IN BALANCE — Introduction to Native American Herbalism

March 1, 2018

By Angela Kingsawan

Occasionally things fall into place in a very serendipitous way. I lived in Bay View 20 years ago and enjoyed every moment. Being invited to write this column in Bay View’s paper is both an honor and a pleasure.

My name is Angela Kingsawan. I am descended from Tigua, Raramuri, and Mexica cultures and have been an herbalist and gardener for as far back as I can remember. These cultures have influenced how I view the world.

I am always aware of and amazed at the wild abundance throughout our neighborhoods. Bay View is most certainly at the top of my list. Even though my herbal journey has taken me back to my childhood home on the southside of Milwaukee, I frequent Bay View on a regular basis.

I would like to share some simple herbal knowledge to bring all-natural wellness to the lives of those who read this, by sharing some of the observations I made on a walk I took in January.  Even though it was deep in the winter season, it was unusually temperate the day I decided to take a long stroll with my youngest daughter, Elena. We have had such strange winter weather and I’m always surprised at the resiliency of the Plant Beings.

As soon as I had Elena in the stroller, she pointed out Catnip growing wild in a front lawn. Catnip, in Native tradition, is baby medicine. I’m not surprised it spoke to Elena. My friend Catnip has helped my family in countless ways over the years. Most people see Catnip as an invasive weed that must be pulled or mowed over; I see a natural cure for cold, flu, congestion, and tummy upsets. Whether Catnip is fresh or dried, it can be made into a medicinal tea. Boiled water poured over the herb, steeped and covered for at least five minutes, will produce a potent medicine.

Catnip grows happily alongside other “weeds” like Dandelion. That’s just where I happily found Dandelion on our walk. I know most gardeners and homeowners have very strong feelings about this herb. Please remember, Dandelion is extremely medicinal. It will cleanse and fortify our body but will do the same for our Spirit. When I was expecting Elena, Dandelion was the only form of iron my body would accept.* I would go into my backyard and pick its leaves. When sautéed with olive oil, garlic, onion, and tomato, it is one of my favorite wild-harvested foods. It was truly a blessing to me and my developing child. Elena and I both said “thank you” to Dandelion before continuing our walk.

We also found Yarrow sprouting up through cracks in the sidewalk. This humble plant has such an ancient and glorious past. Yarrow has marched into battle with the ancient Greeks and Romans. It is said that it caressed Cleopatra’s hands. It has travelled all the way around the globe to meet our Native Peoples. Yarrow has whispered its secrets to our Elders and gifted us with its medicine. I welcome Yarrow into our home gratefully each growing season. It appears wild throughout our state. When there are fevers to be broken, I use it as a tea. When there are nosebleeds to be stopped, I crush the fresh or dried herb and place it directly into the nasal cavity. It staunches bleeding almost instantly.

When we approached Humboldt Park, I took a deep breath as I gazed skyward. I’m always in awe of great and beautiful trees, the Standing People, who hold the wisdom of the ages. They each have their own medicines that have helped our ancestors in many different lands. Both native and non-native species are beneficial.

Many plants have naturalized here, just as so many people have. They have learned to coexist and thrive. The plants have the power to teach us to do the same. If we take the time to slow down and listen, the plant life around us will heal our hearts. This type of healing will not only benefit us now but has the potential to benefit our future generations as well.

My intention with my contribution to this In Balance column is to encourage you to step outside for a moment and breathe deeply. Exhale and connect with your surroundings. You don’t have to be an herbalist or a gardener to appreciate the bounty that surrounds us. Taking those moments to be in nature is healing to the mind, body, and spirit. The plants around us are breathing and alive. They will impart their wisdom and gift their medicines, if we take the time to respectfully ask for their help.

*According to USDA’s Nutrition database, 1 cup of chopped raw dandelion greens provides 1.71 milligrams of iron. The National Institutes of Health recommend 8-27 milligrams of iron per day depending on one’s age and sex. Its recommendation for pregnant women is 27 milligrams per day.

Angela Kingsawan is the herbalist and garden coordinator at Core El Centro, a wholistic healing center. More info: core-elcentro.org
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat, or serve as a substitute for medical advice or care.

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