Tag Archives: Plants

Herbal medicine for colds / influenza

‘Tis the season… for respiratory illnesses.
But don’t take antibiotics! In the long run they will weaken both your and your environment’s immune systems. There are about ten times more bacterial cells in your body than your own cells. You want to kill them all off with antibiotics and leave their habitat empty for takeover?! No; instead, take medicinal herbs, especially in hot teas, and eat healthily – lots of juices, fruits and veggies, and hot clear soups.

The following are herbs that the California Indians used to combat colds / flu / sore throats / bronchitis / fevers. They are all native to the California Bay Area, extending through Central and Northern California, but many of the same species or their relatives can be found across the US, both wild and in herb stores. I’ve tried to list them roughly in order of importance and availability.

Yerba santa (“holy herb,” Eriodictyon californicum) – an infusion or decoction of the leaves was drunk as an extensively used, very effective, and specific cure for colds, influenza, fevers, and stuffy / runny nose (Chesnut 1902, Moore 1993). This is probably the best herb for colds/flu; I made a strong infusion and noticed my discharges immediately drying up. I drank several cups of strong infusions with raw wildflower honey the evening I felt real bad and felt much better the following day, drank the same, and was cured by the third. I did, however, use many other of the below herbs, but I feel like most were temporarily relieving symptoms whereas yerba santa was curative.

Wormwood / mugwort / bronchitis plant (Artemisia spp.) – a decoction of leaves was drunk as a specific cure for colic and colds, was very efficacious for bronchitis, and fresh bruised leaves were placed in the nostrils to relieve the symptoms of colds (Chesnut 1902).

Angelica (Angelica spp.) – the roots, gathered when the plant’s leaves dry off in mid to late summer, were chewed and the juice swallowed for colds, fever, and sore throat, a decoction wash made of them for relief of colds, or they were crushed and smoked like tobacco for colds and stuffy / runny nose (Chesnut 1902, Goodrich et al. 1980). I chewed this and swallowed the juice and definitely had some relief; this would be a great relief for sore throat.

Coffeeberry (Rhamnus californica) – a decoction of the bark (a handful of bark per gallon of water was boiled until it tasted like wine) was a specific remedy for influenza (Chesnut 1902). I tried this but it was a little late to tell whether it helped. It was not so much like wine but about as bitter as red wine.

Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) – an infusion of leaves was drunk for colds by the Little Lake tribe (Chesnut 1902).

Manzanita (Arctostaphylos spp.) – an infusion of the leaves was used to cure severe colds by the Calpella tribe (Chesnut 1902).

California spikenard (Aralia californica S. Watson) – the roots, gathered July-August, were dried and a decoction made from these was highly valued as a cure for colds and fevers (Goodrich et al. 1980, Chesnut 1902).

California bay laurel (Umbellularia californica) – an infusion of the leaves was used for colds and sore throats. This is a strong antimicrobial but likely doesn’t cure a viral infection.

Pines and firs (Pinus spp. and Abies spp.) – an infusion or decoction of needles and/or sap were used to relieve and cure colds (Strike 1994). The resin or sap was also burned for incense to relieve sinus problems (Strike 1994).

Infusions or decoctions of redwood, red cedar, and other conifer needles or sap have similar antimicrobial and decongestant effects (Moore 1993). I drank a lot of redwood needle tea and ate pine sap to feel better.

Sweet coltsfoot (Petasites palmata Gray.) – roots were used for influenza (Chesnut 1902).

Balsam root (Balsamorhiza sagittata) – a decoction or tincture of the fresh root is a disinfectant-expectorant used for sore throat, bronchitis, and the flu (Moore 1993).

Lomatium (Lomatium dissectum) – a cold infusion or tincture of the fresh or dry root is a powerful antimicrobial that is used against respiratory virus infections such as influenza, bronchitis, and sore throats (Moore 1993).

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – a powerful medicine of many uses, yarrow is especially helpful for acute fevers that begin as a head cold or flu (Moore 1993). For this ailment, drink a hot infusion  or tincture (of the whole plant or any of its parts) in hot water (Moore 1993).

Ciliate gilia (Linanthus ciliatus (Benth.) Greene.) – an infusion was used as a remedy for coughs and colds in children (Chesnut 1902).

Rosinwood (Grindelia sp.) – a decoction of the whole plant was used to cure colic and colds, especially in children (Chesnut 1902).

White horehound (Marrubium vulgare L.) – a decoction of leaves and stems was used to cure colds (Chesnut 1902).

Pepper vine (Clematis ligusticifolia Nutt.) – the stems were chewed to cure colds and sore throat (Chesnut 1902).

Bigflower Tellima (Tellima odorata) – roots were chewed to relieve colds (Chesnut 1902).

Dog fennel / fireweed (Anthemis cotula) – this plant has extremely irritating juices that cause a burning sensation, but the fresh plants were sometimes placed in bath water as a wash for severe colds (Chesnut 1902).

References:

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

Goodrich, J., Lawson, C., and Lawson, V. P. 1980. Kashaya Pomo plants. American Indian Studies Center, University of California, Los Angeles, CA.

Moore, M. 1993. Medicinal plants of the Pacific West. Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, NM.

Strike, S. S. 1994. Ethnobotany of the California Indians; Vol. 2. Aboriginal uses of California’s indiginous plants. Koeltz Scientific Books USA, Champaign, IL.

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Santa Barbara Sedge Baskets

Santa_Barbara_sedge

Carex barbarae

Santa Barbara Sedge – Carex barbarae

The Pomo Indians of California called this sedge Kä-höm’ which translates “water-gift.”

This species was very often used in basket making, being the white or creamy groundwork of most Pomo baskets (Chesnut 1902).

 Many hundreds of species of Carex are found across the US, and many were used for basketry by the American Indians.

Roots were collected during the summer and early fall (Chesnut 1902). A root end by the plant is grasped between the first and second toes, while a clam shell is used in one hand to scrape away dirt and a stick is used in the other hand to pry away stones and other roots and loosen the ground (Chesnut 1902). Women would gather about 15-20 root strands each day but men only about 10 on account of his long siesta (Chesnut 1902).

To maintain the root’s flexibility and soften its bark, roots are immediately placed in water to soak overnight (Chesnut 1902). The next morning, the end of the roots are chewed to separate the bark, which is then scraped away while one end of the root is held in the teeth and the other between the toes (Chesnut 1902). This white or tan inner root is coiled for carrying (Chesnut 1902). When ready for use, the roots are thoroughly soaked in warm water, then the ends split with fingernails into three parts, which were grasped by the teeth, and two hands to carefully and very evenly split the root into three sections (Chesnut 1902). Each of these sections is then split again in the same way, and the resulting sections split again the same until the desired fineness of strand is reached (Chesnut 1902). The value, beauty, and quality of the basket increased with fineness of strands used (Chesnut 1902). Finer strands were used like thread to wrap around horizontal withes (Chesnut 1902).

Since each basket was created from the mind with no model or skeleton, exacting care was necessary to make symmetrical designs (Chesnut 1902). It required many months to years of leisure work for a high quality basket (Chesnut 1902). A single regular-sized basket could take 600-800 hours of work to finish!

Such baskets were made to be watertight. They were used as cooking vessels, with rocks heated in a fire stirred with water and food in the basket to boiling temperatures. On account of their beauty and durability, they were passed down as heirlooms despite heavy, intense usage (Chesnut 1902).

Chesnut, V. K. 1902. Plants used by the Indians of Mendocino County, California. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.

basket made by Pomo

Sedge basket made by Pomo Indians (Wikipedia)

Juana Basilia, Chumash presentation basket with Spanish colonial coin designs, 1815–22. Deer grass, Indian rush, sumac, 24 ½ in. diameter, 4 in. height. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Juana Basilia, Chumash presentation basket with Spanish colonial coin designs, 1815–22. Deer grass, Indian rush, sumac, 24 ½ in. diameter, 4 in. height. Courtesy of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

See the below blog posts about modern-day basketry by California Indians, where I got these photos of amazingly beautiful (& functional!) baskets made by Abe Sanchez.

http://deborahsmall.wordpress.com/2010/01/16/basket-sumac-rhus-trilobata/

http://deborahsmall.wordpress.com/2009/10/18/yokuts-style-basket-abe-sanchez/

http://deborahsmall.wordpress.com/2011/01/11/gathering-rhus-trilobata-aka-basket-sumac/