Monday, August 15, 2016

1823: More native American asthma remedies

John D. Hunter lived among the Indians and learned about their medicine through the normal course of life. There were many other "whites" like Hunter who lived among the Indians, some who were kidnapped by them as Hunter was, and others for the simple purpose of studying them as George Catlin did.

Virgil J. Vogel researched and studied their records and recorded a list of Indian remedies in his book "American Indian Medicine.

Some of these remedies as they pertain to our asthma and respiratory therapy history are listed here: :
  • Skunk Cabbage:  Mainly used for consumption more so than asthma, but it was used as an expectorant. In either case, the dried roots were used. Imagine a medicine man bringing you this stinky remedy and saying, "Well, eat up."   (2, page 207, 367)
  • Red Cedar Berries (perus virginiana) and Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense):  A "steeped infusion" of these was used by the Rappahannocks. (4, page 207)
  • Balsam Poplar:  It was turned into a salve that was inserted into the nares by the Pillager Ojibwas to relieve congestion caused by a cold (which would probably sometime be allergies).  It was used for colds, catarrh (a cold), and bronchitis. (2, page 276-7)
  • Indian Balsam:  (Balsam fir (Abies balsamea):  Vogel says that Hunter said it was good for colds, coughs, asthma, consumption. (2, page 277-8)
  • Corn oil:  Dr. D.C. Jarvis (1881-1966) wrote about folk medicine, and noted that corn oil was often recommended for hay fever, migraine, and asthma. (2, page 293)
  • Cottonseed oil:  Used in South Carolina and by the Mayans to treat asthma. (2, page 295)
  • Ginsing Root (Panax quinquefolius L):  It was often used as a panacea by the North American Indians, Europeans and the Chinese.  The French are known to have used it for asthma.  (2, page 307)
  • Green Helebore:  Used by the Iroquois to relieve catarrh. It was also used as a narcotic to treat asthma and other lung diseases.  It was also used to reduce heart rate and blood pressure.  (2, page 316)
  • Indian Hemp (Apocynum cannabinum L.): It's often used as a narcotic, and is the source of marijuana.  It made it's way to the United States and Europe to be included in asthma powders and cigarettes.  It was used by the Indians for asthma and whooping cough, although mainly because it "promoted perspiration." (2, page 319)
  • Indian Turnip:  Hunter says it was mixed with spikenard and wild licorice to treat a cough. It was also used for asthma, chronic catarrh, fever, and a variety of other ailments. An "Indian Doctor" by the name of John Briante said "the dried and pulverized root" was good as an expectorant, for asthma.  Dr. David Clapp (1811-1853) said it was good for asthma and chronic cough.  (2, page 322)
  • Jimson weed (Datura Strammonium):  The Rappohannock Indians of Virginia smoked leaves for shortness of breath.  It is similar to Belladonna, and was often used in folk medicine as a hallucinogenic and asthma remedy.  As it made it's way to America and Europe in the early 19th century, it was determined to have an alkaloid called Atropine in it that was a mild bronchodilator.  (2, page 328) Modern medicines such as Atropine, Atrovent, Spiriva are been derived from this plant, although many of the modern mediicnes are synthesized (made in a factory)
  • Mullen (Verbascum thapsus L.):  The leaves were smoked to relieve asthma and sore throat by the Mohegans and Penobscots.  The Catawbas "boiled het root and sweetened it to make a syrup for croup in children." The Creeks "boiled the roots with those of button willow for a drink used internally for coughs. The leaves were also boiled and the patient bathed in teh infusion while it was hot.  The Forest Potawatomis smoked the dried leaves for asthma, but Smith is uncertain whether they learned teh practice from teh whites or vice versa.  A smoke smudge was made of the leaves and the fumes inhaled for catarrh adn to revive an unconscious patient.  The Menominees smoked the root for pulmonary disease.  Smith said he had often seen whites smoke the leaves for asthma and bronchitis, and tehat the flowers were believed to be diuretic (good for heart failure) and had been used for tuberculosis."  (2, page 341)
  • Tobacco:  It was used (probably ingested) by the Maya for asthma, cough and headache, as well as a variety of other ailments.  Some considered it a panacea.  It was even used by some to treat bad breath.  Of interest to note is that while many people loved this panacea, Vogul writes that "The 'Counterblaste to Tobacco' of James I has been widely quoted for its quaint condemnation of smoking as a 'custome lothsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmefull to the braine, dangerous to the Lungs, and in the blacke stinking fume thereof, nearest resembling the horrible sigian smoke of the pit that is bottomlesse.'"  Vogul also notes that the "Menominees inhaled tobacco smoke to induce a narcotic state.  The blowing of tobacco smoke into the ear for earache was reported in this century among the Chickahominys, the Mohegans, and the Malecites... Louisiana Choctaws blew tobacco smoke on snakebites."  So tobacco was used as early inhaltions and fumigations of sorts.  (2, page 380-385)
  • Wintergreen:  It was made into a tea and used as a remedy for asthma.  It was also used for "coughs and diseases of the breast," according to Dr. Clapp.  (2, page 394)
  • Balsam of Copaiba:  It was used as an expectorent and diuretic
  • Balsam of Tolu:  It was used as an expectorant.  Vogul also notes that "In 1822 Dr. Bigelow called it useful in chronic bronchitis, asthma, and catarrh." 
So there's a small sample of some of the remedies that were used by native Americans, many of which made their way to the American and European pharmacopoeia. 

  1. Vogel, Virgil J. "American Indian Medicine," 1970, London, Oklahoma University Press
RT Cave Facebook Page
RT Cave on Twitter
Print Friendly and PDF

No comments:

Post a Comment