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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.


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.[citation needed]

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

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

The following plants are routinely used by American Indians, and have come to be recognized as safe by virtue of historical and continued use without deleterious effects to health.[citation needed]

  • 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]
  • California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) can be chewed to treat toothache, and to decrease milk production in nursing mothers anti-galactogogue.[4]
  • California sagebrush, (Artemisia californica), can bring back pleasant memories. The smell of the leaves and stems is pleasant and relaxing. The plant has many fragrant monoterpenoids that are soothing to smell.[citation needed]
  • Douglas' sagewort, (Artemisia douglasiana), is used to induce dreaming, as well as an antibacterial and douche. Leaves and stems under a pillow at night can help sleep as well as induce dreams. Anti-microbial action comes from: camphor (29%), artemisia ketone (26%), artemisia alcohol (13%), α-thujone (10%), 1,8-cineole (8%), and hexanal (5%). The plant contains many fragrant monoterpenoids that may help with dreaming.[5][6][7][8]
  • 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.[10]
  • Matilija poppy, (Romneya coulteri) is applied topically to treat sunburn.[11]
  • White sage, (Salvia apiana) can be grown in a garden and used every day to purify the spirit. One leaf is placed in a water bottle, and used normally. Sucking on a leaf can soothe sore throats since the leaves contain camphor and other therapeutic compounds:
Chemical Constituents and Relative Percentages
α-Thujene 0.3%
α-Pinene 9.0%
Camphene 0.4%
β-Pinene 9.1%
Myrcene 0.5%
3-Carene 1.3%
Cymene 2.8%
Limonene 2.0%
1,8-Cineole 71.6%
α-Pinene oxide 0.2%
Camphor 2.1%
Terpinolenone 0.2%
β-Carophyllene oxide 0.6%
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is used for various ailments including cramps, fevers, and toothache.[13]
  • Yerba Buena (Satureja douglasii & Clinopodium douglasii (by region) is used as a refreshing tisane to treat dehydration.[11]
  • Yerba Santa, (Eriodictyon californicum) and other Eriodictyon species, was used in American and British hospitals and clinics for respiratory infections, influenza, tuberculosis and asthma until 1960. In that year, a law was passed requiring that all medicines had to have proven efficacy. Yerba santa is used by crushing 3 leaves in a cup of hot water and slowly drinking the tea.[citation needed]


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

  • Traditional medicine


  1. ^ Arnett, Amy M. (December 1995). "Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium) Poisoning". Clinical Toxicology Review 18 (3). Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  2. ^ Palliative Care Among Chumash People. Wild Food Plants. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  3. ^ Takape Kakaaka. Tongva Medicinal Plants. Retrieved on 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. ^ Setzer, William N., Bernhard Vogler, Jennifer M. Schmidt, Joseph G. Leahy and Richard Rives (March 2004). "Antimicrobial activity of Artemisia douglasiana leaf essential oil". Fitoterapia 75 (2): 192-200. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  6. ^ a b c Adams Jr., James D. and Cecilia Garcia (February 1 2006). "Women's health among the Chumash". eCAM. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  7. ^ Adams Jr., James D., and Cecilia Garcia. "The advantages of traditional Chumash healing". eCAM 2005 (2): 19‐23.
  8. ^ Blackburn TC (1975). December's Child: A Book of Chumash Oral Narratives. Berkeley: University of California Press. 
  9. ^ Sales of Supplements Containing Ephedrine Alkaloids (Ephedra) Prohibited. From the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed September 12 2007.
  10. ^ Pérez Gutiérrez RM, Laguna GY, Walkowski A. (1985 Nov-Dec). "Diuretic activity of Mexican equisetum". J Ethnopharmacol 14 (2-3): 269-72. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  11. ^ a b Herbs and Spices. Commercial Vegetable Production Guides. Oregon State University (April 2 2002). Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  12. ^ Mackowiak, Philip A. (2000). "Brief History of Antipyretic Therapy". CID 31 (Suppl 5). Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  13. ^ Yarrow. Factsheets. Purdue Center for New Crops (December 2 1997). Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Medicinal_plants_of_the_American_West". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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