With water at a premium, Native Medicinal plants should be an important consideration in your plan for a medicinal herb garden. These herbs were harvested by the Native American Indians for both food and health. They are drought tolerant and add color, theme, and beauty along side your traditional herb plants such as Rosemary and garlic.
Native Indian Medicine:
Our Native American Indians used herbs extensively for their food and medicine. Science has proved they were correct in how they utilized them. They gained this knowledge though visions and using these herbs for different problems. The information was then carried down through the tribe through the Tribal Medicine Men. This was an important revered position in the tribe. In the pioneer days a woman was safer having their baby delivered by a Indian midwife than white doctors. White doctors would treat a nasty staph infected wound, then deliver a baby. Infection was carried from one patient to the next. White doctors had no knowledge that this procedure was killing their next patient. This lack of knowledge caused abnormally high rates of mortality in mothers and new infants from introduced infection. There were many white settlers saved by the medical expertise of a Native American Medicine man.
Honey Mesquite- (Prosopis glandulosa, “torreyana”)
This tree is a member of the bean / pea family. It grows naturally in the South West and in South America. It forms a flower similar to sweet-pea flowers, then produces edible bean pods. It is deciduous in winter. The bean pods are rich in carbohydrates, protein, calcium, and soluble fiber. The bean pods were dried, pounded and then ground into a powder. They used the powder like flour or corn meal for puddings and drinks. The sap, young shoots, and leaves were made into an astringent and antimicrobial tea for use as a compress for wounds, burns, insect bites, and sunburn. The tea was also used as a gargle for sore throat and to speed the healing of mouth sores. The tea from the sap was used as eyewash for conjunctivitis.
Soapbark Tree (qyukkaha saponaris)
An evergreen Natïve plant from Peru and Chili. It is hardy, drought-resistant, pest-resistant, and will grow on poor soil, steep slopes and fire-damaged land. It is the inner bark rich is Saponins which are utilized as a non-irritating cleaning agent in baby shampoos; a foaming agent in soft drinks such as root beer; and one the elements used in fire extinguishers. Medicinally, it has strong astringent qualities that help tighten and heal tissue; anti-inflammatory qualities that reduce pain and swelling of joints and skin; and is anti-microbial making a natural cleanser for the hands to kill germs. The tea of the inner bark is used as an expectorant to relieve congestion in the lungs. It boosts the immune system and research laboratories are conducting tests for its possible benefit in treating AIDS and Epstein- Barr.
Manzanita Bush: Native to the Mountain areas like Julian. I grew up in Julian, and we had them all over our property. I only was aware of the jam make from the berries and not the medicinal benefits utilized by the Indians. I have two of them that I bought here to our Spring Valley house. They are holding their own in pots. They are hard to grow yourself because it takes heat, such as a wildfire, for the bush to release their seeds. The Native Indians used the Manzanita extensively for medicine as described below:
Berries: Indian tribes ate the berries fresh, dried, or made them into cakes for later use; dried and ground into flour to make porridge, bread, or cakes; berries were bruised and made into jelly; or soaked overnight, then made into a cider-like drink.
Leaves: Infusion of the leaves was used for diarrhea, lung problems, venereal diseases, and poison oak; a decoction was used for burns, rashes, cuts, bruises, bladder and kidney ailments; and the leaves were chewed for stomach problems and cramps. All the different Indian tribes made use of the berries and leaves but prepared them in different ways depending on availability, tradition and need.
Elderberry Bush (sambucus canadensis): Elderberries are a member of the honeysuckle family and grow native in Southern California. Their medicinal usage goes back to Hippocrates in 400 BC. Europe has its own variety and elderberry wine was popular there. The berries which are either red, black or blue are a food and medicine source. The red elderberries should not be eaten, only the black and blue berries. The berries can be used as blueberries in pies, pancakes, and other baked goods. Elderberries should be dried or cooked before eating them. They can cause nausea when eaten raw.
Elderberry tea is very medicinal. The berries contain calcium, phosphorous, fruit acids, bioflavonoids, potassium, beta-carotene and more vitamin C than most herbs except for black currents and rose hips. It was and can be purchased today as a cough syrup for colds and flu. Elderberries contain diuretic and detoxifying properties and have been used by people to lose weight and in skin products as well.
Arctostaphylos (uva-ursi): The use of this plant goes back to the 13th century and its use was documented by medical doctors then and in the writings of Marco Polo. Marco Polo learned about the herb’s medicinal benefits from Chinese doctors. It was also used by European doctors for hundreds of years for urinary tract infections. Research has confirmed that this plant has potent antibacterial properties. The medicinal properties include Arbutin, Ursolic acid, and Isoquercitrin.
These medicinal properties of Uva Ursi have been shown to kill bacteria, E Coli, Staph, and Candida Albicans. It was used by the Native Indians to treat urinary tract and bladder infections! The herb can break down kidney and bladder stones and prevent new ones from forming. It is not recommended for kidney infections in some literature and I could not find the specific reason why.
This herb is potent and when used alone should be used under the direction of an herbal doctor. It is difficult to know if your infection is just a bladder infection or more serious. Bladder and kidney infections can get dangerous, so it is wise to seek medical care. Visit a holistic doctor who will work with you on alternative medicine to treat the infections. Some of the drugs used to treat these infections have some nasty side effects and also wipe out the beneficial bacteria in your gut. You often end up with a yeast infection after taking medicine to treat bladder infections. The herb should not be taken by women who are pregnant. In formulas, the herb in small amounts is usually combined with other herbs for bladder problems and is safe. You can find herbal bladder formulations in most herb stores. This herb is to be taken for a specific problem for a short time period. It is not meant to be drunk for pleasure and used every day. This herb is better to take it on an alkaline diet rather than an acid diet for most effectiveness.
Indian Medicine is evidence for the effectiveness of herbal medicine:
It should be noted that scientists today are verifying the medicinal properties of these herbs which Native Americans used with success in their culture. They proved with years of successful use that these herbs do work. Scientific research studies only document the effect of herbal healing for short periods of time – weeks. Often these studies are slanted to put herbal medicine in a negative light. Often the research is seriously flawed.
Which then is the true evidence to determine if herbal medicine works? 12 week trials with a handful of patients or whole generations of people treated with herbal medicine? I for one stop using things that don’t work. If had not worked, these people would not have survived these illnesses. It was not until foreigners brought in small pox and measles to the tribes that Indian medicine was doubted. The Native Indian population had no immunity developed to these new diseases that killed their people in days. They had no time to find natural medicines that might have saved their tribe members. The starvation they endured on the reservations on poor land with no buffalo left to eat for meat, helped ensure their death from these introduced diseases. The herbs needed for their medicine were often unavailable on the reservation land. Indian herbal medicine was potent and successful until settlers moved in bringing plagues. We still have time to save this world, if we pay attention to what history teaches.