Monthly Archives: October 2013

Herbal medicine for broken bones

My mom just broke her wrist so I did some research to give her some help from the plant kingdom. I immediately remembered an herb called boneset (Eupatorium spp.), but apparently that name comes from its use to cure a type of influenza or dengue fever, called “break-bone” of old. Looking through my herbal medicine / ethnobotany library, I found the following herbal preparations to be good for broken or fractured bones:

To speed healing, a poultice made of the whole plant (roots, stems and leaves) of yarrow (Achillea millifolium) should be kept around the affected area. Drink a tea made of the leaves and flowers of yarrow to also enhance healing. Yarrow s a very effective, all around healing enhancer that is found commonly in temperate areas. Achilles carried it into battle for his injured Myrmidons.



The fresher the plant and preparation, the better. Wild plants also have stronger / more abundant active compounds compared to commercially grown and harvested plants.

Yucca (Yucca spp.) roots should be steamed and used as a poultice on the affected area for anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving effects.

Yucca recurvifolia

Yucca recurvifolia

A liniment of aconite (Aconitum columbianum) leaf tincture should be applied to the affected area to reduce pain.

Horstail (Equisetum spp.) roots or the boiled young shoots have a lot of trace minerals such as calcium that will help bone healing. Horsetail is common near fresh water, but be careful to not collect from polluted waters, since this plant readily uptakes pollutants, especially heavy metals.

Balm of Gilead, a tincture made from the resin of young spring buds of cottonwood or poplar (Populus spp.) is an effective, ancient anti-inflammatory and vulnerary that should be applied externally to the affected area.

Second, third, and fourth knapped points

The one on the left was my second point. I got a few tips from expert knapper Ken Peek working on it with the California Knappers ( The two on the right I did alone. These are made from cobbles I collected from a stream near the Middle Fork Davis Creek obsidian mine in Modoc National Forest, CA.
I’ve mounted them on the skeleton of an Opuntia cactus I got off some ancient lava beds in New Mexico.

The Great Spirit Provides

“Brother, – As you have lived with the white people, you have not had the same advantage of knowing that the great Being above feeds his people, and gives them their meat in due season, as we Indians have, who are frequently out of provisions, and yet are wonderfully supplied, and that so frequently, that it is evidently the hand of the great Owaneeyo that doth this. Whereas the white people have commonly large stocks of tame cattle, that they can kill when they please, and also their barns and cribs filled with grain, and therefore have not the same opportunity of seeing and knowing that they are supported by the Ruler of heaven and earth.

Brother, – I know that you are now afraid that we will all perish with hunger, but you have no just reason to fear this.

Brother, – I have been young, but now am old; I have been frequently under the like circumstances that we are now, and that some time or other in almost every year of my life; yet I have hitherto been supported, and my wants supplied in time of need.

Brother, – Owaneeyo sometimes suffers us to be in want, in order to teach us our dependence upon him, and to let us know that we are to love and serve him; and likewise to know the worth of the favors that we receive, and to make us more thankful.

Brother, – Be assured that you will be supplied with food, and that just in the right time; but you must continue diligent in the use of means. Go to sleep, and rise early in the morning and go a-hunting; be strong, and exert yourself like a man, and the Great Spirit will direct your way.”

This quote was spoken by an Indian elder and later paraphrased by James Smith. At the time it was spoken, these two plus the young son of the Indian were going hungry during a harsh winter, being reduced to boil scavenged bones as their only nutriment. The rest of the Indians had been away for a long time owing to the ongoing war with the colonists. The Indian elder detects despair in Smith and gives this speech to comfort him. The next day, Smith decides to escape, leaving the elder and boy without an able hunter. In ten miles, he find buffalo tracks, which he pursues and succeeds in killing a large cow, of which he brings back the meat to the elder and boy at camp.

Source: Smith, J. Col. James Smith’s Life Among the Delawares, 1755-1759. In Kephar, H. (2005) The account of Mary Rowlandson and other Indian captivity narratives. Dover Publications, Mineola, NY.

great spirit

Religion and spiritual beliefs play an important role in how people treat their environment. Many may think that the American Indians were unable to achieve as high a degree of “civilization” as invading cultures because they somehow lacked the understanding, skills, or motivation. In fact, the Indians opposed the environmental destruction by colonists and refused to adopt agro-industrial practices on religious grounds. This is the thesis of the book In the Absence of the Sacred by Jerry Mander. It certainly seems that the animist religions of the Indians, which attribute souls to all living creatures plus rocks, mountains, and water bodies, would reject wanton destruction of the environment.



indian animal spirits

“Only when the last tree is cut down, the last fish eaten, and the last stream poisoned, will you realize that you cannot eat money.”
-Native American saying

This is a version of a quote I’ve heard from various sources. Some attribute this quote to an Osage Indian saying or Cree Indian Prophesy, but the earliest known use may have been by Alanis Obomsawin, a Canadian Abenaki.

Third knapped point

This is the third arrowhead point I’ve flint-knapped, and the first I did without any help or pointers from expert knappers. Made from obsidian I collected from a stream near the Middle Fork Davis Creek obsidian mine in Modoc National Forest, CA. Note the red pigment at the very tip; this is part of the stone, not blood.

my drawing of Agraulis vanillae, the gulf fritillary

my drawing of Agraulis vanillae, the gulf fritillary

My drawing of my favorite butterfly, drawn from a pinned specimen I collected at Brackenridge Field Laboratory in Austin, TX. Graphite, charcoal, color pencil, pastel pencil, glue and aluminum foil on sketching paper.

The Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae Linn. 1758) is a common butterfly species in the Nymphalidae family throughout the Americas, ranging in latitude from Argentina to California. It is the only species in the genus. The name Gulf Fritillary comes from their seasonal migration across the Gulf of Mexico, and their superficial similarity to the fritillary butterflies (Melitaeini).

The caterpillars feed exclusively upon passionflowers (Passiflora spp., esp. Passiflora incarnata); flowers of special beauty. Like other Heliconiines, Gulf Fritillaries sequester the cyanide compounds from the passionflower leaves they eat, making their bodies toxic and unpalatable to predators. Their wing tops are bright orange. They’re part of a Mullerian mimicry complex (where lots of toxic spp. have similar warning color patterns).

Their silvery spots on their wingbottoms are reflective like mirrors, and are why I like this species so much. Usually even aposematic toxic butterflies have cryptic (hard to see) underwings. This underwing crypsis usually only works in situ, with patterns possiby seeming conspicuous if viewed in isolation, as in this drawing. But perching on a branch, the silvery wingspots reflect the surrounding habitat, making it stealth-cloak camouflaged.

Did the first known humans in the Americas live in Brazil or Central Texas?

Recently, news articles have been suggesting that the earliest archeological finding of human inhabitants in all the Americas is at at Toca da Bastiana rockshelter at Serra da Capivara National Park, Piaui, Brazil. At this sandstone overhang shelter, rock paintings of red ochre symbolizing humans, animals, and designs were found.

These “cave-paintings” were found under a 2 mm thick layer of the mineral calcite, suggesting the antiquity of the paintings. Calcite is formed when water deposits calcium-rich minerals on a rock surface over time, which builds up gradually with successive wettings and dryings of the rock surface. Very similar to how stalactites and stalagmites form in caves. When the calcite crystals first form out of aqueous solution, their radioactive decay first begins, and so they keep the radio-carbon “signature” of the time of their formation.

Watanabe et al. (2003) decided to radio-carbon date the calcite layer, since they supposed all the calcium had formed anew from being dissolved in water. They found the calcite to be 35,000 to 43,000 years old, and inferred the rock paintings were at least this old.

This would predate the second oldest known site by over 20,000 years!

Besides this Brazil study, the oldest known Americans lived some 13,000-15,000 years ago, 40 miles northwest of Austin in Central Texas at the Buttermilk Creek complex (Waters et al. 2011). This site is an extensive dig with tons of artifact with lots of support for the dating. A site in Washington and others nearby correspond to this same time frame (Waters et al. 2011b). These sites predate the Clovis culture by a few thousand years. There is an extensive literature and archeological record from the Clovis culture (13-12 kya) forward.

However, Rowe and Steelman (2003) at Texas A&M performed “direct” radio-carbon dating on the paint itself used at the Serra da Capivara rock painting site and found the various images to date from different times 1200- 3600 years ago. They also dated the calcite layer dated by Watanabe et al. (2003), and found it to date only 2490 +/- 30 years before present.

Rowe and Steelman (2003) suggest Watanabe et al. (2003) did not account for the incorporation of calcite dust from the surrounding riverbed / bedrocks into the nascent aqueous calcite that formed the calcite layer in front of the paintings. The incorporation of this calcite dust, which would date millions of years old by itself since it was precipitated out of aqueous solution at the same time as the surrounding bedrock, severely skewed the dating of the layer of calcite over the paintings (Rowe and Steelman 2003). Watanabe et al. (2003) apparently assumed all the calcite they were dating was all formed at the same time from aqueous mineralization, ignoring the possibility of dust being settling on the wet rock face and becoming part of the calcite layer. Rowe and Steelman (2003) conclude “once again, and most dramatically, these studies point to the necessity of independent studies dating rock art.”

Unfortunately many if not all of the news stories out there make no mention of this rebuttal study, which was published just 6 months after the original one. Even both the official websites of Serra da Capivara National Park and UNESCO World Heritage present the 36,000 + year old date as uncontested fact, making no mention of any disputes in the dating. The same websites complain of a dearth of visitors who should be attracted by the extreme antiquity of the rock paintings.

Lets keep things simple and not confuse people out of greed for ticket sales to a park. Humans may well have inhabited Brazil at this time and before all other places in the Americas. But before I believe this, I will wait for evidence that is even remotely comparable to the evidence brought forth by Waters et al. (2011, 2011b) that the oldest known Americans were here no earlier than 15,000 years ago.

Conflict of interest statement: the author was raised in Austin, very near the oldest known pre-Clovis site. Central Texas has the best flint in the world, known to flintknappers as “Georgetown flint,” after the quarry it is commercially dug from in Georgetown. This flint is harder than obsidian, but flakes and works easier than any other type of flint or chert. This area is also anomalously diverse in flora and fauna compared to surrounding ecosystems of Texas and the USA, being at the confluence of five or more distinct ecoregions of Texas. The area is profusely bubbling with pristine springs, resulting from Central Texas’ Balcones Escarpment Uplift and Edwards Aquifer beneath the Cretaceous limestone bedrock. Jacob’s Well was known to be constantly bursting 100 feet high in the air with a fountain of pure springwater during settlement times (though nowadays there is often negative pressure).

I think the first Americans migrated south after reaching the continent, either from the Bering sea, or as the new book Across Atlantic Ice by Stanford and Bradley claims, by following ice sheets from Europe to North America. When they found Central Texas, they dug in, (it being paradise on earth back then) developed maximum carrying capacity sized populations and left extensive archeological records, with their descendents continually occupying the area until extirpation by colonists.

The rock paintings from the Brazil site are pretty cool. I wonder what they mean… who made them, who was meant to see them, and why? Were they just fun doodles by ancient graffiti artists? Part of some mysterious rituals? Recorded history? Instructional drawings? Maybe it’s more fun not knowing, and just guessing from the photos:



Rowe, M. W. and Steelman, K. L. 2003. Comment on “some evidence of a date of first humans to arrive in Brazil.” Journal of Archaeological Science 30: 1349-1351.

Watanabe, S., W. E. F. Ayta, and H. Hamaguchi. 2003. Some evidence of a date of first humans to arrive in Brazil. Journal of Archaeological Science 20: 351-354.

Waters, M.R., Forman, Jennings, Nordt, Driese, Feinberg, Keene, Hallifan, Lindquist, Pierson, Hallmark, Collins, Wiederhold. 2011. The Buttermilk Creek complex and the origins of Clovis at the Debra L. Friedkin site, Texas. Science 331(6064): 1599-1603.

Waters, M.R., Stafford, McDonald, Gustafson, Rasmusse, Cappellini, Olsen, Szlarczyk, Jensen, Gilbert, Willerslev. 2011b. Pre-Clovis Mastodon hunting 13,800 years ago at the Manis site, Washington. Science 334(6054): 351-353.