopanthus mucronata [L.] Trel.),

"sakwa'kmīnagawīc" or "bosakwa'komīnaga'wīc" [plum? bush]. We find two species of the Holly Family native to Wisconsin, the Winterberry (Ilex verticillata [L.] Gray), which is a true species of Holly and the Mountain Holly, which is the species that the Forest Potawatomi use. Small branches of the Mountain Holly are cooked. The resulting liquid is again boiled until it resembles a syrup and this syrup is used as a tonic. Mrs. Spoon named this species as one of the fifty that she used to combine and boil down as a syrup which became a sort of "shot-gun prescription" for many different kinds of diseases. She did not enumerate all of the fifty kinds that went into the medicine but they must have been varied enough to cure almost any ill to which the human flesh is heir. Among the whites,47 the uses of Mountain Holly are divided into two classes; the bark of the shrub is tonic, bitter, alterative, febrifuge and astringent. The fruit is used as a cathartic and a vermifuge.  

 


 

ARACEAE (ARUM FAMILY) 

 

Sweet Flag (Acorus Calamus L.) "wike" [flag]. This plant was known to the Prairie Potawatomi as "sinipisi'-wun". Sweet Flag is not common at all in Forest County and it required several trips to discover a supply of it. It is a valued medicine and used for various ailments. The dried root is powdered and snuffed up the nose to cure catarrh. It is also one of the ingredients of a remedy to stop a hemorrhage. The formula for this remedy is—chips of the heartwood from a four-inch Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana [Mill.] K. Koch); the heartwood chips of a four-inch Arbor Vitae (Thuja occidentalis L.); root of the Sweet Flag (Acorus calamus L.) ; and a handful of the root bark of the common Shining Willow (Salix lucida Muhl.). These materials are placed in a vessel covered with two quarts of water, which is boiled down to a pint. One tablespoonful of this mixture is taken every hour until the hemorrhage stops. This is one of the very bitterest medicines that the Forest Potawatomi have and is described as being as bitter as gall. Many of the Indians in speaking of this remedy are inclined to be cautious in the amount used and say that only a very small piece of the root is necessary. Among the whites it has always been considered that any amount of the dried root might be used to relieve dyspepsia. It was formerly used by the whites48 as a mild stimulant and tonic, used in the treatment of flatulent colic and atonic dyspepsia and said to be beneficial in typhoid fever as a stimulant. Nickell49 cites its properties as  aromatic, carminative, tonic and vulnerary. The Herbalist50 claims that it improves the gastric juice and removes gases and sourness. The fact is cited that it has been used in chlorosis, dropsy, scurvy, gout, lameness and fevers.  

 

Water Arum (Calla palustris L.) "wabasi'pīni'bag" [white potato leaf or swan potato root]. The Forest Potawatomi find that the root of the Water Arum when pounded and applied as a poultice to swellings, is very efficacious in reducing them. Nickell51 says that it has been used by the whites as a stimulant, caustic and for its mucilaginous qualities.  

 


 

ARALIACEAE (GINSENG FAMILY)

 

Bristly Sarsaparilla (Aralia hispida Vent.) "babīkwe'wūnūskūns" [little flute stem]. This medicine seems to be known only to Mrs. Spoon and she said that the root is used as an alterative and tonic, that it is nowhere common in Forest County and most of the other Indians consulted had never noticed the difference between this species and Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis L.). Among the white men52 the leaves have been used as a sudorific while the root possesses properties that are emetic, hydrogogue and alterative.  

 

The National Dispensatory53 speaks of the value of Bristly Sarsaparilla for the aromatic properties resident in its root. Lyons54 records that the bark of this species has been used as a diuretic and alterative.

 

Wild Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis L.) "okadag" [leg]. This is a valued root among the Forest Potawatomi and they pound it into a mass to be used as a poultice to reduce swelling and cure infections. It is also said to have the same properties and use as Spikenard (Aralia racemosa L.),55 namely, stimulant, diaphoretic and alterative. Pammel56 records that it has been used for its aromatic and stimulating properties.  

 

Indian Spikenard (Aralia racemosa L.)57 "okadag" [leg]. The Forest Potawatomi pound the root into a pulp to be used as a hot poultice on inflammations. It is interesting to note the use of this root among the different tribes. The Menomini use it in cases of blood poisoning while the Meskwaki use the root as a seasoner for other medicines. 

 

Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium L.) "gisźns". This pronunciation is undoubtedly the attempt of the Forest Potawatomi to give the plant the English common name since other tribes have a regular Indian word for Ginseng. The Prairie Potawatomi call Ginseng "wenane" [calf of the leg]. However, the Forest Potawatomi make extensive use of the Ginseng root for medicine, whereas some of the other tribes do not use it at all, but only gather it to sell. Ginseng has very little medicinal virtue, according to the white man and the fact that it is so high priced is due to the Chinese demand for this root. They are particularly interested in Ginseng root that has the appearance of the human torso and use it as a fetish.  It is interesting to note that the Chinese also use Ginseng as a medicine, supposing it to have a certain virtue that renders their other medicines powerful. We have even discovered its use as a season in some of their pills given to a Chinese patient in the Milwaukee Hospital who was recovering from a premature stillbirth. Chinese people have also told us that the Ginseng is regarded as a cure-all and a necessity in many medicines of their making. The Forest Potawatomi pound the root to make a poultice to cure earache and soak the pounded root to obtain a wash for curing sore eyes. They also used it in many of their powdered medicines as a season to mask the had flavor of some other ingredients. 

 


 

ARISTOLOCHIACEAE (BIRTHWORT FAMILY) 

 

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense L.)58 "ba'boan" [its name], "nīme'bīn" is another Forest Potawatomi term for it. The Prairie Potawatomi calls it "kupua" [ginger]. The Forest Potawatomi use Wild Ginger as a mild stomachic principally to flavor meat or fish and render them more edible. In the National Dispensatory59 it is also called the Canada Snakeroot and is a feeble remedy accounted tonic, aromatic and slightly diuretic. It has been used by eclectic practitioners in convalescence from acute febrile infections. Nickell60 states that it has aromatic, stimulant, diaphoretic, carminative and expectorant qualities, while the Herbalist61 states that it has been used in the treatment of colds, colic, amenorrhoea and pains in the stomach.  

 

 


 

ASCLEPIADACEAE (MILKWEED FAMILY) 

 

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca L.)62 "anˆrni'wīc" [man weed]. The root of the Common Milkweed is used by the Forest Potawatomi as a medicine, but we were unable to find out for what ailments. Among the whites we have several references to its use. Nickell63 records it as having tonic, diuretic, alterative, purgative and emetic qualities. The National Dispensatory64 says that it has been used as a vulnerary, while the milky juice has been used to cure warts. Lyons65 records that the roots have a diuretic, diaphoretic and sedative quality. 

  


 

BALSAMINACEAE (TOUCH-ME-NOT FAMILY)

 

Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens biflora, Walt.)66 "twatubīgo'-nīak  [touch-me-not]. The Prairie Potawatomi call this "wasawa'shiak" [yellow  slippery]. This is accounted a valuable medicine among the Forest Potawatomi who use the fresh juice of the plant to wash nettle stings or poison ivy infections. The writer knows that it instantly alleviates the sting of the Stinging Nettle and has it from the Indians that it will cure and alleviate the itching of Poison Ivy. An infusion of the whole plant is drunk to cure colds in the chest or cramps in the stomach. The Potawatomi also boil the infusion of the plant down to a thicker mass which they use as a liniment for treating sprains, bruises and soreness. Nickell67 records the properties of the plant as diuretic, emetic and alterative.

 

 


 

BERBERIDACEAE (BARBERRY FAMILY)

 

Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides [L.] Michx.)68 "otci'-komīnaga'wīc" [fisher plant]. Another Forest Potawatomi term for this is "ano'mīnūm" [?berry]. This is known to the Forest Potawatomi as the Squaw Root and it seems to be of rather universal use among all of our Indian tribes to furnish a tea which suppresses profuse menstruation and aids in childbirth. Among the eclectic practitioners of the whites, it has been used in cases of hysteria and uterine diseases. The eclectics claim that it prevents abortions by causing uterine contraction when uterine inertia is present.69 The Herbalist70 ascribed to it the properties of an emmenagogue, parturient, anti-spasmodic, diuretic, diaphoretic, and anthelminthic. They say that it is used in chronic uterine diseases.

  

 


 

BETULACEAE (BIRCH FAMILY) 

 

Speckled Alder (Alnus incana [L.] Moench) "atob" [bitter]. The Potawatomi scrape the inner bark of the Speckled Alder and use the juice obtained to rub on the body to cure the itch. A bark tea is made for flushing the vagina and to make a rectal application with their home-made form of syringe as described previously, to shrivel the anal muscles and thus cure cases of piles. Potions of the bark tea are also drunk to cure the flux. The powdered inner bark of the Speckled Alder is used to sprinkle upon galled spots of their ponies to cure them.  Nickell71 says that the bark has alterative, emetic and astringent properties. The Herbalist72 says that the bark has been used in the treatment of scrofula and has been considered as alterative and emetic.  

 

Paper Birch (Betula alba L. var. papyrifera [Marsh.] Spach) "wīgwa'samīc" [wigwam tree]. The wintergreen or Sweet Birch (Betula lenta) is not found in Wisconsin, but the twigs of the Paper Birch  are sweet and aromatic, somewhat the same as the Sweet Birch. The Forest Potawatomi gather the twigs and put them to soak to extract the fragrant oil which is used to season other medicines, or to mask disagreeable flavors. The National Dispensatory73 says that the leaves are diuretic. Nickell74 says that the twigs have astringent and bitter principles while the oil is fragrant. 

 

Yellow Birch (Betula lutea Michx. f.) "wīnīsi'k" or "wīnīsa'tīk" [wood smells]. The twigs of the Yellow Birch are also aromatic as are the twigs of the white and the Sweet Birch and these twigs are also gathered by the Forest Potawatomi to extract the fragrant oil which is used as a seasoner for other less pleasant medicines. We have found no record of its use by white men. 

 

Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus rostrata Ait.) "cīkane'samīc" according to Indian George and ‘Snabe Jim. "cīkana'- sīmīnaga'wīc" according to Mrs. Spoon. This is the only species of Hazelnut found in Forest County and the Potawatomi use the inner bark in medicinal combinations very much the same as they use the inner bark of the willow. It is used as an astringent. The National Dispensatory75 records the fact that eclectic practitioners use the spicula or sharp points of the involucre as an anthelmintic, to expel worms from the intestines.  

 

This practice would be considered rather dangerous by the physician of today because it might set up too much irritation in the intestines. 

 

Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana [Mill.] K. Koch) "mīanoo's" [hornbeam]. The Potawatomi consider this as one of their so-called cramp barks and infusions of it are used to cure the flux. Nickell76 says that the bark is a simple bitter, tonic, antiperiodic, and alterative. The Dispensatory77 says that the heartwood and the bark possess a bitter substance that has been used at times as a substitute for quassia and has been used as an astringent. The Herbalist78 says that eclectic practitioners have used it as an antiperiodic, tonic, and alterative. It is supposed to be of value in the treatment of intermittent fevers, neuralgia, nervous debility, scrofula, and dyspepsia. It has also been used in the treatment of fever and ague. 

 


 

BORAGINACEAE (BORAGE FAMILY) 

 

Common Hound's Tongue (Cynoglossum officinale L.), " boe" [stickers]. This is one of the plants that the Forest Potawatomi assert came into their country from the south and so they do not know it as a medicinal plant and it is not used. However, Nickell79 reports that it has the following medicinal properties: it is astringent, aromatic, anodyne, mucilaginous, and narcotic. 

 


 

CAMPANULACEAE (BELLFLOWER FAMILY) 

 

Marsh Bellflower (Campanula aparinoides Pursh.) "basi'bagūk" 

[small vine]. This species is not used by the Forest Potawatomi although the white man has made use of it as an emetic, a pectoral, and for ornamental purposes, according to Nickell.80 

 


 

CAPRIFOLIACEAE (HONEYSUCKLE FAMILY)

 

Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla Lonicera Mill.) "osawoskwoni'is" [yellow liquid]. The Bush Honeysuckle is used by many of our Indian tribes of the north and is especially valuable, according to them, in urinary troubles. The Prairie Potawatomi make a tea from the root of the Bush Honeysuckle to be used as a diuretic and for the treatment of cases of gonorrhoea. Mrs. Spoon makes a medicine for vertigo in which this, the Bush Honeysuckle, is used. Her recipe for the medicine is Red Baneberry root (Actaea rubra), the twigs of (Diervilla Lonicera), the leaves and root of Liverleaf Hepatica (Hepatica triloba), and the roots of Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza longistylis). The writer saw her mix this material in her wooden mixing bowl about four inches in diameter with a wooden spoon and afterward he tasted the infusion which had a sweetish taste. Nickell81 states that the root, leaves and twigs have been found to be medicinal and used by eclectic practitioners as a diuretic, astringent and alterative. The National Dispensatory82 says that the whole plant is considered diuretic and has been applied to relieve itching.  

 

Twinflower (Linnaea borealis L. var. americana [Forbes] Rehder) "bīne'obūkūns" [partridge weed]. Mrs. Spoon used the entire plant of this as a squaw medicine, although just what type of female trouble it was supposed to cure was not plainly explained. Among the white men, the plant has been used as a bitter, a sub-astringent and an antirheumatic, according to Nickell.83  

 

American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis Marsh.)  "īaī'ankūtci'mīnaga'wīc" [berries of two sexes,— bush]. The Forest Potawatomi combine the bark of this species with Juniper foliage and berries and with the twigs of the Bush Honeysuckle ( Diervilla Lonicera) to make a "tea" which is used as a diuretic. The National Dispensatory84 states that only the fruits are medicinal and that they are nonofficial as drugs. They have been reported as being emetic and cathartic. 

 

Red-berried Elder (Sambucus racemosa L.) "babackisi'ganatīk" [popgun wood]. Mrs. Spoon calls this "tcabosī'kūn" [physic]. The Prairie Potawatomi call it "papasikana'tīk" [popgun wood]. The inner bark of the Red-berried Elder is accounted the most powerful physic which the Forest Potawatomi have and it is used in the same manner as the Menomini Indians use it. There is no questioning its drastic action, but the method of its use shows considerable superstition connected with it.  Four joints of the stem are chosen, of half an inch diameter or greater.  The proper length is measured from the point of the ulna to the point of the humerus. If these joints are peeled downward and the bark steeped in warm water, the resulting cup of fluid becomes a very quick-acting purgative. However, should the same sticks have been peeled upward and the resulting "tea" drunk, then it would have been a strong emetic. The white man is apt to discover that this powerful remedy works both ways at once. The National Dispensatory85 says that the bark is a poison and has been know to cause death. Nickell86 says that medicines have been made from the inner bark of the Red-berried Elder that cause watery evacuations and are believed capable of expelling serum. It has been used to increase evacuation from the bowels and also has been used to produce vomiting. 

 

 


 

CARYOPHYLLACEAE (PINK FAMILY) 

White Campion (Lychnis alba Mill.). The White Campion is commonly found in Forest County, but the Potawatomi have no name for it nor do they have a use for it as far as the writer discovered. We find no record of its use in eclectic practice by the white man. 

 


 

CHENOPODIACEAE (GOOSEFOOT FAMILY) 

Lamb's Quarters (Chenopodium album L.)  "koko'cībag" [pig leaf]. The Forest Potawatomi consider this a medicinal food which is used to cure or prevent scurvy. It has been used in exactly the same way by the white man according to Nickell.87 

 

Strawberry Elite (Chenopodium capitatum [L.] Asch.) "'mźna'-kwoskūk" [stinking or scent weed]. The ripened heads of seed of the Strawberry Elite are deep pink in color and furnish the Indian maiden an ever-ready rouge. It is used to paint the cheeks when they are getting ready for a dream dance. This same juice is rubbed on the breast to cure congestion of the lungs while the whole plant is made into a medicinal "tea" to ease any congestion in the lungs. We find no record of its use by the whites.  

 

Maple-leaved Goosefoot (Chenopodium hybridum L.). The Potawatomi have no name for this species nor any use as far as we have discovered and we find no record of its use by the whites. 

 


 

COMPOSITAE (COMPOSITE FAMILY)

The Composite Family has the largest number of species of any plant family, and is well represented in Forest County. There are about four times as many medicines found among this family as in any other family represented in the Potawatomi territory.  

 

Yarrow (Achillea Millefolium L.) "nokwe'sikūn" [perfume reviver]. The Prairie Potawatomi call it "kīshkatoa'soanūk" [flying squirrel tail]. The Forest Potawatomi place the flowers upon a plate of live coals to create a smudge which is used for two purposes. First, it is to keep any evil spirits away from the patient and second it is to give the proper sort of a scent to revive the patient who may be in a state of coma. The medicine man will sing while he fumigates the patient in a way to suggest that the patient will recover, making use of the power of suggestion as the whites were wont to do during the days of Dr. Coue. Yarrow has always been a home remedy among the whites, and especially among the German inhabitants, who call it "Schaf-esgarbetee", to break up a fever. Nickell records that the plant has astringent, alterative, diuretic, tonic, and vulnerary qualities. The Herbalist assigns to it the same qualities as Nickell and says that it has been used in decoctions to heal bleeding lungs or other hemorrhages, incontinence of urine, piles and dysentery. It has been used to promote regularity of menses, and made into an ointment to cure wounds, ulcers and fistulas. A decoction of the flowers has been used to stop the falling of hair. The leaves have been chewed to alleviate toothache. 

 

Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.). According to the Forest Potawatomi this plant came into their country in historic times and they never knew what it was nor had any name nor use for it as far as we could discover.  Among the whites, it has been used by eclectic practitioners in a decoction to cleanse wounds and as a poultice to allay inflammation, according to Nickell.  

 

Great Ragweed (Ambrosia trifida L.). The Great Ragweed is an adventiveplant according to the Forest Potawatomi and they have no use nor name for it as far as we could discover. Among the Meskwaki, it was chewed to drive away fear at night.91 Eclectic practitioners use the plant to extract a tea which was stimulant, astringent, and ophthalmic, according to Nickell.  

 

Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea [L.] B. & H.) "wewa'bīckūnakūk" [white top], "bäkwänä'sīkūn" [fumigator]. The Forest Potawatomi dry the flowers of this species and smoke it in a pipe or smudge it on coals to drive or keep evil spirits out of the  room, which might prevent a patient from recovering. They also call attention to the fact that it smells like acorns, but there is no suggestion of this in the Potawatomi name, which it bears, as there has been in the language of other tribes. The Herbalists93 states that the plant is valuable for its astringent qualities. It has been used for fevers, quinsy, pulmonary and bronchial complaints. The patient has been recommended to chew the leaves in blossom to cure ulcers of the mouth and throat. An infusion of the flowers has been given through the rectum for the curing of bowel trouble. The poultice of the leaves has been used to heal bruises, indolent tumors, and local affections. 

 

Dog Fennel (Anthemis Cotula L.) "waboskū'nakūk" [white top]. While the Potawatomi assign an Indian name to this plant, they claim that it is introduced and that they do not know any use for it as far as we have been able to discover. The National Dispensatory says that the plant has been called "chamomile" and has been used by eclectic practitioners for its stimulant and antispasmodic properties. It has been employed to check the summer diarrhea of children. In hot fomentation in water and vinegar, it has been used with success upon sluggish ulcers, earache and rheumatism. 

 


POTAWATOMI CULTURE & RELIGION

INTRODUCTION
MEDICINAL PLANTS PART I
MEDICINAL PLANTS PART II
MEDICINAL PLANTS PART III
MEDICINAL AND FOOD PLANTS PART IV
VEGETABLE FIBERS

 

 

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