Last Real Indians

And the Frybread Grease Left a Scar “THIS BIG”: Using Common Plants to Heal Wounds

By : Linda Tioleu

BURNS

My niece came into the inipi (sweatlodge) for the first time when she was 12. After the first round, she decided to leave the lodge for just a moment. As she was exiting, her foot slipped and landed right on top of a rock, still glowing red with extreme heat. She immediately screamed and fell out of the lodge in excruciating pain. Without thinking, I climbed out of the lodge and picked a plant that was growing just feet from the inipi. It was plantain (Plantago major – wihuta hu iyececa in Lakota), and it is one of the most amazing burn remedies in the natural world. I crushed the plantain leaves, poured on a little water from the sweatlodge bucket, and immediately applied it to the huge, inflamed blister that had already formed on the bottom of my niece’s foot. She immediately stopped crying and let out a sigh of relief as the gentle cooling effect of the plantain began to soak in.

“Keep this poultice on the burn and we will go back into the inipi to pray for you. When we get out, we will look at it again,” I said. She nodded and wiped her tears.

After the ceremony was over, I came out of the lodge and realized that my niece was no longer sitting on the bench. I looked up to see her running barefoot across the lawn, playing with other children. I called her over to look at her foot and she said, “It was all better by the third round.”

Indeed it was. Where the blisters had been, there was now only perfectly fresh, normal skin. It looked like nothing had happened. Even I was floored.

A dear friend and famous herbalist once told me that every herbalist has “an amazing plantain story” and I think she was right. Since the incident with my niece, I have used plantain to treat burns and scrapes that range from mild to severe, always with breathtaking results. It is an extremely common and overlooked plant and almost universally occupies your lawn or the cracks in your driveway. Stop spraying it for goodness’ sake! Pull it out by the root and dry it for use in winter months.

Plantain is simple to use: Harvest enough plantain leaves to cover the affected area. Macerate slightly, add moisture if needed (many cultures chew herbs for making poultices!), and apply directly to the burn. If the burn is open, you may wish to wrap the plantain leaves in cotton gauze, cheesecloth, or flannel. Apply a fresh poultice every couple of hours. You can use this poultice for burns, scrapes, rashes, insect bites, or chaffing wounds. Plantain is also a delicious edible, green vegetable– raw or cooked- and makes an excellent spinach substitute.

POISON IVY

I get poison ivy.  I get it BAD.  Oh sure, it might start off as an irritating but manageable rash, but it soon becomes a wet, seeping, unbearable mess . . . and that’s BEFORE the hives set in!

About four years ago I was teaching a class in northern Montana.  As I was visiting with one student, I heard another student say, “What plant is this?”  Without looking at the plant, and while still talking to the first student, I held out my hand and did what most ethnobotanists do subconsciously: I crushed part of the plant and held it to my nose to smell it.  I glanced down to look at what I was smelling, and lo and behold, it was my arch enemy in Mother Nature – poison ivy.

Ahhhh . . . old friend . . . we meet, yet again.

I have been afflicted with poison ivy every year of my life since I was about 4 years old.  My mom tells legendary stories of me contracting the rash simply from “standing down wind” of the vines.  Growing up in the Eastern United States, my grandmother would simply gather some jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) and rub it on the rash.  I was fascinated by how well it worked.  However, when I moved to the western U.S., I no longer had access to jewelweed and had to find some alternative– and let’s be real . . . we all know that calamine lotion doesn’t work, right?  That was when an elder told me about the wonders of oak bark in treating poison ivy and other ailments.  Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpauta hu in Lakota), is the most common species of oak near my home, but all species have compounds in the bark that will aid in drying poison ivy rash.

Simply find an older oak tree and pull off chunks of the bark.  (This will not harm the tree as long as you do not tear or cut too deeply.  Often the bark is grooved deeply enough so that you can just chip off pieces.)  Boil one cup of oak bark in four cups of water for 30 minutes.  The water should become yellow.  Once this decoction cools, soak a washcloth in it and wring out the excess.  Place the washcloth on the affected area and replace the washcloth every 30 minutes.  You may also bathe in the decoction.

CUTS/SCRAPES

When I was in grad school in Montana, I was doing research in a pasture where four bulls were grazing.  They were monstrously huge and I had to laugh when an old cowboy rode up next to me on his horse and said, “If you’re gonna be in this pasture, you better be more careful than a well-endowed, naked cowboy climbin’ a barbed wire fence.  “  As you may have guessed . . . he used a more colorful term than “well-endowed.”

However, I wasn’t careful- and that day, I climbed a barbed wire fence (fully clothed).  Just as I got my leg over the fence, I was startled by a rattlesnake carefully hidden in the grass.  I let go of the fence and a barb shot right into my leg, making a gash four inches long.  Blood was gushing down my leg.  I was completely alone . . . the elderly cowboy was long gone and my car at least 3.5 miles away.  I instinctively picked some yarrow (Achillea millefolium – taopi pejuta in Lakota) that was growing nearby.  I crushed the leaves, moistened them with a bit of water, and placed the poultice on my leg.  Amazing!  The bleeding stopped immediately.  (If I had some raw honey or pine sap available, I would have applied some, in addition to the yarrow, to prevent infection.)  I was able to drive home without spilling another drop of blood.

To use a yarrow poultice, crush enough yarrow leaves to cover the affected area.  Apply a bit of water, honey, or clean pine sap and apply directly to the wound.  As with the plantain, you may wish to wrap the yarrow in some thin cloth before applying.  According to a study by Jane Ellen in 2003, yarrow is a powerful blood coagulant due to two compounds, achilletin and achilleine.  Yarrow is also used internally to treat menstrual cramps and bug bites, as a blood tonic, and as an antiseptic, an anti-inflammatory, and a pain reliever.

SORES/INFECTIONS

Years back, I went to visit an elderly woman in Fort Yates, North Dakota.  I was interviewing her about various medicinal plants that she has been using over the years.  The problem, upon this particular visit, was that she could not stand or walk due to an infection that had set in to three of her toes.  She took her socks off to let me see the black and green sores– completely open to the elements and leaking yellow pus.  It was incredibly painful, and soon she would have to get the toes amputated.  My heart sank to think of the pain that this elder was in, and I asked her if there was anything I could do.  That was when she asked me to go get some “wahpe wastemna” (Monarda fistulosa), which is also known as bee balm.  I had been using this member of the mint family in inipi and as a tea for many years, and I knew where some grew nearby.  Within an hour, I was back at the elder’s house boiling the plant down to make a decoction.  She soaked her feet in the decoction while I interviewed her.  She informed me that she would do this for the next three to four days to kill the infection.

In four days, I returned to find this amazing, knowledgeable woman walking around her house. The infection was completely gone – where there had been a horrifying infection, there was only a healthy scab that was getting smaller every day. She had saved her toes with wahpe wastemna. It was a lesson I would never forget.

For those with diabetic ulcerations on feet or legs, Monarda fistulosa could be an incredible asset.  However, it can be used in treating any open sores or even MRSA infections.  To use bee balm as a soak for any open sores, boil 1 cup of fresh leaves per 3 cups of water for 15 minutes. Let cool slightly, but try to keep the water hot while soaking the affected area.  If necessary, you can soak a washcloth in the decoction and apply it directly to the sores.  The whole plant may be crushed or chewed and applied to infected sores.  Finally, you can drink bee balm tea to treat colds, fevers, and sore throats.

 

Disclaimer: The uses of plants contained herein are not intended as medical advice.  Linda Different Cloud, lastrealindians, and any associates do not accept any responsibility for any adverse effects from the uses of any plants.  Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.  Always seek advice from your physician before you stop taking any prescription medications.