Manataka American Indian Council



By Lee Standing Bear Moore andTakatoka


This information is provided purely for historical and cultural purposes.  If used improperly, the herbs or substances described herein, can be dangerous, if not fatal.  For this reason, methods used to prepare these primitive remedies in many cases are omitted. Do not use any remedy described without the advise of a professional health practitioner.


The Creator gave many ways to heal bodily afflictions.  It is said that for every ailment known to man, Mother Earth has a cure.   We believe this to be so.

All animals, including humans must be attuned with Mother Earth to remain balanced and healthy.  We are part of her, we are her and one day we all will return to her.   In this electronic fast age of concrete, plastic and the daily grind, we lose connectivity with  the peace and glory found at our feet and all around us.   Herbal medicine helps to ground and bring balance.       

It is useful to know herbal and mineral medicines when we find ourselves or others in serious need of treatment and a medical professional is not available.  Total dependence on doctors and hospitals is unwise in this uncertain world. Practical knowledge of emergency medical treatment is important for everyone.  Knowing how herbal remedies can benefit you and your family in your daily lives is also important.

Use common sense when it comes to mixing herbal remedies with prescription drugs.  Do not do it.    We do not advocate the replacement of professional medical intervention with the information provided here.

The practice of herbal medicine is a science, not a pastime.   Do not use this information to prescribe  treatment for any one.   What may work for you, may become fatal to another.

It is good to know the ancient ways and the gifts that are freely given by Mother Earth.  Keeping this information alive is vital to human survival.  It honors our ancestors and gives our children's children practical knowledge to help them along life's pathways.



The Origin of Medicine

A Cherokee Creation Story
By James Mooney

At one time, animals and people lived together peaceably and talked with each other. But when mankind began to multiply rapidly, the animals were crowded into forests and deserts.

Man began to destroy animals wholesale for their skins and furs, not  just for needed food. Animals became angry at such treatment by their  former friends, resolving they must punish mankind. The bear tribe met in council, presided over by Old White Bear, their Chief. After several bears had spoken against mankind for their bloodthirsty ways, war was unanimously agreed upon. But what kinds of weapons should the bears use?

Chief Old White Bear suggested that man's weapon, the bow and arrow, should be turned against him. All of the council agreed. While the bears worked and made bows and arrows, they wondered what to do about bowstrings.  One of the bears sacrificed himself to provide the strings, while the others searched for good arrow- wood. When the first bow was completed and tried, the bear's claws could not release the strings to shoot the arrow.

One bear offered to cut his claws, but Chief Old White Bear would not allow him to do that, because without claws he could not climb trees for food and safety. He might starve. 

The deer tribe called together its council led by Chief Little Deer.  They decided that any Indian hunters, who killed deer without asking pardon in a suitable manner, should be afflicted with painful rheumatism in their joints.

After this decision, Chief Little Deer sent a messenger to their nearest neighbors, the Cherokee Indians. "From now on, your hunters must first offer a prayer to the deer before killing him," said the messenger. "You must ask his pardon, stating you are forced only by the hunger needs of your tribe to kill the deer. Otherwise, a terrible disease will come to the hunter." When a deer is slain by an Indian hunter, Chief Little Deer will run to the spot and ask the slain deer's spirit.

"Did you hear the hunter's prayer for pardon?"  If the reply is yes, then all is well  and Chief Little Deer returns to his cave.  But if the answer is no, then the Chief  racks the hunter to his lodge and strikes him with the terrible disease of rheumatism, making him a helpless cripple unable to hunt again.

All the fishes and reptiles then held a council and decided they would haunt those Cherokee Indians, who tormented them, by telling them hideous dreams of serpents twining around them and eating them alive.  These snake and fish dreams occurred often among the Cherokees. To get relief, the Cherokees pleaded with their Shaman to banish their frightening dreams if they no longer tormented the snakes and fish.

Now when the friendly plants heard what the animals had decided against mankind, they planned a countermove of their own. Each tree, shrub, herb, grass, and moss agreed to furnish a cure for one of the diseases named by the animals and insects.

Thereafter, when the Cherokee Indians visited their Shaman about their ailments and if the medicine man was in doubt, he communed with the spirits of the plants. They always suggested a proper remedy for mankind's diseases.

This was the beginning of plant medicine from nature among the Cherokee Indian nation a long, long time ago.  

From James Mooney's, "History and Myths of the Cherokees."


Indian remedies shown below are but a few examples of the thousands used by indigenous peoples for ailments of every description.  Thousands of years spent gaining intimate knowledge of plants, minerals and their varied uses has given the world a vast pharmacopoeia of medicinal remedies and cures for many common ailments.  Indian contributions to pharmacological medicine is unmatched anywhere in the world.

The list below intended for example purposes only and should not be used to medically treat ailments.  In most instances, plants must be prepared using exacting methods.  If used otherwise, the results may ineffectual if not dangerous or life threatening.   


Skunk Cabbage   Used by the Winnebago and Dakota tribes to stimulate the removal of phlegm.  The rootstock was official in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia from 1820 to 1882 when it was used in respiratory and nervous disorders and in rheumatism and dropsy.

Mullein   Introduced by Europeans. The Menominees smoked the pulverized, dried root for respiratory complaints while the Forest Potawatomis, the Mohegans, and the Penobscots smoked the dried leaves to relieve asthma. The Catawba Indians used a sweetened syrup from the boiled root, which they gave to their children for coughs.   Smoke and steam from the leaves of the mint were also used by many tribes.  

Arnica  The Catawba Indians used a tea of arnica roots for treating back pains. Arnica can be dangerous if taken internally and may cause severe and even fatal poisoning. Also used as a wash to treat sprains and bruises.

Gentian    The Catawba Indians steeped the roots in hot water and applied the fluid on aching backs.

Horsemint   The Catawba tribe crushed and steeped fresh horsemint leaves in cold water and drank the infusion to allay back pain. Other tribes used horsemint for fever, inflammation, and chills.  

Blood Remedy
Sassafras   A tonic was prepared using the leaves and bark. Often other plants such as onion and  willow bark was added.  

Grape and Peach Leaves  Southern nations applied a poultice of the ground leaves to the area and changed the bandage several times a day.  

Creosote Bush   A tea of the leaves was used for bronchial and other respiratory problems.

Pleurisy Root  The Natchez drank a tea of the boiled roots as a remedy for pneumonia and was later used to promote the expulsion of phlegm.

Wormwood   The Yokia Indians of Mendocino County used a tea of the boiled leaves of a local species of wormwood to cure bronchitis.  

Broken Bones
Bone Set   Pulverized into a wet mash poultice next to the skin prior to affected area being wrapped in clay over the poultice and changed daily.  Saplings were used to reduce mobility.  

Yellow-Spined Thistle   The Kiowa Indians boiled yellow-spined thistle blossoms and applied the resulting liquid to burns and skin sores.

Oak Bark   The inner bark was boiled and as the water cooled, the top layer was skimmed off and applied directly to the burn without a bandage.  

Snake Root  The root was pealed, boiled and the ground for use as a tea.  

Boneset   Boneset tea was one of the most frequently used home remedies during the last century. The Menominees used it to reduce fever; the Alabamas, to relive stomachache; the Creeks, for body pain; the Iroquois and the Mohegans, for fever and colds.  Wild ginger was also used by the Iroquois and other nations.  

Catnip  The Mohegans made a tea of catnip leaves for infant colic.  

Seed Bladder Nuts The nuts were ground into a flour and mixed with fruit.  

Ragleaf Bahia The Navajos, who called the Ragleaf bahia herb twisted medicine, drank a tea of the roots boiled in water for thirty minutes for contraception purposes.  

Indian Paintbrush  Hopi women drank a tea of the whole Indian paintbrush to "Dry up the menstrual flow."  

Blue Cohosh  Chippewa women drank a strong decoction of the powdered blue cohosh root to promote parturition and menstruation.  

Dogbane  Generally used by many tribes, a tea from the boiled roots of the plant was drunk once a week.  

Milkweed   Navajo women drank a tea prepared of the whole plant after childbirth. American Mistletoe.  Indians of Mendocino County drank a tea of the leaves to induce abortion or to prevent conception.  

Antelope Sage  To prevent conception, Navajo women drank one cup of a decoction of boiled antelope sage root during menstruation.    

Stoneseed  Shoshoni women of Nevada reportedly drank a cold water infusion of stoneseed roots everyday for six months to ensure permanent sterility.  

Aspen   Cree Indians used an infusion of the inner bark as a remedy for coughs.

Wild Cherry  The Flambeau Ojibwa prepared a tea of the bark of wild cherry for coughs and colds, while other tribes used a bark for diarrhea or for lung troubles.

White Pine  The inner bark was used by Indians as a tea for colds and coughs.

Sarsaparilla   The Penobscots pulverized dried sarsaparilla roots and combined them with sweet flag roots in warm water and used the liquid as a cough remedy.

Chestnut  The inner bark was used like white pine and wild cherry.

Wild Carrot   The Mohegans steeped the blossoms of this wild species in warm water when they were in full bloom and took the drink for diabetes.

Devil's Club    The Indians of British Columbia utilized a tea of the root bark to offset the effects of diabetes.  

Black Cherry   A tea of blackberry roots was the most frequently used remedy for diarrhea among Indians of northern California.

Wild Black Cherry   The Mohegans allowed the ripe wild black cherry to ferment naturally in a jar about one year than then drank the juice to cure dysentery.

Dogwood   The Menominees boiled the inner bark of the dogwood and passed the warm solution into the rectum with a rectal syringe made from the bladder of a small mammal and the hollow bone of a bird.

Geranium   Chippewa and Ottawa tribes boiled the entire geranium plant and drank the tea for diarrhea.

White Oak   Iroquois and Penobscots boiled the bark of the white oak and drank the liquid for bleeding piles and diarrhea.

Black Raspberry   The Pawnee, Omaha, and Dakota tribes boiled the root bark of black raspberry for dysentery.

Star Grass   Catawbas drank a tea of star grass leaves for dysentery.  

Digestive Disorders
Dandelion   A tea of the roots was drunk for heartburn by the Pillager Ojibwas. Mohegans drank a tea of the leaves for a tonic.

Yellow Root    A tea from the root was used by the Catawbas and the Cherokee as a stomach ache remedy.  

Dogwood   The Delaware Indians, who called the tree Hat-ta-wa-no-min-schi, boiled the inner bark in water, using the tea to reduce fevers.

Willow   The Pomo tribe boiled the inner root bark, then drank strong doses of the resulting tea to induce sweating in cases of chills and fever. In the south, the Natchez prepared their fever remedies from the bark of the red willow, while the Alabama and Creek Indians plunged into willow root baths for the same purpose.

Feverwort   The Cherokees drank a decoction of the coarse, leafy, perennial herb to cure fevers.  

Pennyroyal   The Onondagas steeped pennyroyal leaves and drank the tea to cure headaches.

Willow Bark   Many tribes knew the inner bark of the willow ground into powder and mixed with water relieved headaches.    It was also used for potential heart attacks.  

Heart and Circulatory Problems
Green Hellebore   The Cherokee used the green hellebore to relive body pains.

American Hemp and Dogbane   Used by the Prairie Potawatomis as a heart medicine, the fruit was boiled when it was still green, and the resulting decoction drunk. It was also used for kidney problems and for dropsy.  

White Oak   The Menominee tribe treated piles by squirting an infusion of the scraped inner bark of oak into the rectum with a syringe made from an animal bladder and the hollow bone of a bird.  

Wild Cherry Tea   Used in case of chronic hiccups, the liquid was gulped down repeatedly for several hours.  

Inflammations and Swellings
Witch Hazel   The Menominees of Wisconsin boiled the leaves and rubbed the liquid on the legs of tribesmen who were participating in sporting games. A decoction of the boiled twigs was used to cure aching backs, while steam derived by placing the twigs in water with hot rocks was a favorite Potawatomi treatment for muscle aches.  

Native Hemlock (as opposed Poison Hemlock of Socrates fame).  The Menominees prepared a tea if the inner bark and drank it to relieve cold symptoms. A similar tea was used by the Forest Potawatomis to induce sweating and relieve colds and feverish conditions.  

Insect Bites and Stings
Fendler Bladderpod   The Navajos made a tea and used it to treat spider bites.

Purple Coneflower   The Plains Indians used this as a universal application for the bites and stings of all crawling, flying, or leaping bugs. Between June and September, the bristly stemmed plant, which grows in dry, open woods and on prairies, bears a striking purplish flower.

Stiff Goldenrod   The Meskwaki Indians of Minnesota ground the flowers into a lotion and applied it to bee stings.

Trumpet Honeysuckle   The leaves were ground by chewing and then applied to bees stings.

Wild Onion and Garlic   The Dakotas and Winnebagos applied the crushed bulbs of wild onions and garlics.

Saltbush   The Navajos chewed the stems and placed the pulpy mash on areas of swelling caused by ant, bee and wasp bites. The Zunis applied the dried, powdered roots and flowers mixed with saliva to ant bites.

Broom Snakeweed   The Navajos chewed the stem and applied the resin to insect bites and stings of all kinds.

Tobacco  A favorite remedy for bee stings was the application of wet tobacco leaves.

Mullein   A poultice of the wet puffy mullein seed pods  was used by many nations.

Clay  The purple, yellow and blue clay surrounding crystals was sifted to remove tiny crystals and ground into a powder, made wet into a paste and applied as a poultice.  

Insect Repellents and Insecticides
Goldenseal   The Cherokee pounded the large rootstock with bear fat and smeared it on their bodies as an insect repellent. It was also used as a tonic, stimulant, and astringent.  

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy Leaves   The moist leaves were heated by steam for several hours and rubbed into the skin, especially to areas surrounding the afflicted spots.   While this method did not provide much relief from itching, it did build an immediate immunity to the surrounding skin and future contact.  

Pokeweed   Indians of Virginia drank a tea of the boiled berries to cure rheumatism. The dried root was also used to allay inflammation.

Bloodroot   A favorite rheumatism remedy among the Indians of the Mississippi region - the Rappahannocks of Virginia drank a tea of the root.  

Wild Black Cherry  The Meskwaki tribe made a sedative tea of the root bark.

Hops  The Mohegans prepared a sedative medicine from the conelike strobiles and sometimes heated the blossoms and applied them for toothache. The Dakota tribe used a tea of the steeped strobiles to relieve pains of the digestive organs, and the Menominee tribe regarded a related species of hops as a panacea.

Wild Lettuce.  Indigenous to North American, it was used for sedative purposes, especially in nervous complaints.  

Snake Bite
Red Elm   After removing as much venom as possible, Indians used the ground inner bark and young early spring leaves as a poultice applied directly to the bite.  

Sore Throat
Elm Bark Tea   Widely used to reduce inflammation.  

Stomach Ache
Golden Seal  Many tribes drank a tea made from the leaves of this plant.  

Geranium  The Cherokee boiled geranium root together with wild grape, and with the liquid, rinsed the mouths of children affected with thrush.

Persimmon    The Catawba stripped the bark from the tree and boiled it in water, using the resulting dark liquid as a mouth rinse.  

Wild Iris    This plant was used as a tea and mash for sore mouths.   

Prickly Ash  The root and leaves were pounded into a wet mash and applied on the gums to deaden nerves and reduce inflammation.  

Beech Bark Tea   Used wherever this tree grew, a tea was a sure tonic for vomiting.  

Milk Weed   Used by many nations, the white milk sap was used as a poultice.



Credits given at the end of the Herbal Medicine section

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