Medicinal plants of the American West

Medicinal plants of the American West

Many plants that grow in the American West are purported to have therapeutic properties by practitioners of alternative medicine.

Eriogonum fasciculatum, used in treatment of headaches and diarrhea


Use and availability

European and Asian plants are commonly used in herbalism and are generally available in retail shops.

Medicinal plants of the American West are generally not as available, but can be grown in gardens. Collecting plants in nature may be illegal without a proper permit.

Native Americans of the West routinely use these plants in health care.

Among Native Americans spiritual health and physical health are inseparable. In fact, an unhealthy spirit leads to an unhealthy body. Most Native American healers start by healing the spirit, then the body. Prayer, singing, talking and comforting are an essential part of healing.

Ritualistic use

Many traditionally used plants are ritualistic or shamanistic in nature, prompting interest as recreational or hallucinogenic uses of western plants, such as peyote, Lophophora williamsii, California Jimson weed and others.

Jimson weed, Datura wrightii and Datura stramonium, as well as most other Datura species, can cause respiratory depression and death when not used in carefully controlled dosage.[1]

These plants have been used for centuries by Native Americans to induce sacred dreams, as a spiritual experience. Some of these plants were also used in rites of passage.[citation needed]

Particular plants

  • Black sage, (Salvia mellifera), can be used against pain. A strong sun tea of the leaves and stems of the plant can be rubbed on the painful area or used to soak one's feet. The plant contains diterpenoids, such as aethiopinone and ursolic acid, that are pain relievers.[2]
  • California bay (Umbellularia californica) leaves are used to treat pain.[3]
  • Horsetail or Scouring Rush (Equisetum spp.) is used as a diuretic because of it contains high concentrations of oxalic acid and calcium oxalate and therefore can also be a throat irritant if brewed improperly.[6]
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used for various ailments including cramps, fevers, and toothache.[9]


There are several books about western medicinal plants:

  • Moerman, Daniel E. (2000). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland. ISBN 0-88192-453-9.  A comprehensive collection of many plants with descriptions of their uses.
  • Strike, Sandra S. (1994). "Aboriginal uses of California's Indigenous Plants". Ethnobotany of the California Indians. Volume 2. Koeltz Scientific Books USA, Champaign. ISBN 1-878762-51-6.  Very thorough discussion of California medicinal plants.
  • George R. Mead (1972). The Ethnobotany of the California Indians: A Compendium of the Plants, Their Users, and Their Uses. University of Northern Colorado Press, Greeley.  A partial list of plants used in the west.
  • S. Foster and C. Hobbs (2002). The Peterson Field Guide Series A Field Guide to Western Medicinal Plants and Herbs. Houghton Mifflin Co, New York. ISBN 0-395-83807-X.  A field guide with photographs of each plant and descriptions of their uses.
  • C. Garcia and J.D. Adams (2005). Healing with Medicinal Plants of the West - Cultural and Scientific Basis for their Use. Abedus Press, La Crescenta. ISBN 0-9763091-0-6.  Gives the Chumash Indian and scientific basis for use of many plants, along with color photographs of each plant. Cecilia Garcia is a Chumash healer.
  • Lowell J. Bean and K.S. Saubel (1972). Temalpakh: Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants. Malki Museum Press, Morongo Indian Reservation.  A discussion of Cahuilla Indian plants and their uses. Saubel is a Cahuilla Indian.

See also


  1. ^ Arnett, Amy M. (December 1995). "Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium) Poisoning". Clinical Toxicology Review 18 (3). Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  2. ^ "Palliative Care Among Chumash People" (PDF). Wild Food Plants. Archived from the original on 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  3. ^ "Takape Kakaaka". Tongva Medicinal Plants. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  4. ^ Strike, Sandra (1994). "Aboriginal Uses of California's Indigenous Plants". Ethnobotany of the California Indians. Vol. 2.. Champaign: Koeltz Scientific Books. ISBN 1-878762-51-6. 
  5. ^ Sales of Supplements Containing Ephedrine Alkaloids (Ephedra) Prohibited. From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed September 12, 2007.
  6. ^ Pérez Gutiérrez RM, Laguna GY, Walkowski A. (1985 November–December). "Diuretic activity of Mexican equisetum". J Ethnopharmacol 14 (2–3): 269–272. doi:10.1016/0378-8741(85)90093-5. PMID 4094471. 
  7. ^ "Herbs and Spices". Commercial Vegetable Production Guides. Oregon State University. April 2, 2002. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  8. ^ Mackowiak PA (October 2000). "Brief history of antipyretic therapy". Clin. Infect. Dis. 31 Suppl 5: S154–S156. doi:10.1086/317510. PMID 11113017. 
  9. ^ "Yarrow". Factsheets. Purdue Center for New Crops. December 2, 1997. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 

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