Medicinal plants of the American West

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Medicinal plants of the American West are often under-represented in modern health care. They have long been used by Native Americans of the region.

Use and availability

European and Asian plants are commonly used for healing, and are available in herbalist shops.

Medicinal plants of the American West are generally not as available, but can be grown in gardens. Collecting plants in nature may be illegal without a proper permit.

Native Americans of the West routinely use these plants in health care.

Among Indians, spiritual health and physical health are inseparable. In fact, an unhealthy spirit leads to an unhealthy body. Most Indian healers start by healing the spirit, then the body. Prayer, singing, talking and comforting are an essential part of healing.

Ritualistic use

Many traditionally used plants are ritualistic or shamanistic in nature, prompting interest as recreational or hallucinogenic uses of western plants, such as peyote, Lophophora williamsii, California Jimson weed and others.

Jimson weed, Datura wrightii and Datura stramonium, as well as most other Datura species, can cause respiratory depression and death when not used in carefully controlled dosage.[1]

These plants have been used for centuries by Native Americans to induce sacred dreams, as a spiritual experience. Some of these plants were also used in rites of passage.[citation needed]

Particular plants

The following plants are routinely used by American Indians, and have come to be recognized as safe by virtue of historical and continued use without deleterious effects to health.[citation needed]

  • White sage, (Salvia apiana) can be grown in a garden and used every day to purify the spirit. One leaf is placed in a water bottle, and used normally. Sucking on a leaf can soothe sore throats since the leaves contain camphor and other therapeutic compounds:
Chemical Constituents and Relative Percentages
α-Thujene 0.3%
α-Pinene 9.0%
Camphene 0.4%
β-Pinene 9.1%
Myrcene 0.5%
3-Carene 1.3%
Cymene 2.8%
Limonene 2.0%
1,8-Cineole 71.6%
α-Pinene oxide 0.2%
Camphor 2.1%
Terpinolenone 0.2%
β-Carophyllene oxide 0.6%
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used for various ailments including cramps, fevers, and toothache.[13]


There are several books about western medicinal plants:

  • Moerman, Daniel E. (2000). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland. ISBN 0-88192-453-9. A comprehensive collection of many plants with descriptions of their uses.
  • Strike, Sandra S. (1994). "Aboriginal uses of California's Indigenous Plants". Ethnobotany of the California Indians. Volume 2. Koeltz Scientific Books USA, Champaign. ISBN 1-878762-51-6. Very thorough discussion of California medicinal plants.
  • George R. Mead (1972). The Ethnobotany of the California Indians: A Compendium of the Plants, Their Users, and Their Uses. University of Northern Colorado Press, Greeley. A partial list of plants used in the west.
  • S. Foster and C. Hobbs (2002). The Peterson Field Guide Series A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Co, New York. ISBN 0-395-83807-X. A field guide with photographs of each plant and descriptions of their uses.
  • C. Garcia and J.D. Adams (2005). Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West - Cultural and Scientific Basis for their Use. Abedus Press, La Crescenta. ISBN 0-9763091-0-6. Gives the Chumash Indian and scientific basis for use of many plants, along with color photographs of each plant. Cecilia Garcia is a Chumash healer.
  • Lowell J. Bean and K.S. Saubel (1972). Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Malki Museum Press, Morongo Indian Reservation. A discussion of Cahuilla Indian plants and their uses. Saubel is a Cahuilla Indian.

See also


  1. Arnett, Amy M. (December 1995). "Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium) Poisoning". Clinical Toxicology Review. 18 (3). Retrieved 2007-07-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  2. "Palliative Care Among Chumash People" (PDF). Wild Food Plants. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  3. "Takape Kakaaka". Tongva Medicinal Plants. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  4. Strike, Sandra (1994). "Aboriginal Uses of California's Indigenous Plants". Ethnobotany of the California Indians. Vol. 2. Champaign: Koeltz Scientific Books. ISBN 1-878762-51-6.
  5. Setzer, William N., Bernhard Vogler, Jennifer M. Schmidt, Joseph G. Leahy and Richard Rives (March 2004). "Antimicrobial activity of Artemisia douglasiana leaf essential oil". Fitoterapia. 75 (2): 192–200. Retrieved 2007-07-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Adams Jr., James D. and Cecilia Garcia (February 1 2006). "Women's health among the Chumash" (PDF). eCAM. Retrieved 2007-07-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  7. Adams Jr., James D., and Cecilia Garcia. "The advantages of traditional Chumash healing". eCAM. 2005 (2): 19‐23.
  8. Blackburn TC (1975). December's Child: A Book of Chumash Oral Narratives. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  9. Sales of Supplements Containing Ephedrine Alkaloids (Ephedra) Prohibited. From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed September 12 2007.
  10. Pérez Gutiérrez RM, Laguna GY, Walkowski A. (1985 Nov-Dec). "Diuretic activity of Mexican equisetum". J Ethnopharmacol. 14 (2–3): 269–72. Retrieved 2007-07-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Herbs and Spices". Commercial Vegetable Production Guides. Oregon State University. April 2 2002. Retrieved 2007-07-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. Mackowiak, Philip A. (2000). "Brief History of Antipyretic Therapy" (PDF). CID. 31 (Suppl 5). Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  13. "Yarrow". Factsheets. Purdue Center for New Crops. December 2 1997. Retrieved 2007-07-14. Check date values in: |date= (help)

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