Medicine

 
 

Origin of disease and medicine

Herbs common to the Cherokee country and their uses

The old ones tell us that at one time, the animals, fish, insects and plants could all talk. Together with the people, they were at peace and had a great friendship. As time went on, the numbers of people grew so much that their settlements spread over the whole earth, and the animals found themselves cramped for space. To make things worse, the people invented bows, knives, blowguns, spears, and hooks, and they began to hunt and kill the larger animals, birds and fish only for their hides. The smaller creatures, like the frogs and worms, were stepped upon and crushed without thought, out of carelessness, and sometimes even contempt. The animals decided to meet in a council to agree on measures for their safety. 

The bears were the first ones to meet in a council, at Mulberry Place, or Kuwahi mountain. The old White Bear Chief led the council. After each one had his turn of complaining about the way people killed their friends, ate their flesh, and used their skins for his own purposes, they decided to begin a war at once against man. One of the bears asked what kind of weapons the people used to destroy them. "Bows and arrows!" exclaimed all the Bears together. "What are they made of?" was the next question. "The bow is made of wood, and the string is made of our entrails," replied one of the Bears. They then decided they would make a bow and see if they could use the same type of weapon the people were using. One of the Bears got a nice piece of locust wood, and another bear sacrificed himself for the good and betterment of his brothers of sisters. He offered to let his entrails be used for the string of the bow. When everything was ready, a Bear found that in letting the arrow fly after drawing the string, his long claws got in the way and his shot was ruined. He was very frustrated, but someone suggested they clip his claws. After this, it was found that the arrow went straight to the mark. But, the Chief White Bear objected, saying they must not trim their claws as they needed them to climb trees. "One of us already gave his life, and if we cut off our claws, then we must all starve together. I think we should trust and use the teeth and claws the Creator gave us, and it is plain that the people's weapons were not made for us." 

They could not think of a better plan, so the chief White Bear dismissed council and the Bears dispersed throughout the woods without having come up with a way to protect themselves. Had they come up with such a way, we would not be at war with the Bears, but the way it is today, the hunter does not even ask the Bear's pardon when he kills one.

The Deer held the next council, under their Chief Little Deer. They decided they would send arthritis to every hunter who kills one of them, unless he made sure to ask their pardon for the offense. They sent out a notice of their decision to the nearest settlement of Cherokees and told them how they could avoid this. Now, whenever a hunter shoots a Deer, Little Deer, who is swift as the wind and cannot be harmed, goes quickly to the spot and asks the spirit of the Deer if it has heard the prayer of the hunter, asking for pardon. If the spirit replies yes, everything is in balance. If the reply is no, Little Deer follows the trail of the hunter, and when resting in his home, Little Deer enters invisibly and strikes the hunter with arthritis. No hunter who regards his own health ever fails to ask pardon of the Deer for killing it. 

Next, the Fish and Reptiles held their own council. They decided to make their victims dream of snakes climbing about them, and blowing stinky breath in their faces. They also dream of decaying fish, so that they would lose their appetites and die of hunger. 

Finally, the Birds, Insects and smaller animals came together for their own council. The Grubworm was the Chief of the council. They decided that each should give his opinion, and then they would vote as to whether or not the people were guilty. Seven votes would be enough for a guilty verdict. One after another, they complained about man's cruelty and disrespect. The Frog spoke first, saying, "We must do something to slow down how fast they are multiplying! Otherwise, we will disappear from the face of the earth through extinction!" The Frog continued, "They have kicked me about because they say I am ugly and now my back is covered with sores." He showed them the spots on his back. Next, the Bird condemned people because, "They burn off my feet in the barbecue!" Others followed with their own complaints. The Groundsquirrel was the only one to say something in the people's defense, because he was so small he did not endure the hunting and disrespect. The others became so angry at him, the swooped on him and tore him with their claws. The stripes are on his back until this day. 

They began to name so many new diseases, one after another. The Grubworm was more and more pleased as all these new names were being called off. 

Then the Plants, who were friendly to man, heard about all these things the animals were doing to the people. Each tree, shrub, and herb, agreed to furnish a cure for some of the diseases. Each said, "I will appear and help the people when they call upon me." This is how the medicines came to be. Every plant has a use, if only we would learn it and remember it. They have furnished the remedy to counteract the diseases brought on by the revengeful animals. Even weeds were made for some good purpose. You must ask, and learn for yourself. When a doctor does not know which medicine to use, the spirit of the plant will tell the sick person.


Gathering and using medicinal herbs in the Cherokee tradition

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. 

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 the help and advice of experienced or certified practitioners or licensed physicians. Please do not write me asking me for advice, I  am not qualified to help.

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 Reed)

This plant is not a healing agent, but is used for preventative medicine. It is an easily digestible 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. 
 

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. 
 

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. 


 

Willow Bark  



The bark of the branches is stripped and dried.  A tea is made from the bark that is useful for aches, pains and headaches.  This is the original aspirin !