There is a lovely display of plants and shrubs at the north end of Tumwater Falls that greet visitors with their beauty. Upon looking closer, I discovered the garden was planted in honor of local Coastal Salish tribes and three were listed: Chehalis, Nisqually, and Squaxin Island tribes. I felt an immediate connection from living with my Interior Salish tribal husband on the Colville Indian Reservation in Northeast Washington.
Most of the western Washington plants can be found on the east side as well. At the end of my Tumwater Falls tour, I spend added time examining each plant, most I was familiar with and a couple were new to me. I was thrilled to see plantain because I’d used that plant in my Native Young Adult fiction books. It has powerful wound-healing medicinal properties.
When home from my trip to the coast, I dug out my Ethnobotany of the Okanagan-Colville Indians of British Columbia and Washington (British Columbia Providential Museum, Victoria) and thumbed through the pages, searching for each plant that caught my eye in the garden. How had the people of my husband’s reservation used these plants for medicinal properties? What were other uses of these plants?
This is what I found:
Alumroot (bitter tasting plant; referring to the roots):
The root is said to be the fastest healing of all plants. It was used for sore throats, mouth sores, skin sores and cuts, and diaper rash. Mixed with Oregon grape root, used to make a tonic for the “changing of the blood” in March and November. The root was sucked on raw, boiled, and mashed for a poultice.
A plant that was good for horses and deer. Some Interior Salish ate the pith inside the shoots and others did not–Okanagan and Colville did not. Fireweed was mostly used with other native materials to weave blankets and baskets.
Berries that were said to taste like a drier crabapple. Children ate them raw and adults used them in soup with venison or salmon. There were generally not stored; however, the Sanpoil-Nespelem dried them. The Lakes people crushed the berries and make cakes. The cakes were brought out with salmon eggs on special ceremonial occasions. The leaves were used as a tobacco. The berries were used to counteract diarrhea. Leaves and stems were used as a wash for eye sores and a tonic was used for kidneys and bladder. Mixed with Oregon grape, It was used to split the blood at the change of seasons. It was also used for dandruff and scalp diseases and a wash for skin sores.
Goldenrod (round objects on the top or lumps):
The shoots in hot water were fed by spoonful every little while to children and babies with a fever. The shoot has a “menthol” taste. The flower heads were boiled and used for the flu and diarrhea.
Plantain (frog leaves):
The leaves were mashed and used as a poultice on open sores to kill germs.
Red: The plant was pounded and used in moccasins to cure “sweaty feet.”
Yellow: The tops of the paintbrush were dried, powdered, and placed on an open cut to draw out the germs.
Camas: One of the main food staples.
Yarrow (chipmunk’s tail):
The leaves and stems were burned as a smudge to keep mosquitos away. Mixed with white clematis and branches from the witches broom made a shampoo. It was also used for tooth aches, headaches, stomachaches, colds, wash for eye sores, burns, and rashes. As a bath soothed arthritis or rheumatoid pain.
When an individual needed something with strength and flexibility, they’d turn to oceanspray for digging sticks, spear shafts, and tipi pegs.
My health battle:
In the early ’90s when I suffered from fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, and debilitating migraines, I turned from western medicine to mostly natural healing from Naturopathic doctors. The shift from prescription medications that merely covered one symptom and spread several more from side effects to natural medicines that actually healed and rid my body of illness was the best decision I’d ever made.
I have great respect for natural medicines offered by our Creator, for our benefit. I have learned to go natural first and seek western medical attention if needed. I rarely use western doctors, unless surgery is needed. Turning to plants that heal the body and increase one’s immune system has been a huge blessing. I am no longer on any prescriptions medications.
I am healthy. I am happy.
If you take natural medications, what has helped you?