Want to start learning more about our indigenous medicines but don’t know what to look for? Find these ten common plants in any yard throughout Haudenosaunee Territory and bring decolonization to your medicine cabinet.
1. Purslane – If you’re on the rez and want to impress your non-indigenous visitors, pick a young vine of Purslane off the ground and start munching away. This ground creeping vine-like power-food is delicious; similar in flavour and texture to green beans. Purslane is an excellent source of Omega-3’s & Vitamin E, and carries seven times more beta-carotene than carrots!
2. Chamomile – This flowering herb is usually used for making tea. But don’t let its light and fruity flavour fool you. Chamomile has excellent healing properties for both soothing the stomach and acts as a mild sedative.
3. Peppermint – Another herb used commonly in tea which happens to grow wild all over Grand River Territory. Medical studies report that peppermint can help all kinds of gastrointestinal ailments including Irritable Bowel Syndrome. But did you know this fresh herb also contains menthol; a compound which reportedly inhibits the growth of Prostate Cancer?
4. Strawberries – Called “the leader of the medicines” many Haudenosaune will be familiar with jihsǫ:dahk. These delicate berries are commonly taken mashed and sweetened to make strawberry juice, which is an excellent treatment for constipation. Despite their small size, wild strawberries tote some big healing qualities. They are also a cleansing medicine, and can detoxify both internally and externally. Naturopathic physicians recommend wild strawberries to treat people with liver ailments. Got acne or psoriasis? Try applying a mash of the berries to the affected area to cleanse and aid in healing.
5. Dandelions – One person’s trash is another person’s treasure! While many a lawn gardener has poisoned and banished these springtime blossoms, their health benefits are gaining a lot of attention these days. Dandelion greens are showing up on dinner plates everywhere, but the root of the dandelion is what’s getting the most attention. In 2012, medical researchers took note of this medicine after a man diagnosed with Stage 4 leukaemia who was treating his disease exclusively by taking Dandelion Root Tea went into full remission. Subsequently, in 2013 the University of Windsor received funding to begin an on-going study of this root’s ability to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours.
6. Mullein – These plants are beautifully majestic when allowed to grow to full size, at times reaching up to ten feet high. The leaves can be dried and used for tea to treat asthma or bronchitis. If you’re not a tea drinker, place some dried leaf in a smudge bowl and let the smoke cascade through the air. Inhaling the smoke can ease respiratory inflammation.
7. Raspberries – Ladies, if you are lucky enough to have a wild raspberry patch in your backyard, don’t forget to harvest some of the leaves for your medicine cabinet. Red Raspberry Leaf Tea has been used by Midwives for generations to prepare women for labour. It is recommended to tone the uterus – easing menstrual cramps and shortening the second stage of childbirth. Following birth it is used to flush away the excess hormones which contribute to “baby blues” and also can amp up your milk supply. Raspberries are also a delicious way to help eradicate a urinary tract infection.
8. Cedar – Got a cold that you just can’t kick? Put fresh cedar in a pot of boiling water for 20 minutes to cleanse the air and rid your home of germs. Cedar is also used in smudging for its spiritual cleansing properties and is often seen hanging over the doorways of people’s homes for that purpose. Cedar can be boiled and made into a tea, or used in cleansing baths to help centre a person’s spirit as well.
9. Plantain – From cuts to bee stings to spider bites and beyond, Plaintain is known as a heal-all medicine bearing anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It can even draw venom out from a snake bite. The leaves are commonly found in salads and taste like spinach but if you find yourself itching madly from mosquito bites try chewing up a leaf or two and applying the mash to your bites. Same goes for poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Just make sure the area you’re harvesting from has not been sprayed with pesticides.
10. White Pine – If you want to prevent your family from getting sick, boil the knots from the wood of a White Pine Tree. The tree can also purify the air in your home in the winter months. Boiling the needles, bark and resin of the White Pine to inhale the vapours also eases chest colds, laryngitis and bronchitis. Pine pitch, that sticky stuff that White Pine trees ooze, is also anti-microbial. You can apply it to small wounds to aid in healing but it is extremely sticky. Try washing it off by rubbing in some sunflower or another non-GMO oil into your skin and it will smooth right away and leave your hands smelling great.