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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Lookout Mountain and Round Mountain, Ochoco National Forest: Part 1

The Ochoco National Forest, with such amazing views and abundant medicinal herbs, are always a joy to visit.  This week I was lucky enough to join up with the http://www.highdesertnpsoregon.org/events.html to take a walk up Lookout Mountain.  Four weeks ago we camped on Round Mountain and then visited again last week to record changes in plant species.  The changes between then and now were dramatic, four weeks ago we endured snow and sleet, this week the small creeks were dry and may of the plants had flowered and were drying up.

Ligusticum grayi

Ligusticum grayi

One of my goals this summer was to positively identify Ligusticumgrayi (Gray’s Licorice Root)  and boy did we.  Thankfully a botanist with the Forest Service was along on the Native Plant Society hike and could provide verification.  As a member of the Apiaceae family it could be confused with Poison Hemlock or Water Hemlock, so care needs to be taken in it’s identification.  The reason why I was so determined to identify this plant is that it is proposed to have antibacterial and antiviral properties similar to Ligusticum porteri, although this seems entirely up for debate.  One thesis I found compared the essential oils compounds of Ligusticum grayi to that of the more popular Ligusticum porteri.  Howie Brounstein is by far the greatest proponent of their similarities.  I was surprised that only one documented Native American Tribe, the Atsugewi, used it medicinally, as a cold remedy, a analgesic and pediatric aid.  Although, they considered it  a panacea, meaning many uses, which I consider falling in the category of an important medicinal herb. They chewed the roots or made an infusion.  Osha, or Ligusticum porteri, is considered by many herbalists as an important North American medicinal plant, currently it has been over harvested, so the possibility that there are similar medicinal properties to Ligusticum grayi is promising.

western sweet cicely

Osmorhiza occidentalis

The next plant in abundance is Osmorhiza occidentallis (Western Sweet Cicely), another member of the Apiaceae family.  It was used extensively by many Native American tribes, in particular the Northern Paiute, whose territory encompassed Central Oregon and is one of the three tribes of the Warm Springs Confederated Tribes.  It is also licorice scented and similar cautions should be used in its identification as not be confused with any of the hemlock’s.  It was used both externally and internally as a cold and cough remedy, a gynecological aid, a febrifuge for fevers, an analgesic for stomach aches, a dermatological aid, a pulmonary aid for pneumonia, snakebite remedy, antirheumatic, antidiarrheal, eye medicine, toothache remedy and venereal disease.  The roots were used as an infusion, chewed, poulticed, smoked, and decocted.  In examining its uses one might speculate that  its actions, might include carminative, analgesic, antiphyretic, antiseptic, antirheumatic, antidiarrhetic,stomachic,parasiticide. It was used extensively for infections, swellings, flu and respiratory infections, so one might think that it had antiviral or bacterial properties as well.

Paeonia brownii

Paeonia brownii

Paeonia brownii (Brown’s peony) was not in bloom, but the seed pods were enormous.  Another medicinal herb that had many uses including as a gastrointestinal aid, pulmonary aid, cough medicine, dermatological aid, heart medicine, kidney and throat aid,  antidiarrheal, burn dressing and analgesic.  Used by the Mahuna, Paiute, Shoshoni, Costanoan and Washo Indian tribes it is found (CA, ID, MT, NV, OR, UT, WA, WY).  At Lookout Mountain it was abundant on the trail and at the top, growing in open meadows, sagebrush deserts, from mid to high elevations.  The roots were the part of the plant used the most.   The root was prepared as a poultice, a decoction, infusion, dried, and powdered.  The only other mention of the plant was, a cold infusion of the seeds for cough medicine.  There was also mention of the Paiutes using it as a veterinary aid, as a decoction to fatten up horses.  Since many ethnographic references are out of context it is often hard to get a understanding of the conditions in which these herbs where used.  A decoction of the root was used as a respiratory aid more often than its other uses helping with fevers, coughs, sore throats and for pulmonary aids.  As a topical it was used to reduce swellings, cuts, woods, sores and burns.  In examining the uses  there are several references to its use in gastrointestinal conditions including stomachaches, indigestion, as a laxative for constipation and to fatten up either horses or people.  The use in “fattening up”, seems to indicate that either it helped relieve indigestion, thereby allowing one to digest food better and helping weight gain, or it had some other action that worked at a constitutional level.

Another plant found along the trail was astragulus whitneyi, a member of the Fabaceae family.  I could not find any medicinal reference to the plant, yet its seed

Astragalus whitneyi

Astragalus whitneyi

pods are so distinctive, I had to include a picture of it.  Astragalus purshii, which was also seen on the hike does have some limited reference to its medicinal uses by the Thompson and Kawailsu tribes.  Several other milkvetch species

Astragalus purshii

Astragalus purshii

have a record of use by diverse Indian tribes.  Astragalus purshii  was  primarily used externally as a wash, although the Kawailsu tribe did use it internally for menstrual pains.  As a dermatological aid a decoction of the whole plant was used as a wash for the head, hair and body.  It was also used in the sweat lodge as a disinfectant, and was poured over hunting equipment, when the hunter was having “bad luck”.

There are so many medicinal plants found throughout the Ochoco’s that it will take several blogs to cover them all.

My hope in this endeavor is to first identify the plants that, we who live in Central Oregon, have at our fingertips and then to start to use them therapeutically, embracing the concept of herbal bioregionalism.  Stay tuned.

 

Bear Springs, Sister Ranger District, Oregon

My latest adventure was on the east side of the Cascade Range, close to Sisters.  It is still relatively early in the season, early June, but it seems like this year things are about two weeks ahead due to the drought conditions.  The first cluster of flowers we came upon was

Lonicera ciliosa

Lonicera ciliosa

Locincera ciliosa (Orange honeysuckle).  A beautiful and fairly prolific flower grows primarily in forest, thickets, from sea level to 5500 ft.  A native utilized by several Indian tribes  including the Chehalis, Cowichan, Klallam, Lummi, Skagit, Squaxin, Swinomish and Thompson.  It is primarily a gynecological aid, although different parts are used for contradictory issues, the leaves as a contraceptive  (Chehalis) and the vines stems used to help conceive (Thompson).  The bark and chewed leaves were used for colds (Swinomish) and  sore throats.  Thompson Indians thought the plant acted as an anticonvulsive and used the woody part of the vine internally or as a bath for epilepsy.  They also used the vine pieces under a pillow for insomnia.  Lastly they took the peeled stems in a decoction as a tonic (this was the wording captured by the ethnographer, therefore it might have a different cultural meaning from tribe to tribe or from what we think of a tonic, that which strengthens the body systems).  The Chehalis used an infusion of the crushed leaves as a rinse for the growth of hair.

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Mimulus guttatus

The second plant that was in abundance was Mimulus guttatus (Seep Monkeyflower), used by the Kawaiisu, Shoshoni and Yavapai tribes.  It is found in wet or moist places, throughout western North American, Alaska and North Mexico.  The Kawaiisu used it as a pain reliever, making it into a decoction of stems and leaves in a steam bath.  The Shoshoni crushed the leaves and applied it to wounds or rope burns,  Lastly the Yavapai took it as a decoction for stomach ache.  Physicians historically used it as a poultice, or tea to treat a variety of symptoms ranging from rheumatism to a throat spray for bronchitis.

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Clintonia uniflora

Third on the list was Clintonia uniflora (Bride’s Bonnet) used by the Bella Coola, Cowlitz, Haisla & Hanaksiala and lastly the Micmac.  A small little lily it is found in moist and shaded forest through out (http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=clun2, AK, CA, ID, MT, OR, WA), Mostly used externally the whole plant was used as wash for the body, the toasted leaf was poulticed and applied to wounds.  It was used for eye medicine by several tribes for sore eyes. Primarily the plant was either juiced or poulticed (smashed).  The only recorded internal use was from the Micmac, where the juice was taken with water for gravel (urinary calcili).

IMG_3041

Maianthemum racemosum

Next on the list and in great abundance was  Maianthemum racemosum (False Solomon’s Seal).  Used similarly to Solomon Seal, the plant was used my many Indian tribes.  This plant is found in moist shady places throughout most of North America, except for Texas.  It has demulcent properties and was used internally and externally.  The uses are almost too many to list, but some of the more interesting ones include the Iroquois who used it for witchcraft medicine, hunting medicine (fishing), psychological aid (Meskwaki) to bring people back from insanity and cancer treatment (Thompson).  As a demulcent it  forms a soothing film over a mucous membrane, relieving minor pain and inflammation.  As such it is used internally as a tonic in an infusion, or used for sore throats, kidney and as a gastrointestinal aid.  It is one of those plants that has such a wide scope of medicinal uses it is worth delving more into its uses.

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Lilium washingtoniaum

Another interesting plant that we came across, but I could not find any mention in the literature of its medicinal uses is Lilium washingtoniaum.  It is uncommon according to http://www.pnwflowers.com/flower/lilium-washingtonianum. A beautiful plant that seems to change colors depending upon the soil that it is growing in.

 

Having a colorful delicate flower and quite prolific was the Aquilegia

Aquilegia formosa

Aquilegia formosa

formosa (Crismon Colombine).  The Paiute tribe that did their season round through Central Oregon used the plant for analgesic and antirheumatic uses.  It was considered a panacea plant and used for throat, gastrointestinal, dermatological, cough and colds. All parts of the plant was used.  The leaves were chewed to treat coughs and sore throats, as well as, applied to bee stings. Roots were mashed and massaged into aching joints.  Seeds were chewed for gastrointestinal issues, and a poultice of the leaves were applied externally.

Valerian-Plant

Valeriana sitchensis

The last plant that was sporadically placed was Valeriana sitchensis ( Mountain Valerian).  It is found all over the Oregon Cascade and coastal range.  Valerian has a long history of use for treating insomnia and anxiety.  Primarily used by the Okanagon and Thompson tribes.  It was used as an analgesic, cold remedy, antidiarrheal, and dermatological aid.  The roots were poulticed and applied to cuts, wounds, bruises and inflammation.  In western medicine it was used by physicians as mentioned above for treating insomnia, anxiety as well as, analgesic for aches and pain.  Currently herbalists recognize that for some people valerian can have the exact opposite effect acting as a stimulant.  It has a warm energy and is more specific to individuals that have cold constitutions, although in my case, despite the fact that I have a cold constitution, I find it very stimulating and use skullcap as an alternative sedative herb.

Arrowleaf Balsam

IMG_2853

Arrowleaf Balsam (Balsamorhiza sagittata)

I have written about Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) before, and it is by far my current favorite plant in Central Oregon.  I just harvested new root this spring for my cough syrups.  It grows all over Central Oregon, but finding a patch that is legally harvested is often the toughest part.  If you are harvesting on forest service land, just make sure that you get a plant permit from the forest that you are harvesting on, to avoid costly fines.

Arrowleaf Balsam, is part of the Aster Family, Asteraceae, a species of the Balsamroot genus, and is a perennial herbaceous plant. Harvesting the plant can be tricky in that it often grows in rocky soil and using a cupn, or digging stick is advised. Take as much of the root as you can in that it took a long time for that root to get that big, so wasting it would not honor the plant.  A search for ethnobotanical applications turned up 109 uses (http://herb.umd.umich.edu/herb/search.pl?searchstring=Balsamorhiza+sagittata). This should not be surprising, as plant names often reveal the plant’s characteristics, in this case, the root as supplying balsam: “Balsam is a term used for various pleasantly scented plant products. These are oily or gummy oleoresins, usually containing benzoic acid or cinnamic acid, obtained from the exudate of various trees and shrubs and used as a base for some botanical medicines.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balsam).

  • This is a summary of uses from the University of Michigan ethnobotany database; its properties classify it as an analgesic, disinfectant, antirheumatic (internal), dermatological aid, venereal aid, gynecological aid, urinary aid, diaphoretic, eye medicine, antidiarrheal, oral/throat aid, burn dressing, cathartic, pulmonary aid, hemostat, tuberculosis remedy, dietary aid, cold remedy, febrifuge (lowers fevers), gastrointestinal aid, panacea, sedative, beverage, candy, food, incense/fragrance, tool/containers, and gathered for trade. If you follow the blog to the bottom it shows pictures on processing the root.

Here is a partial listing of traditional uses of Arrowleaf.

  • -Root smudge smoke inhaled for body aches.
  • -Poultice of chewed roots applied to blisters and sores.
  • -Infusion of leaves, roots and stems taken for stomach pains and headaches.
  • -Steam of decoction of plant inhaled for headache and used as wash on head.
  • -Decoction or infusion of leaves, roots and stems taken for stomach pains/stomachache.
  • -Infusion of leaves, stems and roots taken for colds.
  • -Decoction of root taken when labor begins, to insure easy delivery.
  • -Root chewed for toothaches.
  • Infusion of roots taken for whooping cough, tuberculosis, or to increase urine
  • Poultice of root infusion used for wounds, cuts and bruises.
  • -Decoction of root taken to produce profuse perspiration for rheumatism.
  • -Poultice of mashed root applied to insect bites or swellings.
  • -Poultice of powdered, dried root applied to syphilitic sores.
  • -Pulverized root sprinkled on sores and boils.
  • Infusion of root rubbed into hair and scalp to help hair grow.
  • Infusion of leaves used as a wash for poison ivy and running sores.
  • Seeds eaten for dysentery.
  • Young shoots eaten raw or baked in the ground or oven.
  • Young stems and leaves eaten raw as a salad.
  • Roots eaten raw and cooked.

Below is a series of pictures that depict how to process it for cough syrup:

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After harvesting rinse dirt with water and clean roots with brush.

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Then smash with hammer, or meat tenderizer to expose roots removing outer layer and tearing into strips.

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Tear the root into strips and put into large cast iron dutch over.  Add honey and simmer on low heat for 4 hours, let cool overnight, and simmer again for 2 hours, let cool overnight, strain.

 

 

 

Central Oregon Medicinal Herbs

Delea ornata, Blue Mountain prairie clover

Delea ornata, Blue Mountain prairie clover

          Every summer I go on search for locally available medicinal herbs.  Recently I can across several that have historical usage by Native Americans.  Dalea ornata is probably the species of prairie clover that I came across.  Although this particular species does not have documented historical use, other prairie clover species have been used by several Native Indian tribes including Chippewa, Meskwaki, Navajo, Pawnee, and Montana.  Prairie clover ranges from white to purple, yet all have similar growth traits, so I would venture to say that medicinal values are somewhat similar.  According to references in  Native American Medicinal Plants

Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs the roots were chewed to alleviate pain, tea was made from the roots for abdominal pain and toothache.  The roots were made into a tea for snakebite.  Plant was made into poultice and used for wounds.  The plant also falls into the category of “life medicine” and was used as a tonic. Infusion of the root was used for measles, and the flowers were used as an antidiarrheal.

Sphaeralcea munroana, Orange globe mallow

Sphaeralcea munroana, Orange globe mallow

Another beautiful plant that is found in dry rocky soils.  It is similar to other species including Sphaeralcea angustifolia.  The plant contains abundant mucilage which is similar to other mallow species.  I accidentally broke off a branch and within minutes, it started weeping a thick slimy substance.  I am always excited to find this type of chemical constituent, in that it is often a good addition to cough syrups.  In this case the root was smashed and used as a poultice for sores, wounds, snakebite.  Wilted leaves were used externally for arthritic pain.  Leaf tea was used as an eyewash, and for many of the uses that other mallows have including coughs, upset stomach, diarrhea, and constipation.  Root tea was taken to treat broken bones, and as a prevention for pregnancy (I don’t think I would count on it for that).

Helianthus cusickii

Helianthus cusickii

Helianthus cusickii, or Cusick’s Sunflower is a lovely bright-colored sunflower.  I happily stumbled upon this plant as I was hiking up a butte.  It is the first time I have come upon this species of since most of the sunflower species are native other parts of the country.  I have tried to focus most of my attention of the plants that the Paiute’s used in they have a range that overlaps Central Oregon, or has plants similar to those in Central Oregon.  The Paiutes used the roots as heart medicine taken for heart troubles and tuberculosis.  The Shasta Indians used the pounded roots in a steam bath for internal pain, as a carminative.  Externally the roots were pounded and used as a poultice for swellings. The root was burned in a house after a death as a disinfectant.