What Are the Traditional Native American Remedies for Common Ailments?

Edited and published by Wellness Monster Stacie

The traditional Native American culture had remedies for various ailments. For thousands of years, they’ve used herbs to heal the body, purify the spirit, and achieve balance. Oral traditions conveyed that they learned about the healing uses of herbs and plants from watching sick animals. There are no written accounts of this before the Europeans came, but Native Americans shared these cures with them. Healers would grind medicines. Here are remedies for colds, coughs, fever/headache, bruising/burns, cuts, and nausea.

Common Cold

Allspice, also known as Pimenta Dioica, Jamaica Pepper, Kurundu, Myrtle Pepper, Pimenta, Clove Pepper, and Newspice, heals because of “eugenol”, a chemical ingredient in its oil.

american-ginsengAmerican Ginseng or Panax Quinquefolius is an herb of the ivy family and originates in the hardwood forests of eastern North America. It is one of the five most valuable plant medicines to the Seneca.

Boneset, also called Eupatorium Perfoliatum, ague weed, feverwort, thoroughwort, or snakeroot, belongs to the aster family and has sixty species. From the temperate areas of North America, it is used by the Iroquois, Delaware, Cherokee, Mohegan, and Menominee to treat colds. This can be poisonous, but used in a tea with dried leaves will get rid of toxic chemicals.

Broom snakeweed or Gutierrezia Sarothrae is from the western and southwestern areas of the United States and is called snakeweed. The Sioux and Navajo used it for colds.

Catnip/Catmint, Nepeta Cataria, or catswort is found in North America and it soothes and has a numbing effect. Stems and leaves, fresh or dried, makes an aromatic herb tea which helps colds.

Cardinal Flower or Lobelia Cardinalis is a plant with bright, red flowers that is native to North America and Central America. The leaf tea is for colds. It may be toxic and can cause skin irritation.

Chokecherry, also known as Prunus Virginiana, Black Chokecherry, and Wild Cherry, is found in the United States and Canada. The bark of the tree helps colds. The color of the fruit can be red to purple to black. The berries are edible, but the pit can be toxic if enough is eaten.

Dogwood or Cornus Florida is a flowering tree native to the United States. It’s also called American Dogwood, Boxwood, Budwood, Cornelian Tree, Flowering Dogwood, and Green Ozier. Its inner bark, berries, and twigs can help colds.

Echinacea is a flowering plant in the daisy family and is known as purple coneflower, passion flower, and coneflower. Found in North America, it has been used by many tribes for a variety of uses. Nowadays, it is used to shorten the duration of a cold.

Eleuthero, also known as Eleutherococcus Senticosus, Siberian Ginseng, Devil’s Bush, Devil’s Shrub, Pepperbrush, Prickly Eleutherococcus, Touch Me Not, and Wild Pepper, is native to Asia but has been adapted to grow in the United States and Canada. The dried roots treat colds.


Eucalyptus is from Australia, and there are around seven hundred species of the flowering trees and shrubs. Eucalyptus Globulus, also known as Tasmanian Blue Gum, Southern Blue Gum, and Blue Gum, treats colds.

Fennel or Foeniculum Vulgare is a flavorful herb. From the shores of the Mediterranean, it made its way to North America through Spanish missionaries. Teas and tonics of the seeds and leaves treat colds. The essential oil that is extracted from the seeds may be toxic.


American Licorice, also known as Glycyrrhiza Lepidota and wild licorice, is found in most of North American except the southeastern states. Native American tribes have used the roots in teas to treat coughs.

Black Cohosh, also known as Cimicifuga Racemosa, black bugbane, black snakeroot, rattle weed, and fairy candle, is a white-blooming plant from the buttercup family from Eastern North America. The Winnebago, Dakota, and the Oklahoma Delaware used the root of the plant in teas for coughs.

Black Raspberry, also known as Rubus Occidentalis, wild black raspberry, black caps, black cap raspberry, thimbleberry, and scotch cap, is used for cough by chewing the roots of the shrub or boiling it into tea.

Wild Lettuce, known as Lactuca Virosa, Green Endive, Opium Lettuce, and Acrid Lettuce, is found in North America. Wild lettuce tea can help with coughing.

Evening Primrose is a genus of 125 flowering plants that are native to North and South America. It is known as Oenothera, Onagraceae, Suncups, and Sundrops. A decoction is made for coughing.

Lemongrass originated in warm, temperate, and tropical areas and is a genus of fifty-five species of tall grasses. It’s also known as Cymbopogon, Barbed Wire Grass, Silky Heads, Citronella Grass, and Fever Grass.


hibiscus-flowerHibiscus is found all over the world and is a genus of flowering plants in the Mallow family. Known as Hibiscus Sabdariffa, the Roselle, Hibiscus Rosa-Sinensis, China Rose, Common Hibiscus, Hibiscus Syriacus, and the Rose of Sharon, all parts of the plant are used to treat coughs.

Rabbit Tobacco, found east of Colorado, is also known as Gnaphalium Obtuisfolium, Cherokee Tobacco, Indian Posey, Old Field Balsam, Sweet Everlasting, Cudweed, Poverty Weed, Fussy Gussy, and Sweet White Balsam. The Koasati tribe used it for fever.

Honeysuckle, also known as Lonicera, has hundreds of species. The fruit, juice of the plant, stems, flowers, and leaves have been used to treat fever.

Osha is known as Ligusticum Porteri, Porter’s Licorice Root, Osha Root, Bear Root, Bear Medicine, and Colorado Cough Root. It’s in the celery family and grows in the Southwest. It is in teas and potions or chewed to treat fevers and headaches.

Sarsaparilla is called Smilax Regelii and Smilax Aspera and is a perennial trailing vine with prickly stems from Central America. It is used for fever.

Sassafras is known as Sassafras Albidum. The small trees or shrubs are in eastern North America and treats fever.


Arnica is a member of the sunflower family. A species called Amica Montana has been used by Native Americans as a topical cream or ointment to help bruises. Do not take internally because it is poisonous.

Buck Brush has fifty to sixty species of North American shrubs. Known as Ceanothus, poultices can treat burns.

Oak, called Querkus, has six hundred species found all over the world. Poultices helped burns.

sageSage, also known as Salvia Officinalis, garden sage, and common sage, is a small, evergreen shrub. It is revered by Native Americans and helps bruises.

Sumac is native to North America and is called Rhus Glabra, Dwarf Sumac, Mountain Sumac, Scarlet Sumac, Smooth Sumac, Upland Sumac, White Shoemake, Vinegar-tree, and Red Sumac. A poultice of the leaves and berries was used to treat burns.

Cotton is of the genus Gossypium and is native to tropical and subtropical regions around the world including the Americas, Africa, and India. The roots, leaves, and seeds have used to treat burns.


Marshmallow Leaf/Root, also known as Althea Officinalis, Marshmallow Plant, Mallow, White Mallow, and Common Marshmallow, is from Europe and Western Asia. If used externally, it can be used for cuts.

Pinon, also known as Penus Edulis, is a member of the Pine family found in the Western United States. It had many uses for Native Americans who called it the “tree of life”. They ground the resin for cuts.

Witch Hazel, known as Hamamelis Virginiana, is a strong astringent and comes from the leaves and bark of a North American shrub. The extract is created by boiling the stems of the shrub to treat cuts.

White Pine is native to North America and is known as Pinus Strobus, Deal Pine, and Soft Pine. The pitch is used for cuts.

yarrowYarrow, native to the Northern hemisphere, is also called Nosebleed Plant, Old Man’s Pepper, Devil’s Nettle, and Thousand-leaf. The leaves help clotting so it’s good for cuts.

Goldenrod is called Solidago Canadensis and Solidago Virgaurea and cures cuts. It can fight off infection because it is antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory.


Chamomile is from daisy-like plants. It is made into a tea which can help nausea. It can be used for babies and children.

Horehound, also called Marrubium Vulgare, Bull’s Blood, Eye of the Star, Houndsbane, Devil’s Eye, Hog Bean, and Poison Tobacco, is a plant in the mint family and comes from Europe but has been adapted to North and South America. It can be used for nausea.

Star Anise is known as Illicium Verum and is the fruit of a small tree that grows in Asia. It tastes like licorice and helps nausea.

Peppermint, also known as Mentha Piperita, is a hybrid mint, a cross between the watermint(Mentha aquatica) and spearmint(Mentha spicata). Native to Europe, it is now everywhere. Its calm and numbing effect helps nausea.

Raspberry has leaves and fruits and is known as Rubus Idaeus and Rosaceae. Its fresh or dried leaves were steeped in tea to combat nausea.

Spearmint is called Mentha Spicata, Spear Mint, Garden Mint, Menthol Mint, Mint, Sage of Bethlehem, Silver Mint and is native to Central Europe but is now in the United States and Canada. It is a medicinal herb tea made from fresh or dried leaves that has a pleasing taste and is used for nausea.


Native American and Other Ancient Remedies

Image Credits:

Native American Food Market. Thank, wood. [ID 60417894 © Zachary Young | Dreamstime.com]

Chinese Herbal medicine – American Ginseng slices [ID 53871794 © Yulan | Dreamstime.com]

Fennel [ID 19417509 © Francesco Alessi | Dreamstime.com]

Pink flower of hibiscus [ID 33174310 © Fotofermer | Dreamstime.com]

Sage [ID 34778407 © Alfio Scisetti | Dreamstime.com]

A cup of yarrow tea with fresh yarrow [ID 98594214 © Madeleinesteinbach | Dreamstime.com]