Honoring Indigenous North American Herbs

An article written by our partners Anima Mundi Herbals

Depending on where you live and work, you might find yourself transitioning back to work after a long weekend. Or, if your local traditions on the second Monday of October are catching up to the majority of the United States (in 100+ cities), maybe you had a regular Monday like any other? According to the Pew Research Center, “Columbus Day seems to be fading as a widely observed holiday”. Some cities celebrate both holidays, causing both confusion and contradictions, while others have abolished one and embraced the other …

Curious how we got here?

NPR reports that in recent decades, Native American advocates and allies have fought to “correct a ‘whitewashed’ American history that has glorified Europeans like Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who have committed violence against indigenous communities.” Though there are many ways to celebrate the evolving day and all it represents, many Indigenous folks suggest reflection, recognition, and education may be appropriate.

Today, we’re honoring this important milestone in American history with a note of gratitude to our Indigenous healers and ancestors.

We give thanks to those who have passed on the plant wisdom of this continent for generations of seekers after them. Getting to know these essential Indigenous North American herbs and herbalists offers a window into the healing plants all around us, which can nourish our spirits and our communities. Indigenous Peoples deserve more than just one day of recognition; their contributions to our health and wellness span centuries!

If, like us, you’re curious about North American herbs and plant medicines, we’ve compiled some informative lists that offer a great starting point of inquiry.

In offering up this culturally conscious content, we intend to uplift our ancestors and the current curanderismo practitioners throughout the world. We encourage our Anima Mundi community to continue seeking new ways of learning about these rich legacies. Here are some treasures from the Indigenous North American pharmacopeia to maintain healthy bowels, fight infections like cold and flu, relieve menstrual discomfort, and more!

“In some Native languages the term for plants translates to 

‘those who take care of us’.” 

 Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass


CASCARA SAGRADA (Frangula purshiana

Origin: Northwestern U.S.

Used for: Known as the “most widely used cathartic on earth”, according to United Plant Savers, cascara sagrada means “sacred bark”. It has been employed as a laxative for millennia. First used by indigenous peoples in North America to relieve constipation, several tribes also relied on the herbal remedy to restore the bowel to a healthier tone.

AMERICAN GINSENG (Panax quinquefolius

Origin: Eastern North America; also grows in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Ontario

Used for: One of the most popular herbs in the United States today, American ginseng root has long been used by Native Americans to treat fever, indigestion, headaches, and even infertility. A stimulant that can boost the immune system and reduce stress, its power also extends to fighting infections like cold and flu and to treat the resulting symptoms.

SLIPPERY ELM (Ulmus rubra

Origin: Eastern North America

Used for: For centuries, Native Americans have used this healing salve for wounds, burns, skin inflammation, boils, and ulcers. A cough suppressant and sore throat soother, slippery elm is also said to alleviate stomach problems such as diarrhea.

BARBERRY (Berberis genus)

Origin: Eastern North America

Used for: Native Americans believe barberry is capable of more than just its curative properties; to many, it is a sacred object for ritual practice in the prevention or remedying of illnesses via supernatural powers (source: peer.tamu.edu). In the homeopathic medicinal system, it’s among the most widely used herbs for relieving kidney pain and kidney stones.

ANGELICA (Angelica atropurpurea)

Origin: Eastern North America

Used for: In Arkansas, Native Americans are said to have regularly carried Angelica atropurpurea in their medicine bags to mix with tobacco for smoking. Additionally, researchers at Texas A&M University shared that angelica is also used to relieve “menstrual discomfort, minimize symptoms of menopause, treat colds and other respiratory problems, prevent arthritis, and combat certain cancers” (source: peer.tamu.edu).

“Everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease has an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence’.”

— Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket)

Note from Conscious City Guide: Please always remember as an community event creator to acknowledge and give reverence to the Native origins of practices of what you share. Read our values and policies here.

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