Over thousands of years different Alaska Native cultures in distinct regions of the practiced a variety of ways to promote health, reduce pain and meet the challenges of life.

Some traditional plants, mixtures, teas, and hot springs continue today, but there are few people who know and understand traditional practices. In a few Alaska Native controlled health care organizations there is an attempt to combine the best of both traditional and Western medicine.

One example is that traditional doctors often administered not only healing, but also encouraged patients to learn how to keep themselves healthy, mentally active and positive in their outlook as a part of their own healing.

Beyond their medicinal benefits, indigenous plants were a staple of Native people’s diet before Western contact. Today, indigenous plants are central to efforts to improve dietary health for current generations.

1- Devil’s club, also known as Alaskan ginseng (Alutiiq name: Cukilanarpak, Athabascan name: Heshkeghka’a, Tlingit name: Sauthkt. Scientific name: Echinopanaxhorridum)

The most noted uses of devil’s club are for colds, cancer, depression, and stomach problems, and also for broken bones, burns, coughs/chest congestion, and inflammation. It is considered “strong medicine” due to its effects on the psycho-pharma-spiritual aspects, and should be used only under the guidance of a traditional healer.

2- Dandelion (Alutiiq names: Qutemnaanaarua’a. Scientific name: Taraxacumofficinale)

Dandelion is a generous source of Vitamins A, B, C, and D and various minerals. It is also useful for liver issues like hepatitis and jaundice and is a natural diuretic. All of the plant parts can be used: the root as medicine, food, or coffee substitute; the leaves as a poultice or salad; and the flowers as food or medicine.

3- Willow leaves (Alutiiq name: Cuaq; Athabascan name: K’aii IƱupiat; name: Uqpik; Yup’ik name: Nuwi’longok. Scientific name: Salix spp.), 

Willow leaves are used in a poultice or bath for skin infections or irritations and the leaves can be chewed and placed on insect bites for pain relief. Willow ash can be sprinkled on severe burns or to prevent infections in cuts. Willow is used in some forms of over-the-counter aspirin. Willow aspirin compounds are organic and less volatile than their chemically made counterparts.

Contributors: Gary Ferguson, Naturopathic Doctor, Rita Blumenstein, Tribal Doctor, with assistance from Meda Schleifman and Karen Sandberg, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Anchorage, and Peggy Hunt, Alaska Plant Materials Center.

Responses to "Alaska Native Medicine Ways: 3 Alaska Native Medicinal Plants You Should Know"

  1. Me says:

    I've always used tobacco as a poultice for swelling, pain, and bruising, but my son introduced me to adding a crushed aspirin with a small amount of rubbing alcohol. Wow. Instant pain relief! <--can be abused, too much aspirin this way may cause a reaction, but I have used it safely a couple days in a row myself. Not big on drugs anyway - I think the VA would like me to be a walking pharmacy...

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