Medicinal Plants and Native American Herbal Medicine in Ohio
Ohio's Natural Wonderland
The Ohio Territory before Statehood in 1803 was a land of natural wonders. According to Native storytellers in Western Ohio, members of the Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band, forests were taller and thicker and the fish in the clean rivers of Ohio were as large as a man's arm.
Native grasses, along with indigenous herbs and plants provided food to supplement the game captured in the Hunt. They provided the gifts of weaving materials, art media, and medicines. Trees provided the poles and benches for the Longhouses and the Sweat Lodges of the Native American Nations of the Ohio Valley and throughout the state from likely 10,000 B.C. forward.
The last reservation-type community in Ohio left long ago under the Andrew Jackson Indian Removal Laws. The Wyandotte Nation was the last to move. In the 20th century, the United Remnant Band of the Shawnee Nation has been attempting to purchase back lands in Western Ohio.
Some Current Native American Lands in Ohio
The Land and the People
Most notable, however, is not the length of tenure of these peoples, nor their ability to thrive from natural resources, but their concept and application of sustainability and thanksgiving that occurred during the full moon of every month. In addition to this celebration of thanks, Native Peoples performed rituals of thanks at every game kill, at each harvest (individual and community), seasonally, at each meal, and during each treatment and healing produced by herbal medicines. They considered themselves part of nature, stewards of it, and not rampant exploiters of its commodities.
The Village of Yellow Springs was founded in 1825, named for a natural spring rich in iron ore located in The Glen Helen. People visited from around the country to view and try the springs for medicinal purposes.
European-American settlers that created friendship with local Native Peoples in Ohio learned some of their traditional herbal cooking and medicinal techniques but discovered others on their own. As increasing numbers of settlers arrived in Ohio and allopathic medicine advanced, many herbal traditions were left behind. However, small numbers of Ohioans, both Indigenous and Newcomers, continued to seek out and use native plants for health and healing.
The Shawnee Nation United Remnant Band is recognized by Ohio since 1979. In 1989, these Shawnee purchased 110 acres of land near Urbana to become the first Native American landowners in Ohio since Indian Removal in 1830. Living history installations and herbal medicine workshops are becoming popular nearby. The Shawnee also own Zane Shawnee Caverns and Museum.
In earlier times, Native Americans and settlers often watched to see what plants sick animals ate and determined some herbal healing properties in that manner. By 2002, researchers at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware, just north of Columbus, found that some birds routinely use anti-microbial nesting materials found in the wild (Reference: Jann Ichida; Proceedings of the 104th General Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology; “Birds use herbs to protect their nests”; ScienceBlog.Com, May 26, 2004).
A wide range of herbal medicines and medicinal plants grow naturally in Ohio as well as nearby in the Midwest and the Near South. A testament to this was broadcast when Director Emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Jack Hanna, and his wife Suzi were overjoyed by this fact in 1977.
A small blue flower growing in these regions was attributed as a successful treatment for leukemia that had struck their young daughter. Today, several flowers such as Bachelor Button or cornflowers and orchid varieties are reputed to produce anti-cancer compounds.
Native plants are present perhaps, in part, to aid humanity in finding and maintaining health as it stewards the equilibrium of Terran ecosystems and the balance of the Earth in the sky.
Important Herbs: Medicinal Plants of Ohio - 1910 [13 pages of herbs]
Native Ohio Plants and Healing
The Ohio State Fair in Columbus, Ohio each summer features a large natural habitat near its southern entrance on 17th Avenue. It includes dozens of native grasses, flowers, and other plants as well as several native animals. Visitors can walk though the serene exhibit and experience the land as it was prior to 1803 and in the early years of Ohio Statehood. By 1910, the professional journal known as The Ohio Naturalist listed a full six pages of native Ohio herbs and other plants used for medicine.
The White Trillium
One of the native Ohio medicine plants is the white trillium, Ohio’s State Wildflower. Young trillium leaves are delicious as food in salads, with a flavor like that of sunflower seeds. Local deer like them as well. The root of the plant has been applied by Native Americans as an antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, and ophthalmic. It has also been used for female reproductive problems, specifically by Native Americans for childbirth, providing the root’s nickname Birth Root.
Certain native plants are used in the traditional sweat lodges of Native American groups throughout the US. Tragically, several deaths were reported in modernized sweat lodges operated by certain groups in America in the early 21st Century. These structures were not built or operated according to traditional methods. Abandoning many natural materials, builders of the problematic sweat lodges used large plastic tarpaulins that made the structures air-tight, caused overheating, and failed to allow for natural airflow and ventilation. The herbs and other elements used in these operations may not have been appropriate. Properly constructed sweat lodges operated with appropriate safety precautions can promote health.
In the darkness of rising healthcare costs and the difficulty of a large number of US residents to obtain health insurance, a movement back to the traditional use of native plants and herbs in health and healing became more evident in the early 1980s and has increased to present days. Much of this interest centers in Athens and Southeastern Ohio, an area renowned for its herbal and folk medicine history, Native American culture, and Stephen Hayes martial training camps. All of these groups— Native Americans, settlers and farmers, and martial artists—are linked with herbal medicine.
Sweat Lodge Traditions
Advancements of Natural Medicine
In the modern era, Companion Plants has operated in Athens since 1982, offering 600+ varieties of native plants, medicinal and culinary herbs, ceremonial plants and herbs, roots, mushrooms, seeds, and other items. A related clinic popular in Athens is the Appalachian Ohio Herb Clinic under the supervision of Caty Crabb. Gathering and growing her own materials, Ms. Crabb maintains offices in Rutland, Ohio and the Athens Wellness Cooperative.
Closer to Cincinnati, Ms. Rita Nader Heikenfeld, CCP (Certified Culinary Professional), CMH (Certified Modern Herbalist), works from Batavia. She is a journalist and Macy’s Regional Culinary Professional, listed in three divisions of Who’s Who. Her blog offers information and techniques for culinary and medicinal herb and plant uses.
Herbal medicine, or herbalism, has come into greater acceptance by the discipline of allopathic medicine and now falls under the federal government’s health initiatives at the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a division of the National Institutes of Health.
Find Ohio herbalists at the Ohio Herb Education Center, 110 Mill Street, Gahanna, OH 43230. Phone (614) 342-4380.
Ohio's Indirect Herbal Medicine
Not all medicinal plants and herbs native to Ohio are used directly for healing. Some of these plants attract bees that make honey that is useful in health and healing and a nutritious food item.
One Ohio native plant that attracts the honeybee is the Dutchman's Breeches. The plant grows to a height range of 4 – 12” and blooms white as blossoms appear in the spring. These flowers exude a pleasing scent from something that resembles billowy pantaloons at the top of leafless stalks rising above feathery green-gray foliage.
The Wild Columbine also attracts bees with its red and yellow flowers that look like bells in the spring on plants up to two feet tall. Additional plants that attract the honeybee are the Turtle Head, named for flowers shaped like the reptile’s head; the Shooting Star; and the Wild Blue Phlox with blooms of white, blue, and purple.
Native habitats, including herbs, flowers, and insects, are a part of a greater landscape full of potential medicines that can be stewarded to better health and balance.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2010 Patty Inglish MS