Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

3.5 4
by Charlotte Erichsen-Brown

See All Formats & Editions

Spanning the last 500 years, this exceptionally detailed and well-researched guide focuses primarily on the ways North American Indians have used plants, trees, and shrubs for medicine, food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. The plants considered are native to eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, although some are also found as far south as


Spanning the last 500 years, this exceptionally detailed and well-researched guide focuses primarily on the ways North American Indians have used plants, trees, and shrubs for medicine, food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. The plants considered are native to eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, although some are also found as far south as Florida and Texas and as far west as the Pacific coast.
In addition to extensive chronological historical citations dealing with documented usages of plants as far back as the fourteenth century, this book also provides data to enable even amateur botanists to identify plants in the field. Thus, accounts of herbalists, explorers, botanists, doctors, and scientists are accompanied by useful information about the plant’s range, common and scientific names, nontechnical physical description and more. To make the book especially easy to use, plants are grouped according to habitat: wet open places, woods and thickets, and dry open places. Moreover, a detailed line drawing of the plant’s leaves, buds, twigs, seeds, and other characteristic features accompanies the textual descriptions.
Scholarly, yet readable, exceptionally thorough but never dull, this classic reference belongs in the library of botanists, naturalists, herbalists, ethnologists, archaeologists — anyone interested in the long and fascinating story of how plants have served humanity.
“Charlotte Erichsen-Brown is a noted and inspired student of the ethnobotany of eastern North America. She has completed a study of great imagination and energy. Whether on a library’s reference shelf or in a backpack along the trail, her work will inform and educate, and often amaze.” — J. L. Riley, Botany Department, Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada.

Product Details

Dover Publications
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.02(d)

Read an Excerpt

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants

A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

By Charlotte Erichsen-Brown

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 1979 Charlotte Erichsen-Brown
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-13932-6



including the larch which drops its needles


Pinus strobus L. Pinaceae

Tall tree to 70 m with thick furrowed bark. The slender needles, pale green and shiny are 8-13 cm long in bundles of five. The cones, on long stalks, are rarely over 20 cm long, opening at maturity, with seeds much shorter than their wings.

Range. Nfld., N.B., P.E.I., N.S., s. Que., Ont., se. Man., s. to ne. Io., Ky., N. Ga., and nw. S.C., chiefly in sandy soil, many habitats.

Common names. Weymouth pine, northern pine, deal pine.


Pinus resinosa Ait. (P. rubra)

Tree to 40 m often clear of branches for three quarters of its height with reddish to pinkish scaly bark, on old trunks furrowed. Needles dark green, 9-16 cm long in bundles of two. The stalkless cones are 4-8 cm long.

Range. Nfld., N.B., N.S., P.E.I., s. Que., Ont. to se. Man., s. to Minn., Wisc., Mich., Pa., Conn. and n. Mass. in dry woods or rocky soil.

Common names. Norway pine, Canadian pine, hard pine.

1354 McAndrews & Boyko 1974 Crawford Lake Site s. Ont. 8. "Before the Iroquoians migrated into the Crawford Lake area the forest surrounding the lake consisted mainly of beech and maple with some oak, elm and birch. There was little or no pine. Archeobotanical remains in the nearby village middens, including charred seeds and charcoal, indicate that maize and beans were cultivated and that beech and maple constituted most of the firewood. The pollen diagram parallels this evidence and indicates that white pine and oak succeeded beech and maple on abandoned Indian fields. This explanation seems adequate when archeological and palynological evidence for agriculture are present. However, there are many more sites which show the characteristic white pine increase before European settlement ... The other possible explanation for white pine increase is proposed, namely, response to the Little Ice Age ... Crawford Lake lies to-day at the southern boundary of the Great Lakes conifer-hardwood forest. White pine probably would migrate southward in response to climate cooling ... 6. Zone 7 is defined by a rise in white pine pollen and the varve date at Crawford Lake is 580 years ago."

1475 Bjornnson Icelandic mss. Larsen transl. 111. "Pix liquida, tar hot and dry in the third degree. If one takes a full spoon of it and a second of honey, it is good for lung trouble and for heavy breathing. If one adds to it meat of almonds, that dries water in the ears, if it is put into them. If one adds salt to tar, that is good to apply to whatever vermin get into. If it is mixed evenly with wax, it heals impetigines [pimples] and softens what is hard in them. If it is mixed with brimstone, it helps for dandruff. Pitch helps almost all the same and is good to put in plasters and ointments for all sores."

1501 Cantino Lisbon 17th. Oct. to Ferrara transl. "And in all this region, several great rivers flow into the sea; by one of these rivers they penetrated to a place in the interior of the territory where on their arrival they found an abundance of very sweet and different fruits, and trees and pines of a height and diameter so great that they would be too large to be used as masts for the biggest boats that cross the sea."

1501 Pasqualigo 19th October; 209. "They report that the land is thickly peopled and that the houses are built of very long beams of timber, and covered with the skins of fishes ... 210. They have an abundance of timber, principally pine, fitted for masts and yards of ships, on which account his serene majesty [King of Portugal] anticipates the greatest profit from this country, both in providing timber for ships, of which he, at present, stands in great need." [The above two quotations relate to the voyage of Gaspar Corte-Real to the coast of Labrador in 1501 for the King of Portugal, as cited by Rousseau 1937.]

1613 Champlain Fourth Voyage fac. ed. Ottawa transl. 25. "The lands around the Lake were sandy, & covered with pines, which had almost all been burnt by the savages ... When they want to make the land cultivateable, they burn the trees, & this is very easy, for there is nothing but pines, full of resin."

1633 Gerarde-Johnson 1361. "Out of the Pine trees, especially of the wilde kinds, there issueth forth a liquid, whitish and sweet smelling Rosin ... very aptly mixed in ointments, commended for the healing up of greene wounds, for they both bring to suppuration, and to also glue and unite them together ... 1362. Gathered out from the Rosins ... a congealed smoke ... which serveth for medicines that beautifie the eie lids, and cure the fretting sores of the corners of the eies, and also watering eies, for it drieth without biting. There is made hereof ... writing inke, but in our age not that which we write withall, but the same which serveth for Printers to print their bookes with, that is to say, of this blacke, or congealed smoke, and other things added."

1663 Boucher Quebec transl. 40-1. "I will commence with one, which is the most used here, which is called Pine, which does not bear fruit as do those of Europe; they are of all sizes and girths; ordinarily they are fifty to sixty feet high without any branches: they are used to make planks, which are good and fine; & it can be said that these trees would be very good to make masts for ships. They are found thin and high enough for this purpose: these trees are very straight: there are large parts of the country where there are none: but the places where they are found are called Pineries. These trees yield a quantity of gum; the Savages use it to mend their canoes, & they also use it happily for woundes, for which it is a sovereign remedy."

1672 Josselyn New Engl. This tree (white pine) "yields a very sovereign turpentine for curing desperate wounds."

1744 Colden to Gronovious Dec. 89-90. "The Indians cure all sorts of wounds without digestion by the Inner bark of Pinus no 192 of the collection I sent you. They soak it so long in water as to make it soft & then apply it. If I be not misinform'd it is effectual even in Gun shot wounds. The Wound keep of a fresh & ruddy colour till it unites without digesting."

1749 Kalm Bay St. Paul Quebec August 30th. 483. "The inhabitants live chiefly upon agriculture and the making of tar, which is sold at Quebec ... 492. Great quantities of tar are made at Bay St. Paul ... The tar is made solely from Pin rouge or red pine ... People use only the roots which are full of resin, and which they dig out of the ground with about two yards of the trunk, just above the roots, laying aside the rest."

1778 Carver Travels 496. "That species of pine tree peculiar to this part of the continent is the white, the quality of which I need not describe, as the timber of it is so well known under the name of deals. It grows here in great plenty, to an amazing height and size, and yields an excellent turpentine, though not in such quantities as those in the northern parts of Europe."

1779 Cartwright J. Labrador [1770] 1,10. "The arrows are made from Weymouth pine; they are slender, light, perfectly straight, and about three feet long." Lord Weymouth introduced the white pine to England in 1705.]

1799 Lewis Mat. Med. Disp. 208. "Tar, Pix liquida, a thick black unctuous substance obtained from old pines and fir trees by burning them with a close smothering heat, part soluable in water. The water drunk for smallpox, scurvy, ulcers, fistules, rheumatism, asthma, coughs, cutaneous complaints and to cure all symptoms of dispepsy. It promotes urine, promotes perspiration, used also externally for skin diseases mixed with fat."

1809 Hugh Gray 207. "The dock-yard can be supplied with masts of the largest size. Some have been brought down to Quebec, 120 feet in length, and about four feet in diameter. It is the white pine which arrives at this immense size and may be stiled the monarch of the Canadian forest."

1812 Peter Smith. "The bark of the white pine is a great medicine for sores. It should be boiled, and the soft part stript out and beat to a poultice in a mortar, and then sufficiently moistened with the liquor and applied to burns or sores of any kind. Repeat the poultices and wash with the liquor until the sore is well. This will not terrify or smart in its application. A new skin will come on quickly without a scar. The same application is a cure for piles. A little tea of the bark should be drank while the external applications are continued."

1820 's Mat. Med. Edinburgh-Toronto mss 54. "Pix liquanda ... macerated with water it gets the name of Tar Water which operates chiefly as a stimulating Diuretic and Diaphoretic ... Bitumen Petroleum ... it is scarcely ever used."

1830 Rafinesque 25. "White pine ... The Indian tribes use the bark in a poultice for sores and piles, the boiled root for drawing plaster, the decoction of buds as purgative, the cones in rheumatism, and tar dissolved in spirits as a wash to cure itch, tetters and wens."

1833 Howard Quebec mss 24. "To prevent the cramp ... Take half a pint of Tar Water night and morning ... 136. To cure Flat Worms.2. Mix a tablespoonful of Norway tar, in a pint of small beer. Take it as soon as you can in the morning fasting. This brought away a Tape worm 36 feet long ... 225. To cure Sores of all sorts in Man. 1 oz. of strained turpentine, 1 oz. of burgundy pitch, 1 oz. bees wax, 2 oz. olive oil mixt all together, rub sores twice a day. Excellent ... 1843. 16. Green ointment to make for all sorts of wounds. Take common corse turpentine and beeswax of each ½ pound, fresh butter without salt ½ pound and 2 ounces of verdigrease. Simmer all together and stir well together then it is ready for use. Never better salve than this."

1840 Gosse Quebec 7. "There is not much [white] pine growing in our neighbourhood; but I have seen some very large logs drawn out to Smith's mill. Moore told me the other day that he was then going in for a pine-log six feet in diameter: he had three yoke of oxen attached to his sled."

1841 Trousseau & Pidoux Paris transl. Use turpentine from pines as the Indians did for terrible pain.

1842 Christison 916-21. "Common turpentine ... But what is now known by that name comes in great measure from the United States, and is produced by other pines such as the ... swamp pine [grows south of Va.] ... Resin ... in pharmacy it is specially applied to the substance left by the pine-turpentines after removal of their volatile oil ... Oil of turpentine often called in common speech, spirits of turpentine is obtained, like resin, ... by distillation ... The purified oil ... is the most important of the medicinal agents derived from the natural products of the pines. Its actions are complex ... According to some it is also in large doses a narcotic, and in small doses a tonic. Therapeutically it is anthelmintic, and, in relation to chronic mucous discharges, an astringent. It acts externally with promptitude as an irritant, producing redness of the skin, and eruption of pimples, and sometimes minute blisters. It is therefor much used as a counter-irritant upon the abdomen in peritonitis, or in the neighbourhood of indolent tumours, and chronic topical inflammations generally ... and recent burns ... When given inwardly in large doses, it seems occasionally to produce in man a feeling like that of intoxication, or a state resembling trance; and it causes in animals tetanus, coma, and speedily death. Sometimes it excites in the human subject pain in the stomach, sickness, and vomiting, ... More frequently it gives rise to symptoms of irritation in the kidneys or bladder ... In small doses of fifteen to thirty minums frequently repeated, oil of turpentine is a stimulant-quickening the pulse, raising the animal heat, and even producing some degree of exhilaration ... useful in typhoid stage or form of continued fever ... good deal employed in chronic rheumatism and neuralgia ... Its most unequivocal action is that of a vermifuge, in worms generally, but above all in tape-worms. In this variety, which resists most other anthelmintics, oil of turpentine, taken inwardly is the most certain of all remedies, next to pomegranate root-bark ... In the course of its action it is absorbed; for through whatever channel it enters the body, an odour of turpentine is imparted to the breath and perspiration, and a violet odour is acquired by the urine ... As a cathartic its best form is that of an emulsion along with castor oil. Six drachms of caster oil and two of oil of turpentine, with an ounce of peppermint-water and twenty minums of Aqua potassae, make a powerful purgative mixture ... 923. Tar (Pix Liquida) has been used immemorially in medicine ... It is prepared in the northern part of Europe, by digging a hole in the earth near a bank, filling it with the root wood and billets of the branches of the scotch fir [Scotch pine], covering the whole with turf, and kindling the wood at the top so as to let it burn slowly with a smothered heat. During the process tar is formed, which, trickling down to the bottom, is received in an iron pan, Whence it escapes by a pipe in the side of the bank. In other parts of the world, as in India, it is got by fixing in a pit in the earth a large earthern pot with a hole in the bottom, which opens into a smaller pot placed below,—then filling the upper pot with wood and surrounding it with dried cow's dung for fuel,—and collecting in the lower vessel the tar which is produced [see Juniper] ... It is a very complex substance; nor is its composition yet thoroughly understood. It contains modified resin, modified oil of turpentine, acetic acid, and water, and some kinds of it yield creosote, parrafin, eupion, ... Tar-water, was employed for some time as a calmative and expectorant in diseases of the chest and of the kidneys ... it is now abandoned in practice ... More recently inhalation of tar water was brought into request by Sir Alexander Creighton in catarrhal and phthisical [consumptive] complaints; but this remedy too is already obsolete. The only use now prevalently made of tar is as a local application for some chronic diseases of the skin ... Oil of tar is poisonous in large doses ... Pitch ... is the bituminous matter left after tar has been heated to expel its water, acetic acid, and oil ... It has been used outwardly in the form [of] ... black basilicon Ointment, for dressing indolent ulcers, or as an application for porrigo and tinea. Its properties are probably possessed, and in greater energy, by tar."

1846 Bonnycastle. Cited Lower 1936 p. 16. "Bonnycastle described what he called red pine, (he probably mistook white pine for red) that he had seen and measured near Barrie, Ontario in 1846. They were 200 feet high and girthed 26 feet."

1846 Winder Manitoulin Island.9. "Toothache.—Creosote generally affords temporary relief, but the majority return for extraction..' [Remarks in a return of Dr. Darling, the medical officer of the Indian Department.]

1849 Williams, St. p. 921. "Canadian Indians used the bark in poultice for piles and ulcerations, made a drawing plaster by boiling roots, the buds used as tea as a purgative, the cones or strobiles for rheumatism. Tar dissolved in spirits as a wash for burns, tetters, itch. [Compare with Rafinesque above; Williams seems not to have always received his informaton from the Indians.]

1854 Trail Sett. Guide 62. " ... Grafting fruit trees ... Some use cobblers wax, some apply pitch, and common turpentine from the pines."

1880 Can. Pharm. J. XIII; 348. "Recent advances in organic chemistry ... Vanilline, the flavoring principle of the vanilla bean, is prepared artificially from coniferine, a glucoside contained in the sap of pine trees ... and lastly from carbolic acid itself."

1881 Can. Pharm. J. 182. "In a recent paper in the Lancet Prof. Clay says that additional experience confirms his first conclusions as to the use of turpentine in cancer, and in the cases previously reported there has, so far, been no instance of the return of the disease."

1885 Hoffman OJIBWA 198. "The leaves are crushed and applied to relieve a headache; also boiled, after which they are put into a small hole in the ground and hot stone is placed therein to cause a vapor to ascend, which is inhaled to cure backache. 2. Gum; chiefly used to cover seams in birch bark canoes. The gum is obtained by cutting a circular band of bark from the trunk, upon which it is then scraped and boiled down to proper consistency. The boiling was formerly done in clay vessels."


Excerpted from Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants by Charlotte Erichsen-Brown. Copyright © 1979 Charlotte Erichsen-Brown. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book presents a large quantity of plant species organized generally by habitat and families. The plant descriptions are not wholly scientific so the book cannot be used as a field identification guide. The book also presupposes a knowledge of botany and ethnobotany. The historical data pertaining to plant uses is extensive but not verifiable in terms of validity. There is no doubt that the information is accurately documented, however, determining if the information is correct or unbiased is another matter. The book is best used in conjunction with more informative regional ethnobotanical guides or as a topical introduction to North American plant use through history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
For HOH and POV
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fascinating compilation of historical accounts of the uses of many plants. Sources going back to the 16th century are cited and while mostly antidotal they are the often very interesting, instructive and often the best information we have about the Native Americans and early settlers and their use of plants. The historical information extends to the late 1970s.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This species, like the snow leopard, is one of those tht is somewhere between the small cats and the great cats in that it can't purr like the small cats and it can't roar like the true great cats. <p> The tree climbing talents of the clouded rival that he Margay, running down trees head-first and climbing branches horizontaly. They are also quite adept at swimming and readily take to water. <p> &delta&iota<_>z&epsilon & A&rho&rho&epsilon&alpha<_>r&alpha&eta<_>c&epsilon :: <br> The clouded leopard gets its name from the distinct cloud like markings on its body, head, legs, and tail. The inside color of the clouds are darker than the background color, and sometimes they are dotted with small black spots. The pelt ranges from orche to tawny to silver-gray. Black and pale white have been reported in the wild. The legs and belly are marked with large black ovals and the back of the neck is marked with 2 thick black bars. The tail, which is long as the head and body length, is thick and plush with black rings. The clouded leopard has the longest canines relatively speaking than any ither living cat. They weigh between 22-45 pounds. <p> Live an average of 11 years. <p> Litters of 1-5 (average 3) are born after an average 93 day gestation (little more than 3 moons). <p> Clouded leopards are equally adept at hunting on the ground as they are in trees, but uses trees primarily as a resting place. Their diet includes birds, primates, small mammals, porcupines, deer, and wild boar.