5 Native American Herbs for the Cold
and Flu Season
Condensed by Native Village
Before flu shots and NyQuil, native tribes and used
their own old and
flu treatments — herbs.
Most early European settlers were unaware of the healing power
of the native herbs that grew around them. Sadly, their own conventional medicine offered little comfort. The
available options of bloodletting, mercury, and strychnine
did little to help. The best course of action was often
doing nothing at all.
During those dark times, Samuel Thomson—a poor,
uneducated farm laborer from New Hampshire— devised a unique
system of medicine that used a few native plants for
healing. His patented method quickly spread across the
By 1840, the Thompsonian method was adopted by as many
as 5,000,000 Americans.
Thomson’s top herb—lobelia
—had long been used by the Penobscot, Cherokee,
and Wampanoag tribes for healing. He discovered
lobelia's remarkable effects as a child when he used it to prank
friends (at high doses, users discovered the
secret of its folk name: pukeweed).
lobelia for a wide variety of ailments, but also
found it effective in colds, and fevers. Lobelia
clears the lungs and promotes the expectoration
Thomson spent a year in jail in 1809 when a
jealous doctor accused him of killing a man with
lobelia. Thomson was later vindicated, but
lobelia’s toxic reputation still lingers.
lobelia is widely available in pills and
Thomson’s second favorite remedy was cayenne
pepper. He called it “one of the safest and
best articles ever discovered to remove
Thompson discovered cayenne during a
trip to Massachusetts and immediately realized
its value in healing.
Unlike many other herbs, cayenne’s effects
are felt immediately. Within seconds, its
heat drains sinuses, improves
circulation, and clears congestion.
and tinctures are available, cayenne added to
meals soon helps stuffy noses breathe clear.
Goldenseal was another
herb that Thomson made popular but by 1910, this popularity had nearly
picked the plant to extinction.
Goldenseal can be used for head congestion
and sore throat. Administer small doses (a few
drops). This is not only better for the patient,
but for the plant as well.
Native to the
American Midwest, goldenseal is now an endangered species
in some states.
important plant for Great Plains Indians, echinacea
became prominent in the 1800s and has regained
popularity as an immunity booster.
According to Kerry
Bone, a bio-chemist turned herbalist, misconceptions
exist of echinacea's affect on the immune system.
According to Bone, echinacea works best as a
preventative or in the very early stages of an
Another misconception about echinacea:
you can only use it for a short period of time.
He suggest using echinacea as part of a daily
regimen to ward off infections. He also
recommends Echinacea angustifolia, the variety
used by native healers. While Echincea purpurea
is easy to grow, it is also much less potent.
The last herb comes from
West, far from
where Thomson's travels. During the
influenza epidemic of the early 1920s, the
medical community discovered that whites and
Indians in Nevada fared far better than the rest
of the country.
Their secret weapon: lomatium
Lomatium has long served as a medicine and
food to the Great Basin tribes. The root,
available in tinctures and pills, can address
minor head colds and lessen the severity and
duration of strong respiratory infections.
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