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The Four Sacred Herbs

The Anishnaabe (Woodland Indians) live life in a very sacred manner. Everything in Ide has a significance and is honored and respected. To those who live the traditional way, there are four plants that are especially revered and used in daily living.

SAMAH (Tobacco) Samah, or tobacco, is one of the four sacred plants, representing the Eastern direction. Ananishnaabek used a form of tobacco known as kinikinik, or red willow. Some still prefer to use the kinikinik, but many use store-bought tobacco. Samah is used in the offering of prayer to the Creator, acting as a medium for communication. It is either offered to the fire, so the smoke can lift the prayers to the Creator, or it is set on the ground in a nice, clean place. This is done on a daily basis as each new day is greeted with prayers of thankfulness. The Elders say to hold it in your prayers of thankfulness. They also add that you are to hold it in your left hand as that is the hand closer to your heart. It is always good to offer Samah when seeking knowledge or advice from an Elder or when a Pipe is present.

KEEZHIK (Cedar) Keezhik, or cedar, represents the Southern direction. The leaves are cleaned from the stems and separated into small pieces which are used in many ways. When burned, Keezhik acts as a purifier, cleansing the area in which it is burned and emitting a pleasant scent. Elders say to put some in your shoes and only goodness will come your way.

MUSHKODEWUSHK (Sage) Mushkodewushk, also known as sage, is used in much the same ways as Keezhik (cedar). It is burned as a purifier, but when compared to the piney scent of cedar, sage has a spicy air. Mushkodewushk represents the Western direction.

WEENGUSH (Sweetgrass) Weengush, the sweetgrass, is known for its beautifully sweet aromatc scent, which is enhanced when it rains or when it is burned. This, too, is a purifier. Many things are made with weengush (sweetgrass) such as coiled baskets. It is often braided and thus signified the hair of O'gushnan (Our Mother the Earth). Each of the three sections that go into the braid have a specific meaning, being mind, body and spirit. Because Anishnaabe people live life in a very sacred manner, when taking something from the Earth, they always explain to the spirit of the plant why it is being done and offer some tobacco in return for the generosity and help of the plant which shared itself so freely.

 

Many Native tribes in North America use sweetgrass in prayer, smudging or purifying ceremonies and consider it a sacred plant. It is usually braided, dried, and burned. Sweetgrass braids smolder and doesn't produce an open flame when burned. Just as the sweet scent of this natural grass is attractive and pleasing to people, so is it attractive to good spirits. Sweetgrass is often burned at the beginning of a prayer or ceremony to attract positive energies.

Densmore (1974) describes that among the Chippewa (Ojibwa), "young people, chiefly young men, carried a braid of sweet grass and cut off 2 or 3 inches of it and burned it for perfume. Young men wore two braids of sweet grass around their necks, the braids being joined in the back and falling on either side of the neck like braids of hair."

Sweetgrass is used to "smudge"; the smoke from burning sweetgrass is fanned on people, objects or areas. Individuals smudge themselves with the smoke, washing the eyes, ears, heart and body. Mi'kmaq have long used sweetgrass as a smudging ingredient, often mixed with other botanicals. Sweetgrass is one of the four medicines which comprise a group of healing plants used by the people in Anishinabe, Bode'wad mi, and Odawa societies. The other three are tobacco, cedar, and sage (Mary Ritchie 1995).

Among the Chippewa wicko'bimucko'si (sweetgrass) is braided and used in pipe-smoking mixtures along will red willow and bearberry, when it is burned, prayers, thoughts and wishes rise with the smoke to the creator who will hear them. Densmore (1974) describes the story of "a hunting incident in which a party of men placed sweet grass on the fire when the camp was in danger of starving and they were going again to hunt. Medicine men kept sweet grass in the bag with their medicinal roots and herbs".

A tea is brewed by Native Americans for coughs, sore throats, chafing and venereal infections. It is also used by women to stop vaginal bleeding and to expel afterbirth. It is warned that because the roots contain coumarin, that sweetgrass tea may be considered a carcinogenic.

Ancient Cherokee Remedy for relief of poison ivy and poison oak

Even some of our Cherokee ancestors suffered from the effects of poison ivy and poison oak and they had their own remedy for relief.

The Cherokee and most woodland Indians used acorns for relief from poison ivy and poison oak: put about 30 acorns into 1 1/2 gallons of hot water and boil down to half this amount, uncovered, for about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Then strain and cool the remainder and put on the affected area.

Another use of an oak is to boil a 6 by 2 inch section of inner oak bark in a quart of water for 5 to 10 minutes; simmer for 1 hour; let cool and then apply the liquid to the infected area for relief of itching.

Herbs Common to the Cherokee Country

This week, we share a few of the herbs common to the Cherokee country, and their uses. Remember, these plants are very valuable as medicines because of the great chemical powers they contain. At the same time, these chemicals can be potentially dangerous if used in the wrong way. Cherokee herbalists have great experience, and have gone through extensive training and observation. Novice herbal practitioners are advised to seek out and develop a close relationship with Cherokee herbalists or their elders to learn how to use these medicines properly.

Blackberry
One of the herbs known the longest time for soothing stomach problems is the blackberry. Using a strong tea from the roots is helpful is reducing and soothing swollen tissues and joints. An infusion from the leaves is also used as a tonic for stimulating the entire system. A decoction from the roots, sweetened with sugar or honey, makes a syrup used for an expectorant. It is also healing for sore throats and gums. The leaves can also be chewed fresh to soothe bleeding gums. The Cherokee historically use the tea for curing diarrhea.

Gum (Black Gum)
Cherokee healers use a mild tea made from small pieces of the bark and twigs to relieve chest pains.

Hummingbird Blossoms (Buck Brush)
This herb is used by Cherokee healers by making a weak decoction of the roots for a diuretic that stimulates kidney function.

Cat Tail (Cattail)
This plant is not a healing agent, but is used for preventative medicine. It is an easily digestable food helpful for recovering from illness, as it is bland. Most all parts of the plant, except for the mature leaves and the seed head, are edible. Due to wide-spread growing areas, it is a reliable food source all across America. The root has a very high starch content, and can be gathered at any time. Preparation is very similar to potatoes, and can be mashed, boiled, or even mixed with other foods. The male plant provides pollen that is a wonderful source for protein. You can add it as a supplement to other kinds of flour when making breads.

Pull Out a Sticker (Greenbriar)
A decoction of the small roots of this plant is useful as a blood purifier. It is also a mild diuretic. Some healers make a salve from the leaves and bark, mixed with hog lard, and apply to minor sores, scalds and burns. Some Cherokee healers also use the root tea for arthritis.

Mint
Mint teas are a stimulant for the stomach, as it aids in digestion. The crushed and bruised leaves can be used as a cold compress, made into a salve, or added to the bath water which relieves itching skin. Cherokee healers also use an infusion of the leaves and stems to lower high blood pressure.

Tobacco-like Plant (Mullein)
This is one of the oldest herbs, and some healers recommend inhaling the smoke from smoldering mullein roots and leaves to soothe asthma attacks and chest congestion. The roots can be made into a warm decoction for soaking swollen feet or reducing swelling in joints. It also reduces swelling from inflammation and soothes painful, irritated tissue. It is particularly useful to the mucous membranes. A tea can be made from the flowers for a mild sedative.

Cherokee Medicinal Herbs

The Cherokee have been gifted by the Creator with an understanding of the gathering, use and preservation of medicinal herbs. The Cherokee believe that these plants were put on this earth to provide not only healing methods, but preventative measures, as well.

Many plants have disappeared throughout the years, or have become extremely scarce. Because of this, we recommend extreme care in gathering wild herbs and other plants. The old ones taught that when you gather, only pick or dig every third plant you find. This will ensure that enough specimens remain to continue propagation. Many traditionalists carry on the practice of asking the plant’s permission to be gathered, and leave a small gift of thanks. This can be a small bead or other such item. It is also recommended by Cherokee traditionalists that should you find a wild crop of useful herbs, do not share it’s location unless it is to a person very close to you. This will ensure that large numbers of people do not clean out an entire wild crop in a short time.

Additional information regarding the gathering, usage and application of medicinal herbs can be found by talking to the elders of a Cherokee family. Many of these people will still recall some of the home remedies that their families used, as well as provide information on herbs which they themselves use.

We share a few of the herbs common to the old Cherokee country, and their uses. Remember, these plants are very valuable as medicines because of the great chemical powers they contain. At the same time, these chemicals can be potentially dangerous if used in the wrong way. Cherokee herbalists have great experience, and have gone through extensive training and observation. Novice herbal practitioners are advised to seek out and develop a close relationship with Cherokee herbalists or their elders to learn how to use these medicines properly.

Blackberry

One of the herbs known the longest time for soothing stomach problems is the backberry. Using a strong tea from the roots is helpful is reducing and soothing swollen tissues and joints. An infusion from the leaves is also used as a tonic for stimulating the entire system. A decoction from the roots, sweetened with sugar or honey, makes a syrup used for an expectorant. It is also healing for sore throats and gums. The leaves can also be chewed fresh to soothe bleeding gums. The Cherokee historically use the tea for curing diarrhea.

Gum (Black Gum)

Cherokee healers use a mild tea made from small pieces of the bark and twigs to relieve chest pains.

Hummingbird Blossoms (Buck Brush)

This herb is used by Cherokee healers by making a weak decoction of the roots for a diuretic that stimulates kidney function.

Cat Tail (Cattail)

This plant is not a healing agent, but is used for preventative medicine. It is an easily digestable food helpful for recovering from illness, as it is bland. Most all parts of the plant, except for the mature leaves and the seed head, are edible. Due to wide-spread growing areas, it is a reliable food source all across America. The root has a very high starch content, and can be gathered at any time. Preparation is very similar to potatoes, and can be mashed, boiled, or even mixed with other foods. The male plant provides a pollen that is a wonderful source for protein. You can add it as a supplement to other kinds of flour when making breads.

Pull Out a Sticker (Greenbriar)

A decoction of the small roots of this plant is useful as a blood purifier. It is also a mild diuretic. Some healers make a salve from the leaves and bark, mixed with hog lard, and apply to minor sores, scalds and burns. Some Cherokee healers also use the root tea for arthritis.

Mint

Mint teas are a stimulant for the stomach, as it aids in digestion. The crushed and bruised leaves can be used as a cold compress, made into a salve, or added to the bath water which relieves itching skin. Cherokee healers also use an infusion of the leaves and stems to lower high blood pressure.

Tobacco-like Plant (Mullein)

This is one of the oldest herbs, and some healers recommend inhaling the smoke from smoldering mullein roots and leaves to soothe asthma attacks and chest congestion. The roots can be made into a warm decoction for soaking swollen feet or reducing swelling in joints. It also reduces swelling from inflammation and soothes painful, irritated tissue. It is particularly useful to the mucous membranes. A tea can be made from the flowers for a mild sedative.

Qua lo ga (Sumac)

All parts of the common sumac have a medicinal use. Mild decoctions from the bark can be used as a gargle for sore throats, and may be taken for a remedy for diarrhea. A tea from the leaves and berries also reduces fevers. Fresh bruised leaves and ripe berries are made into a poultice which soothes poison ivy. A drink from the ripened or dried berries makes a pleasant beverage which is a good source of vitamin C.

Big Stretch, or Nuyigala dinadanesgi utana (Wild Ginger)

The Cherokee commonly recommend a mild tea of this herb, made from the rootstock which is a mild stimulant for the digestive system. It can also help colic, intestinal gas, or the common upset stomach. A strong, hot infusion of the roots can act as an expectorant in eliminating mucus from the lungs. Fresh wild ginger may be substituted for the regular store-bought ginger roots as a spice for cooking.

What Rabbits Eat, or Jisdu unigisdi (Wild Rose)

The ripe fruit of the Wild Rose is a rich source of Vitamin C, and is a reliable preventative and cure for the common cold. The tea from the hips is a mild diuretic, and stimulates the bladder and kidneys. When the infusion of the petals is used, it is an ancient remedy for sore throats. Cherokee healers recommend a decoction of the roots for diarrhea.

Squirrel Tail, or Saloli gatoga (Yarrow)

Yarrow has many uses. The best known use is to stop excess bleeding. Freshly crushed leaves can be applied to open wounds or cuts, and the properties of the herb will cause the blood to clot. A fresh juice of yarrow, diluted with spring or distilled water, can held internal bleeding such as stomach and intestinal disorders. The leaves, prepared as a tea, is believed to stimulate intestinal functions and aid in digestion. It also helps the flow of the kidneys, as well as the gallbladder. A decoction made of the leaves and stems acts as an astringent, and is a wonderful wash for all kinds of skin problems such as acne, chapped hands, and other irritations.

Looks Like Coffee, or Kawi Iyusdi (Yellow Dock)

This plant is not only a medicinal herb, but also a food. It is much like spinach, but believe it or not, contains MORE vitamins and minerals. Because of the long taproot, it gathers nutrients from deep underground. The leaves are a source of iron, and also have laxative properties. Juices from the stems, prepared in a decoction, can be made into an ointment with beeswax and olive oil, and used for itching, minor sores, diaper rash, and other irritations. Cherokee herbalists prescribe a warm wash made from the decoction of crushed roots for a disinfectant. Juice from the root, not prepared in any certain way, is said to be a cure for ringworm.

As always, remember that these plants are very valuable as medicines because of the great chemical powers they contain. At the same time, these chemicals can be potentially dangerous if used in the wrong way. Cherokee herbalists have great experience, and have gone through extensive training and observation. Novice herbal practitioners are advised to seek out and develop a close relationship with Cherokee herbalists or their elders to learn how to use these medicines properly

 

 

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