Medicinal Uses

Disclaimer: Medicinal uses of wildflowers listed below are not intended to be seen as potential remedies or cures but for acknowledgments of their historical value. If suffering from one of the ailments mentioned below, please see a licensed health professional.

Many varieties of wildflowers contain medicinal properties that have been utilized for thousands of years. Forbs grown in the Intermountain West—such as yellow spiderflower (Cleome lutea), snowline springparsley (Cymopterus bipinnatus), Blue Mountain prairie clover (Dalea ornata), hoary tansyaster (Machaeranthera canescens), basalt milk vetch (Astragalus filipes), and blue penstemon (Penstemon cyaneus)—have long been used by Native Americans to treat medical conditions. The Navajo used yellow spiderflower to treat ant bites and hoary tansyaster for nose and throat conditions (Wyman & Harris, 1951; Elmore, 1944). The Acoma and Laguna used snowline springparsley to treat stomachaches (Swank, 1932), while the Navajo used Blue Mountain prairie clover to treat the same ailment. The Cherokee used basalt milk vetch to treat asthma, coughs, and hoarseness (Hamel & Chiltoskey, 1975). The Karuk used blue penstemon to treat depression (Schenk & Gifford, 1952).

While some ingredients are toxic, effective ingredients from wildflowers such as foxglove (Digitalis lanata) (native to Europe), western yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) have been studied and refined over time for use in western medicine. Long ago, foxglove was found to possess ingredients for healing and pain relief (Celebrating Wildflowers - Medicinal Botany). These same ingredients—digitalis, digitoxin, and digoxin—are now employed in modern medicine to treat a wide assortment of ailments, from swelling and muscular dystrophy to asthma, heart conditions, and tumors (Fugh-Berman, n.d.). Other forbs such as western yarrow contain azulene and salicylic acid, which are known for their anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving qualities (Williamson, 2002). Arrowleaf balsamroot contains 7,1 0-epithio-7,9-tridecadiene-3,5,11 triyne-1,2-dio, an antibacterial and antifungal compound used for infections and fungal outbreaks (Williamson, 2002; Matsuura, Saxena, Farmer, Hancock, and Towers, 1995) .

Many other plants have intriguing ethnobotanical uses. For more information on specific uses on various plants, please see the Native American Ethnobotany Database.


References:

  • Bocek, Barbara R. 1984. Ethnobotany of Costanoan Indians, California, Based on Collections by John P. Harrington. Economic Botany 38(2):240-255 (p. 19)
  • Celebrating Wildflowers - Medicinal Botany. (2011, October 19)
  • Elmore, F. H. (1944). Ethnobotany of the Navajo. Santa Fe, NM: School of American Research.
  • Hamel, Paul B. and Mary U. Chiltoskey. 1975. Cherokee Plants and Their Uses -- A 400 Year History. Sylva, N.C. Herald Publishing Co. (p. 23)
  • Rogers, Dilwyn J. 1980. Lakota Names and Traditional Uses of Native Plants by Sicangu (Brule) People in the Rosebud Area, South Dakota. St. Francis, SD. Rosebud Educational Scoiety (p. 46)
  • Rousseau, Jacques. 1947. Ethnobotanique Abenakise. Archives de Folklore 11:145-182 (p. 174)
  • Schenck, Sara M. and E. W. Gifford. 1952. Karuk Ethnobotany. Anthropological Records 13(6):377-392 (p. 389)
  • Swank, G. (1932). The Ethnobotany of the Acoma and Laguna Indians. University of New Mexico.
  • University of California Cooperative Extension. (n.d.). The Lifesaving Foxglove.
  • Williamson, D. (2002). Healing Plants of the Rocky Mountains. McCall, Idaho: From the Forest.
  • Wyman, L. C., & Harris, S. K. (1951). The Ethnobotany of the Kayenta Navaho. Albuquerque, NM: The University of New Mexico Press.