More Than Medicinal: Herbal Love Medicine

I recently finished teaching a wildcrafting class on medicinal herbs of Central Oregon. This year I incorporated other cultural uses of plants, in particular, focusing on “Love Medicine”.love   Native peoples used plants, not only as medicine, but also for their ability to affect an outcome. Daniel Moerman, author of Native American Ethnobotany, offers a compilation of ethnographies with over a hundred stories of tribal use of plants including ceremonial, hunting, witchcraft and love medicine.

The term love medicine was used for plants that were often suggested by tribal healers, elders or through the oral transfer of information to have powers beyond their medicinal attributes. Both men and women would use various plants as love charms to lure potential suitors or hold the attention of a “special person”.   In researching this topic it is a bit murky how the plants were utilized. In some cases special perfumes were prepared, in others, rituals were conducted with specific plants. In the book Plains Apache Ethnobotany by Julia A. Jordan people spoke about tribal members who specialized in preparing “love medicines”. In this book, the author describes the use of perfumes that were worn during certain times and specific places. In Daniel Moerman’s book he briefly describes how various plants were used or prepared. As contemporary herbalism as evolved over the last century, many of these spirit-based uses are being lost to us. With that in mind, here are some plants surrounding Central Oregon and how they were used as “love medicine”.

Aquilegia formosa

Aquilegia formosa

Various species of columbine were used as Love medicine. Western Columbine (Aquilegia formosa) was used by the Thompson Indian’s who used it as a charm for women “to gain the affection of men”. The Pawnee along with the Ponca’s used the crushed seeds of columbine, as a love charm also used columbine as love medicine.

larkspur

Delphinium menzieessi

Larkspur, (Delphinium menziessi)- a plant that was toxic to livestock and considered poisonous ironically was used for love medicine. The Thompson tribe’s women used it “to help them obtain and hold the affection of men”, although it wasn’t clear on how it was utilized.

MeadowrueMeadowrue, of which Central Oregon has a few species was not used by local tribes but was used by the Potawatomi as both hunting and love medicine. The seeds were mixed with tobacco by and smoked by men when going to call upon a favorite lady. Meadowrue, (Thalictrum occidentale), was used by the Thompson as a poultice on open wounds for healing. Meadowrue’s root contains berberines, one of the few plants aside from Oregon Grape Root to contain that particular constituent. It was used to loosen phlegm, as blood medicine, and as an analgesic. The powdered fruits were mashed into a paste with water and used on the skin and hair.

spreading-dogbane-apocynum-androsaemifolium-01

apocynum-androsaemifolium

Spreading Dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium)-although considered toxic was used extensively by Native Americans as love medicine. The Okanagan-Colville tribe chewed the leaves and the juice, as well as, smoked the dried leaves as an aphrodisiac (Not advised). If you break a spreading dogbane stem or leaf, you will see that the plant contains a bitter, sticky, milky white sap. The sap contains cardiac glycosides that are toxic to humans. The root also contains a potent cardiac stimulant, cymarin. These toxic compounds help protect spreading dogbane from grazing animals. Despite its toxicity, the plant has been used medicinally for a variety of ailments. However, this plant is best enjoyed for its beauty and not as a medicine. Native Americans used the tough fibers of this and other native dogbanes to make threads and cord.

Platanthera leucostachys_Mono Lake Cty Park_2002-07.05

Platanthera leucostachys

Bog Orchid (Platanthera leucostachys)-a plant we recently identified in the Ochoco Mountains, was used extensively by the Thompson tribe as a wash for various joint and muscle aches. It was used in the sweat lodge for rheumatism. Women “hoping to gain a mate and have success in love” used the Bog Orchid as love medicine as a wash. Although I could find no report of its toxicity, it was only used externally, so beware.

arrowhead

Sagittaria latifolia

Arrowhead, (Sagittaria latifolia) which is found in northern Jefferson County and on the west side crest of the Cascades was used as love medicine by the Thompson is usually found at the margins of ponds or marshes. The enlarged rounded starchy tubers from the plant form at the ends of underground plant runners (rhizomes). When dislodged from the mud, these tubers will float to the surface. They are edible, and may be boiled or baked and eaten as a potato-like food. Native Americans harvested and consumed these tubers, which in some areas were known as wapato. The Thompson spoke about its use as a love charm and for witchcraft.

pineappleweek

Matriciaria disoidea

Pineappleweed (Matriciaria disoidea)- was used by native peoples ranging from Alaska to Montana. A close relative to German Chamomile it had similar uses for digestion and fevers.   Native peoples used the aromatic plants as perfume, sometimes mixing them with fir or sweet-grass and carrying the mixture in small pouches to concentrate the fragrance. Pineappleweed, provided a pleasant smelling insect repellent, and the fragrant dried plants were used to line cradles and stuff pillows.  The Okanagan-Colville buried the tops of Pineappleweed mixed with human hair to prevent loved ones or relations from going away.

prairie smoke

Geum triflorum

Prairie Smoke or three-flower avens (Geum triflorum)-is in the rosaceae family; so that tells us that it probably has astringent actions. Avens were used by many native peoples ranging from toothache remedies, fevers, antidiarrheal, gastrointestinal and as a gynecological aid. Primarily the roots were used. Several tribes used it for love medicine, including the Iroquois, who used the compounded roots as an emetic to vomit and cure themselves of love medicine. The Okanagan-Colville used and infusion of the roots as a love potion by a woman who wanted to win back the affection of a man. Mathew Woods wrote about it in his book The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guild To New World Medicinal Plants. He spoke about the roots of avens containing phenols, tannins and essential oil, along with noting that he felt Prairie Smoke has an affinity to the female system: the latter for Stagnant blood .

sierra shoot star

Dodecatheon jeffreyi

Last but not least Sierra Shooting Star or Tall Mountain Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) was used as love medicine by the Thompson tribe. Women used the flowers “to obtain the love of men and to help them control men”.

This is just a small sampling of the vast number of plants that were utilized. As the profession of herbalism evolves in North America there is greater and greater emphasis being put on evidenced based medicine and a movement away from traditional knowledge along with the reduction in the number of the plants that are used in commerce. Despite this tendency towards retraction, my hope is that we continue to keep love 2plant stories, and other cultural values which plants offer, alive.

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