Traditional Native Remedies for common ailments-take 2
Recently, I wrote a post about traditional herbal for common modern day ailments. Today, I am doing a follow up on it, covering more ailments but also ways of using the herbs. Let’s start with the latter as we might not all be familiar with terms such as decoctions or poultices... And further, our ancestors were quite ingenious in how they used the herbs, oftentimes using all the parts in different ways (also preparing them each in a different way). Remember that although I am a mental health professional, I am not a medical doctor. So when unsure, always check with your family doctor before taking herbs.
Well this refers to herbal teas we commonly drink. Basically, one steeps the herb’s leaves or seeds (and at times the bark). As we would assume, herbal infusions are primarily for drinking but the liquid might be applied externally on cuts or insect bites for example.
To make tea, put a tsp of dried herbs or 2 tsp of fresh herbs in boiling water and let steep for 15 minutes. Drink when cool enough. Do not wait too long as herbal teas lose their healing power after a few hours. If you like your tea stronger, you can double the quantity of herbs but that’s as far as I would go. Using more herbs that that could create side effects rather than healing effects.
What is that you ask? Well decoctions are used when using roots, bark or stem or even woodier herbs or herbs from which the medicinal ingredients are not easy to extract. The process is in some way similar to an herbal infusion. Start by placing the teaspoon of dried herbs or 2 teaspoons of fresh herbs in a pint of cool water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to as long as an hour (depending on the herb). Straining the liquid and drink. Therefore, decoctions are meant to be drank or also can be used as an external wash (or added to a bath). Contrary to herbal infusions, decoctions can be stored in the fridge in a sealed container for up to 24 hours.
A poultice can resemble the image on the right. It is generally used for external problems such as sores, cuts, wounds, irritations. Or even when there is pain due to sprains, or bruises for example. You could either apply the leaves directly to the area or mash or crush the fresh herbs to a paste consistency. Fresh herbs are then used, not dried. You could also boil the herbs for 10-15 minutes. If you want to go “old style” or use the traditional way of doing it, you can chew the herbs until it becomes a paste and apply it to the skin. No matter how it is done, a poultice needs to be placed in contact with the area affected. You can either place it directly on the skin or place cheesecloth or even paper towel between your skin and the herbs.
Little note before I get to it: Remember to think of the Earth and its well-being before taking anything from it. Never take more than you need or more than a third of what is there. And do as little damage as possible to the surrounding area. Treat nature with respect, like you would with any of your relations.
Ok let’s now look at some remedies using herbs for common ailments!
There are many kinds of arthritis and it has been around for a long time. Native Americans dealt with arthritis pain by spending time in the sweat lodge. You can recreate the effect somewhat by closing your bathroom door and running a very hot shower. Don’t go in the shower, but rather sit nearby so the heat and steam penetrate your skin, without burning you. 10-15 minutes should do. It will help loosen your muscles and allow joints to move just as taking a bath or a long shower would. Moist heat increases circulation in painful areas thus allowing the blood to bring in more healing nutrients and take away pain-causing toxins.
As I have discussed before, willow bark contains a compound called salicin, very similar to an active ingredient in aspirin. Drank as a tea, willow bark contains a painkiller acting as an analgesic. Adding some dried licorice root will help you digest the tea. You can also counteract the pain with stinging nettle. Although it might seem counterproductive, sometimes deliberately irritating the skin with a branch of stinging nettle can make the arthritis pain less severe. The tiny stingers on the nettle inject a small amount of anti-inflammatory into the skin.
Today, asthma is a frequent condition. However, our ancestors lived in a world where air pollution was low, crowded living conditions were rare and although they smoked during ceremonies, they were far from smoking a pack a day of toxins containing cigarettes. Therefore, asthma was very rare. Moreover, Native Americans also routinely used herbs that were known to help asthma, such as expectorants or antispasmodics. I will share some of those herbs now but remember to consult your doctor before trying herbal remedies for asthma. Some antispasmodics are black haw, valerian, fennel, licorice and peppermint. Examples of expectorants are milkweed, mullein, licorice and peppermint. Finally, some herbs with sedative properties are hops, lady’s slipper, valerian and mullein.
Well I have suffered from my fair share of back pain, neck pain, etc. You name it! And one thing that often helps for me is to apply heat to the sore area. Again, like the principles of the sweat lodge tell us, heat relaxes the muscles. A heating pad, a hot bath, time in a steam room. All can help. Rubbing the muscles also relaxes them while also helping flushing out the pain-causing toxins such as lactic acid. It seems like a massage is in order!
For those of you who do not have health benefits covering massages….well herbs come to the
rescue. Drink peppermint tea, which contains menthol which has analgesic and muscle-relaxing properties. You could also do your own peppermint rub. Think of the heating or icing rubs drugstores sell. Same principle here. Peppermint creates a warmth sensation that penetrates in your skin and muscles. To make your own peppermint rub: fill a jar with peppermint leaves, cover with vegetable or mineral oil, cap the jar and store in a cool dark place, shaking the jar a few times a day. After 10 days, strain the oil and store in a dark jar. Use oil to massage muscles. Or buy peppermint oil and mix with mineral oil.
Sage can also be quite helpful. You can buy sage oil in health food stores. Mix a few drops with mineral oil and rub. Or once again, willow bark to the rescue! Drink it in a tea mixed with licorice root.
Yes I know not so fun to discuss but herbs can help relieve either one. So why not share them? Our ancestors were very active hunting, gathering food, etc. and therefore it is unlikely that constipation was a huge problem back then. However, they would chew gum made of the resin of the balsam tree. It makes sense if we think that chewing gum increases production of saliva (which contains digestive enzymes) which in turn relax the bowels. Nowadays, dietary fiber has been found to be the best remedy for constipation, as the fiber absorbs water in the large intestine, making the stools larger, stimulating the intestines to move them quicker. Psyllium is one of the best fibers one can take. There are readily available in grocery store or health food stores, usually grounded. However, if you want to make your own, add a teaspoon of plantain seed (psyllium comes from the plantain plant) to a cup of boiling water, allow to cool then drink, seeds and all. Do that once or twice a day. Drink lots of water when using psyllium. Further, rhubarb root is also a powerful laxative, not to take too often. Puree a few stalks of it (not the leaves, they are toxic), add apple juice, a teaspoon of lemon juice, and a tablespoon of honey. Drink once a day, not more!!
As for diarrhea, Native Americans turned to herbal teas, as tea contains tannins which constrict the walls of the intestines. Herbs used in teas were commonly raspberry, peppermint, goldenseal and yarrow leaves. And guess what? As good as psyllium is for constipation, it is also good for diarrhea. What? Yes that is true. If you remember, psyllium absorbs water in the large intestine, making stools firmer. And the fun thing is that psyllium affects different people in different ways. So for you, it might go either way or even both ways depending on the situation. Yes I know that is unusual but you will have to try it to find out!
Ok that is it for now. I hope you found this information to be useful. Once again, if there is any condition you would like me to provide herbal remedies to, let me know by commenting below. Or share your own remedies 🙂