Native American Medicinal Herbs

By the time European settlers arrived in America, there were well over two thousand Native American tribes, fully established and with sustainable medical practices. Habitually the medicine person was cared for and protected by the villagers, and in return, the medicine person took care of the physical and emotional health of the tribe. The list of herbs used varies between tribes, but there are some main herbs shared by most traditions.


Found in meadows and marshlands, boneset was a staple amongst Native American medicine people, and was legendary for its capacity to loosen the bowels and cause profuse sweating, making it the herb of choice to treat fevers caused by colds, malaria and influenza. Different tribes used it for the herb's different properties of healing. The Mohegans and the Iroquois used it mainly to treat fevers, where the Alabamas used it to relieve stomach aches.

Taken in the form of hot tea, the flowering tops and leaves are steeped in hot water 30 minutes before meals.


Dandelion is a versatile herb that serves as food and as medicine. It is rich in the vitamin B complex, iron, zinc and potassium as well as vitamins A, C and D. Native American tribes made dandelion decoctions out of the roots to treat heartburn, stomach ache and in extreme cases, kidney disease. The Mohegan tribe traditionally drank dandelion leaf tea as an overall tonic.

The whole of the herb is safe to use and it is also known to help improve the immune system.


Bearberry, also known as Uva-ursi, is a low-growing, evergreen shrub, used primarily by southwest Native American tribes. The leaves of this herb are highly diuretic and astringent, making them effective in curing urinary tract infections. Due to bearberry's high arbutin and methylarbutin contents, it is also used as a urinary antiseptic. It has also been know to treat inflammation and extreme pain in the urinary bladder.

To make a bearberry preparation, the fresh leaves must seep in brandy for a week. Then an infusion is made with a new batch of fresh leaves. A combination of one cup of bearberry infusion with one tablespoon of bearberry infused brandy can be taken for a maximum of seven days, twice a daily, as a recommended dosage. Bearberry has a high tannin content and should not be taken for longer than one week.

Native Americans also gathered the leaves and berries while hunting to make a mild smoking blend with Tobacco called Kinni-Kinnick.