LECTURE ON ABORIGINAL USE OF MEDICINAL HERBS
By GARY RAVEN - TRADITIONAL HEALER FROM HOLLOW WATER RESERVE
MAY 19, 1999
AT THE TRADITIONAL INDIAN VILLAGE ON THE
BROKENHEAD RESERVE, SCANTERBURY, MANITOBA

These notes by Doris Ames

(He recently returned from a trip gathering medicinal plants when he was attended by 185 students, Dr. David Punter, the head of botany at the University of Manitoba, and a medical doctor, Dr.Simpson.)

The aboriginal people have special methods for protecting and handling their medicinal herbs. Sprituality is very important for First Nations people. They honor the Creator first by burning tobacco and sweet grass. The practitioner then prays for guidance so he will be kind to others he is treating and not hurt their feelings. He also prays for truthfulness. He never tries to modify medicines. If you try to do this you try to set yourself above God. Creation is perfect already. Get to know your environment thoroughly. We need to have a complete inventory of our environment before we try to harvest herbs or anything else. We must ensure there are sufficient numbers of them. Handle medicinal plants with special care and reverence. Whenever you are about to harvest medicinal plants put tobacco down as an offering to the Creator before you take the plant. Do not put medicinal plants in plastic bags. Wear sage branches on your shoes when gathering plants in case you accidently step on a medicinal herb. He stores his dried herbs in glass sealers. He had about 50 different kinds of medicinal herbs that he uses regularly in treating patients. He learned to do this from Lawrence Smith an elder from the Brokenhead Reserve. He works with him as well as with Mark Thompson and the Goodstriker Brothers. (See attached papers)

HIS REMARKS ON SOME MEDICINAL HERBS:

The dried roots of Sweet Flag and White Water Lily are grated up and used in combination to make a tea that treats diabetes.

The bark of Balsam and Tamarack is mixed with the dried leaves of Labrador Tea to make a tea high in Vitamin C. It prevents scurvy and promotes strength.

Wild Ginseng, known to the Indians as Rabbit Root is used to treat impotence. (He calls it natural Viagara).

Dried Birch leaves and Labrador Tea leaves are used to make a tea that acts as a laxative. Spring tonic.

Dried Dandelion leaves and the root are used to make a tea that purifies the blood.

Alfalfa tea calms the nerves.

Wormwood tea kills bacteria.

Yarrow tea purifies the blood.

The dried root of Wild Ginger is used to make a tea to treat heart disease (jumpy heart beat that is cardiac arrythmias). The root should be boiled for 2-3 minutes. After that it is thought that the potent ingredient in it has boiled off. The root can also be chewed like snuff or candied and chewed. The taste is very pleasant.

A special tea for women is made from the inner bark of Tamarack mixed with the inner bark of "Red Willow" (Red Osier Dogwood). This tea is given to a pregnant women appoximately one week before childbirth and carried on for 7 days afterwards. The reason he gave was for purification. The mid wife stays with the women the whole time she is being treated. (I wonder if this is because these plants tend to stimulate uterine contraction). He was hesitant to use anatomical names for womens' reproductive organs. He said women were extremely important, sacred in the same way as Mother Earth ,and it was better not to mention these names.

LAWRENCE SMITH - BROKENHEAD RESERVE

This elder reiterated the things Gary Raven said but added several other concepts. He warned people to be careful when gathering herbs for medicine. Sometimes a plant can change right before your eyes when you are about to gather it. This means that it doesn't want you to pick it and you should leave it alone. When learning from a traditional healer you must pay attention. Instructions will only be repeated once and they never write them down. It is important to be respectful to your elders. Many people fail to do this now in both white and native societies. The Indian people want to help natives living in poverty and on the street. They want to remove them from this setting and bring them into the communities so they can be helped. He believes both Indian people and white people should help others to get off drugs and alcohol. After a prayer and these remarks he went on to talk about some of his favourite medicinal plants:

Red Clover tea - relaxation

Dried Juniper berries - healing and relaxation. Chew 4 to 5 dried berries each morning to sweeten the breath.

Dried Galloping Alum (Heuchera?) - good for kidneys. Use a small amount only.

Fresh Water Lily root can be sliced and bandaged on a sore or infection as a poultice to draw out poison and promote healing.

He mentioned some medicines he gathers in the U.S.A.

Heartroot? berries are especially good as all around panacea.

Dried Seneca root is used to treat fever and cough.

Sweet Grass braids can be dried and boiled to make tea to thin the blood. The blood is considered to be all important to good health. Sweet Grass is burned as an offering to the Creator. The smoke is inhaled to treat colds. This plant is considered to be holy and an all around panacea.

Nettle tea made from the fresh leaves of young plants in considered to be a blood thinner and useful in treating kidney stones.

DriedWild Licorice root can be chewed, or grated and mixed with grated and dried Sweet Flag root and Water Lily root to treat diabetes.

Small slices of dried Sweet Flag root when chewed are good for treating high cholesterol.

A fresh branch of Juniper boiled in water for 15 minutes can be drunk for a diuretic to lower blood pressure. Drink one glass morning and night.

The dried leaves of Labrador tea can be steeped in boiling water to make an excellent tea. Fragrant and high in Vitamin tea it is said to purify the system and increase strength. Many Indian people drink it throughout the day. It has a lovely fragrance and the color is a pinkish brown.

That day they had a huge cast iron pot, filled with boiling water and a huge amount of leaves, suspended on a tripod over a fire. Everyone took a cup, held a strainer over it and ladled out a cup of tea. The leaves were then replaced in the pot. I had a cup with no ill effects. Taste is pleasant and distinctive.

These notes were made by me at the open air lecture and are my impression of what they said. Probably I missed or misunderstood some of it. Any errors are mine but anyway it does give a general idea of what their practices are.   Doris Ames