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Medicine Bee Herbals - Article Native Indian Healing Arts

American Native Indian Healing Arts



When a new baby is born among the six Nations of
the Iroquois Confederacy, the Clan Mothers welcome
 the newborn by saying: “Thank you for coming to
 our village; we hope you will stay with us.”

-- Katsi cook, Mohawk Midwife

Cry of the WolfAmerican Indians took advantage of their environments, using naturally plentiful substances to heal the ailments of infancy. Cornstarch, cornmeal, pollen, the fine talc dust from soapstone [steatite], and the dusty spores released from the distinctive ball-shaped white fungi known as puffballs were commonly used as topical skin treatments.

Honey and other bee by products were also readily available and widely used. Long before Europeans settlers brought the honeybee, Apis mellifica, to America in the seventeenth century, the early Maya and Aztec Indians kept bees and collected honey from wild bees, of which there are more than 3,500 species in North America. Honey is one of the purest sweets found in nature: it is twice as sweet as cane sugar. It is also 35 percent protein [it contains one half of all the amino acids essential for human life] and is considered a complete food. But besides its obvious nutritional value, honey is a beneficial wound dressing and medicine.

American Indians used honey or maple syrup to treat a variety of babies’ needs. If an infant was cranky, they placed a small amount on her/he lips or tongue to calm and nourish her/he. Alternatively, they might give an irritable infant mildly sweetened water or particular herbal teas to pacify her and help her/he sleep. Note: Raw honey should not be given internally to infants or babies in their first year out of concern for health problems such as allergic reactions or the possibility of infections.

Perhaps the most beneficial treatment for infants was the use of honey as an antiseptic salve. This was made with honey alone or with propolis, the resinous substance that bees collect from various plants and mix with beeswax to construct their hives. The salve can be used to soothe scratches, burns, and skin problems, as well as to kill bacteria.


1 tablespoon natural honey
1 cup strawberry/raspberry tea or plain hot water
1 teaspoon bee propolis
½ teaspoon lemon juice [it adds a cleansing benefit]

This is a soothing lotion that calms burns and rashes; it is also antibacterial. But it should not be used on highly sensitive skin or where there are open wounds. Apply the lotion on the skin as needed, one tablespoon at a time, and gently massage it in. For diaper rash, use some with each diaper change; if your child has highly sensitive skin, use it only once a day.

You can also use this lotion to treat digestive problems by applying it to the baby’s abdomen and softly massaging clockwise and then counter clockwise.


Melt the honey in hot water along with the bee propolis and lemon juice. Stir until thoroughly blended and dissolved. Pour into a sterile 8 ounce bottle or jar.

VARIATION: For diaper rash, substitute black tea or green tea for the liquid. Their tannins will calm the inflammation.



The life of man is a circle from childhood to
childhood, and so it is in everything where
 power moves. Our tipis were round like the nests of
birds, and these were always set in a circle, the
 nation’s hoop, a nest of many nests, where the
 Great Spirit meant for us to hatch our children.

-- Black Elk, Oglia Sioux Holy Man and Medicine Man

Mountain Lion MagicIn many tribes, children chosen as healers begin their preparation when they are quite young. But knowledge about natural medicines is not limited to healers. Native children begin their study of healing substances very early, often by gathering herbs, bark, roots, fungi, minerals, and animal substances with their elders. Each season they master more. One thing they learn is that as important as what people collect is the respect with which they harvest the precious substances. Cecelia Mitchell, a Wolf Clan herbalist from Akwesasne, teaches that “medicines are like people and can play games on you and hide.” You must also “have good thoughts when you go for medicine.” And she suggests that you “take some and leave some, and only take what you need,” remembering to give thanks to Mother Earth by leaving tobacco, cornmeal, or another small gift.


1 tablespoon dried bee balm leaves, crushed
1 teaspoon dried marshmallow root, cut fine or powdered

Wild bergamot, also called bee balm, is a favorite flower for hummingbirds. A tea made from bee balm and marshmallow has a soothing effect on the throat and stomach. It can relieve gas and aid digestion. It is good at any age, but mild enough to be given to children.

Place ingredients in a tea ball or cheesecloth bag in an 8-ounce teapot. Pour boiling water over them to fill the pot. Cover and steep for 5 to 10 minutes.

Pour ½ cup in a small glass and sweeten with a teaspoon of honey or maple syrup. Drink 4 ounces just before each meal.



My mom and dad wanted me to have this ceremony.
 They told me that I would have a blessing and a good
life. And the told me, “After you have this dance, you’re
 not a child anymore. You must put away all your
 playthings.” And I thought, how can this be?
I’m still young. But that’s how you fell after
 the dance is over. You’re not a child anymore.

-- Pansy Cassadore, San Carlos Apache 

Tribal Sky WatchMany girls and boys passed easily through the growth spurts and other body changes of puberty. But for those who had a more difficult time, a host of native botanicals provided relief. Their common names--- fever bush or cramp bark----- signified discrete herbs in different regions, but they accurately reflected their uses. Shadblow bark [amelanchier], along with cramp bark [Viburnum opulus], slippery elm bark [Ulmus fulva], and willow bark have long been reliable analgesics.

A wide range of herbs can be used to relieve bloating, cramps, and other menstrual symptoms. American Pennyroyal, [Hedeoma pulegiodes], either fresh or dried, was steeped to make a valuable tea and used----- in limited amounts----- to ease pain. Although they are different, our contemporary herbal uses for pennyroyal abound. It is a fine insecticide, fungicide, household fumigant, and tick repellent. Caution: Pregnant women should not handle or use pennyroyal since it is a strong abortifacient.


1 tablespoon dried chopped roots of wild yam
8 ounces boiling water

The root of wild yam, [Dioscorea villosa], has long been used by native peoples in Central and North America to treat painful menses. The Maya and Aztec Indians also used this medicinal plant for pain relief. Wild yam can act as a diuretic, and teas and tinctures made from it are also effective treatments for indigestion.

Measure the roots into the bottom of an 8 ounce pot. Pour boiling water over them. Cover and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain this into a cup and sip it throughout the day to ease cramps.



Because of running I learned how to
 pursue excellence, accepting only defeat, not failure.
It has ultimately led me to victories in my positive desires.
 God gave me the ability with the rest up to me.
We compete against ourselves to the greatest extent we’re
capable of. We have to believe, believe, and believe.

-- Lakota Athlete Billy Mills, Who Won an Olympic Gold Medal

Morning Before the HuntTraining for the healing arts begins early in native life and becomes increasingly rigorous in adolescence; often a young person training to be a healer studies with a number of medicine people to gain a broad range of experience. He or she might apprentice with an herbalist and perhaps then with a healer or a shaman. Often the youth is tested in various ways to determine if he is serious about the work, and to develop his deeper sensitivities to human suffering and how to heal it. A young apprentice may also be required to undergo fasting and feats of endurance to test his or her resolve.


3 ounces powdered dried white cedar leaves
7 ounces cocoa butter or pure vegetable shortening
1 ounce beeswax [use more or less, depending upon the consistency desired]
1 ounce raw honey
2 to 3 drops vitamin E

A salve sits on the skin surface and provides protective healing benefits. The cooling properties of white cedar are especially rich in minerals that calm burns or irritated skin.

Mix and heat the herbs, cocoa butter, and beeswax together in a small covered pot over low heat for two hours, stirring frequently. If desired, toward the very end add the honey and vitamin E.

Blend the mixture thoroughly and pour it into small containers or onto clean foil in little cookie like pools. Allow it to cool and become firm.



Those who know how to play can easily leap over
 the adversaries of life. And one who knows how to
 sing and laugh never brews mischief.

-- Igluilik [Eskimo] Saying

Medicine Mountain WomanNative men and women held great respect for life, and especially for their children, who represented the tribe’s continuing survival. To best sustain them, many tribes developed various practices to limit family size. Native contraceptive herbs have been the basis for the development of modern contraception. Some of these plant extracts terminate the normal estrous cycle, can decrease the weight of the sex organs, and affect other glands’ size and function.

Many of the key contraceptive herbs were called squaw root or papoose root. These names gave special distinction to their contraceptive energies, since some of these perennial herbs have numerous other properties, applications, and regional names. Both men and women regularly drank small amounts of tea made from the boiled or chewed roots of dogbane, [Apocynum androsaemifolium]; milkweed, [Asclepias syriaca] and other species; wild ginger, [Asarum canadense]; stoneseed, [Lithospermum ruderale]; or antelope sage, [Eriogonum jamesii]. Note: Both milkweed and dogbane are extremely toxic and not recommended for self-medication.

Perhaps one of the most valuable herbs in modern medicine is the common twinning perennial vine wild yam, [Dioscorea villosa]. Diosgenin from this plant is used to manufacture progesterone and other steroid drugs used to treat asthma and eczema, regulate metabolism, and control fertility. Synthetic products created from this plant’s alkaloids effectively treat many other diseases and common ailments and provide our modern contraceptives.


To make an aromatic, sedative, sleep-enhancing pillow, fold equal amounts of the dried leaves of catnip, rabbit tobacco, selected mints, and sage into a small calico or plain cotton pillow case. This pillow will also enhance your dreams, which accounts for its name. The additional of dried rosemary leaves, lavender, and mugwort will make your dreams even more vivid and memorable. Each time you rest your head on this pillow you will experience aromatherapy, smells. These dried herbs also make fine additions to homemade stuffed animals for babies and children.



May all things move and be moved in me
 and know and be known in me.
 May all creation dance for joy within me.

-- A Chinook Prayer

Monument Valley WomanThe medical specialists we call gynecology, obstetrics, and pediatrics have always been areas of primary concern to Indian women.  Many early explorers observed the apparent ease with which American Indian women gave birth. Dr. Virgil Vogel, a noted American Indian historian, has said: “The Indian practices associated with childbirth have been called more rational than those of European of an earlier period. Christians long held that it was contrary to the will of God to ease the pain and discomfort of labor, for it was the intended penalty of the Almighty for original sin.” American Indians had a much more forgiving attitude.

The cleansing astringency of uterine herbs such as blue cohosh roots and red raspberry leaves has long been valued for use throughout pregnancy and childbirth.


1 Fresh raspberry leaf [3-5 leaflets] or
1 teaspoon dried
1 cup boiling water

During the final weeks of pregnancy you may want to drink this mild tea daily to strengthen uterine muscles for delivery.

Crush the herbs in a cup and pour in the water. Cover and infuse for 5 minutes. Do not make a strong infusion. You may drink one or two cups daily.



Lame dear, commenting on the love of the land, suggested
 that as the Sioux get older their faces begin to reflect
 the landscape on which they live, the wrinkles of their faces
 resembling the rolling plains and Badlands of the Dakotas.
He might equally well have described the people as
aging buffalo or as reflecting the granite of the Black Hills
which contain some of the oldest rocks on earth. It is
 important to note that many of the traditional Sioux regard
these ancient relationships as being so powerful as to be
 capable of dominating and largely determining the course of
 individual human lives and fortunes.

-- Vine Deloria Jr., Lakota Sioux Scholar and Writer

Desert Earth GazerMenopause---- or the “change of life,” is the cessation of a women’s menstrual flow. Although all women experience menopause differently, this can be a sensitive time. Driven by decreased estrogen levels, this journey through physical, emotional, and spiritual changes can last for a while. Some women experience mood swings, hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness both before menstruation stops and for several years after. For some women, it can also be a period of self-discovery, when they feel great freedom and experience renewed sexual interest.

Black cohosh, [Cimicifuga racemosa], which is a fine antispasmodic used for menstrual cramps and to stimulate labor, also decrease hot flashes in menopause. Many women also use the roots of blue cohosh, [Caulophyllum thalictroides], especially in herbal tea and tincture formulas, to curb hot flashes and balance mood swings.


One part each:
Dried St. John’s wort
Flowers passionflower
Blossoms devil’s club bark

A formulation including both native and introduced herbs gives the best results. This mixture will help elevate your mood and moderate depression.

Put the herbs into a glass jar; mix and seal it tightly.

To make tea, measure 1 tablespoonful of the herb mixture into a mug, pour boiling water over it, and steep, covered, for 10 minutes. Strain and drink, up to two cups a day.



O Great Spirit
Whose voice I hear in the winds,
And whose breath gives life to all the world,
Hear me! I am small and weak,
I need your strength and wisdom.
Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes ever
Behold the red and purple sunset.
Make my hands respect the things you have made
And my ears sharp to hear your voice.
Make me wise so that I may understand things
You have taught my people
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in
Every leaf and rock.
I seek strength, not to be greater than my brother,
But to fight my greatest enemy----myself.
Make me always ready to come to you with
Clean hands and straight eyes.
So when life fades, as the fading sunset,
My spirit may come to you without shame.

-- Traditional Native American Prayer

Tribal Sleep WalkerCenturies ago our ancestors ate seasonal, regional wild foods. During old age, medications, illness, and other conditions can affect the senses of smell and taste. American Indians long used restoratives such as American ginseng, American ginger, sarsaparilla, sassafras, black birch, sweet fern, and other related root plants, either individually or combined in balance formulas, to raise body heat, stimulate appetite and metabolism, and aid digestion.

By the fires that night
We feasted.
The Old Ones clucked,
Sucking and smacking,
Sopping the juices with sourdough bread.
The grease would warm us
When hungry winter howled.

-- Mary TallMountain, Athabaskan poet


To raise body heat and stimulate poor circulation you can add small amounts of grated or chopped ginger root to cooked vegetables and soups. You might also try powdered dried cayenne or paprika. To stimulate circulation in your feet and ankles, try dusting cayenne into cotton socks just before you pull them on your feet.



When people die they are carried by the moon up the
Land of heaven and live in the eternal hunting grounds.
We can see their windows from on earth, as the stars, but
Beyond this, we know very little of the ways of the dead.

-- Ikinilik, Eskimo Elder

Midnight DreamBurning herbs is a sacred practice used for prayer and purification that is respected in most American Indians traditions. Sage is a purifier, used to banish all trouble and bad spirits. It cleanses an area and sweeps away negativity. [Select species of wild sage are preferred for smudges; people who substitute culinary sage may find that it can cause headache]. On the other hand, sweet grass welcomes the good spirits and good energies back into the area or gathering. These two herbs are often burned during healing prayers and ceremonies, helping to connect with spirit helpers. Burned during funerals and death feasts, their smoke carries prayers and sadness upward to the ancestors’ spirits. Please see our Medicinal Seeds or Sacred Seeds for more information.

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