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How long have herbs and other plants been used for medicinal purposes? Probably for as long as human civilizations have existed.

Archaeological evidence shows that humans used medicinal plants during the Paleolithic Era. That was about 60,000 years ago. 

The Sushruta Samhita was produced in the sixth century B.C. It describes approximately 700 medicinal plants. The Sumerians created clay tablets listing hundreds of medicinal plants 5,000 years ago.

The Ebers Papyrus includes information on more than 850 plant medicines. It was written by the Egyptians around 1500 B.C.

In much more recent times, Native Americans used about 2,500 of the 20,000 plant species native to North America in a medicinal fashion.

And here’s an estimate from the World Health Organization. About 80 percent of the population of some Asian and African countries currently uses herbs to treat disease.

Getting the respect they deserve

Herbal and other plant medicine usage has increased in North America in recent years. Mainly because scientific evidence for their effectiveness has become more widespread.

As a result, millions have been able to treat many of their own non-life threatening illnesses and injuries. Instead of being dependent on doctors. These unique gifts from Mother Nature are definitely here to stay.

The remedies provided by medicinal plants are effective, available and affordable. Especially for day-to-day, non-emergency health issues. Headaches, colds, fevers, flus and coughs can be dealt with through medicinal plants. As well as aches, pains, bumps, bruises and other ailments. 

And not just for the treatment of illnesses and injuries. Plants with medicinal properties can also be used to help prevent health problems. That’s due in large part to their concentration of nutrients. 

Here’s how to use them

The most common way to use plants to treat illnesses and diseases is as a blended liquid. Usually a brewed tea and sometimes called a tisane. Medicinal teas are often very pleasing to our taste buds. But their primary function is for health purposes. 

Methods of preparation include infusions. These are hot water extracts of herbs through steeping. Including chamomile or mint. Another method is decoctions. They are the long-term boiled extracts of harder substances. Including roots or bark.

Salves are ointments used to treat a variety of minor skin problems. They can also be very useful in combatting physical maladies. The same is true of tinctures, which are extracts from plants mixed into a solution.

Here’s a quick look at eight medicinal plants used by Native Americans.

Echinacea. Called the purple coneflower, this herb is strong and easy to grow. It’s a prairie plant with daisy-like flowers ranging from pink to purple around a spiny central disk. Native Americans may have used Echinacea for 400-plus years. Mainly to treat wounds and infections, and as a general cure-all.

Red Clover. Many use this plant to create a tea that is said to serve as a blood thinner. It is also known for its ability to soothe coughs and boost the immune system. Plus support the lowering of cholesterol levels and the improvement of blood circulation.

Wild sumac. This bush was used in many different ways by Native Americans. The roots and bark were used for fever, colds and bladder inflammation. The leaves were utilized for rashes and sore gums. The plant’s berries served to treat constipation. And the milky substance from the stems served as a salve on wounds.  

Yarrow. This herb has spicy, ferny leaves. They produce beautiful flowers in red, yellow or white tones, grouped in flat clusters. It is reported to stop bleeding by chewing the leaves. Or by crushing them with the flowers and then pressing them against the wound. Some think it’s helpful for supporting blood circulation. And dealing with other conditions. 

Feverfew. Featuring small flowers that look like daisies, this plant’s leaves can be eaten fresh. But they are often combined with honey to offset the bitter taste. Feverfew has been used for fevers, toothaches, headaches and general pain. It’s also said to help relieve depression.

Mullein. The roots, leaves and flowers of this plant all serve medicinal purposes. The roots are known for aiding the urinary system. The soft leaves are reported to fight off infections. And relieve pain and reduce swelling.

Slippery Elm. This plant can be ground into a powder and mixed into a tea. Or mixed with boiling water to develop a paste for topical usage. Native Americans are said to have used it for coughs, sore throats and intestinal issues. Plus minor wounds, burns and skin inflammation.

Blackberries. Because they are filled with antioxidants, the fruit from blackberries are said to help relieve anemia. As an infusion, the fruit is reported to moisten dry skin. The roots are said to aid the digestive tract, and serve as an expectorant. The leaves were used to relieve bleeding gums and mouth sores when chewed. 

Never neglect medical help for a serious injury or condition. But for minor, day-to-day health issues that crop up, the use of herbs and other plants can help with both prevention and treatment.

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