Medicinal Plants

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Medicinal Plants

A very basic list of the Medicinal Plants important to our ancestors in the Old West.
Additions may be expected from time to time… Doc

NOTE: This section also currently includes:
Currently harvested Wild medicinal plants list
Old Time Patent Medicines list
Children of the poppy
Other Medical Options
All, bottom of page-

 Amaranthus flowers - Medicinal PlantsAmaranth – (Efedraceae Amaranthus) Photo: U.S. PD 2014 Hardyplants, Amaranth flowers. Amaranth’s large seed heads grow very rapidly and its seeds/grains are a good source of protein.



Camas – (Camassia quamash) aka: quamash, Indian hyacinth, camash, and wild hyacinth. The flower is known for its regenerative abilities aiding in recovering from disease or injury. It grows throughout the Northwest.  Photo U.S. PD 2004 USDA – William & Wilma Follette.  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index- Resources & Hazards – Plants – Food Plants


Cinquefoil - Medicinal PlantsCinquefoil – (Potentilla canadensis) Said to calm inflammation, gastrointestinal disorders and fever. Cools and tempers the blood and humors in the body. Photo: U.S. PD 2008 Jomegat.  {001}



Cocklebur Xanthium canadiense - Medicinal Plants

Canadian Cockleburr
Xanthium canadense

Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium var.canadense) common cocklebur. Covered with stiff, hooked spines, which stick to fur and clothing, it can be extremely difficult to remove. In flower, typically from July to October. The Zuni use this variety to make a poultice of seeds (including these), to be applied to wounds or used to remove splinters. There are numerous other medical uses for this plant worldwide and, no doubt, the Indians knew some of these. It is well to remember, this plant and it’s seeds are toxic if ingested.  Photo: U.S. PD. 2004 {001}
also at:
The Originals Index- Resources & Hazards – Plants – Food Plants
The Originals Index- Resources & Hazards – Plants – Functional Plants
The Originals Index- Resources & Hazards – Plants – Hazardous Plants


Black Cohosh Web - Medicinal PlantsBlack Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), black bugbane, black snakeroot, fairy candle. An eastern plant, well known to Native Americans before the white man came. Probably uncommon growing west of the Mississippi, more likely an item of trade in the old days. It’s roots and rhizomes were used medicinally to treat a number of conditions, among these: depression, gynecological disorders, kidney problems and sore throats; added in 1830 to the U.S. Pharmacopoeia under the name “black snakeroot”. There were numerous “antique” uses of the plant and still many today. The wild plants are harvested in modern times by trappers and others who gather them for an ongoing commercial market. (about $3 lb. in 2016) Photo: U.S. PD, 2006 Vieux jardin botanique de Göttingen.  {001}


Bloodwort - Medicinal PlantsBloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). bloodwort, red puccoon, redrootand and sometimes, pauson. Another of the well known older natural medicines. As with Black Cohosh grown mostly east of the Mississippi and therefore most likely a trade item in the west. Used by the Indians as an emetic, a respiritoy aid and a wart remover among other things. Here again, using the rhizomes which concentrate the active ingredients. The sap of this plant, occasionally used by Native Americans as a red dye, is quite dangerous and can cause serious skin issues. Today, the plant is collected in the wild for the commercial market (about $8. lb. in 2016). Photo: U.S. PD, 1791 Sydenham Edwards from The Botanical Magazine.  {001}


Cinquefoil – Used to calm inflammation and fever. Cools and tempers the blood and humours in the body.


Comfrey – Helps with all inward hurts, bruises wounds and ulcers of the lungs.


Creosote Bush in flower - Medicinal PlantsCreosote Bush (Larrea tridentata) aka: chaparral. Used by the Indians to treat chicken pox, dysmenorrhea (menstrual pain), sexually transmitted diseases, tuberculosis, and snakebite. It’s resinous sap was used to relieve rheumatism. It contains, among other things, nordihydroguaiaretic acid (an antioxidant). Today, scientific opinion suggests, prolonged ingestion of the leaves (in any form) appears have considerable risk of damage to the liver and kidneys. Photo: U.S. PD  {001}


Dandelion - Medicinal PlantsDandelion – (Taraxacum officinale)  Cleanses liver, gall and spleen. Helps with inward ulcers in the urinary passage. Photo: U.S. PD Internet.  {001}



Elecampane – Helps coughing, wheezing or shortness of breath. Also used to resist poison and serpent venom.


Mormon Tea - CU - Medicinal PlantsMormon Tea - Ephedra - Medicinal PlantsEphedra – aka: Mormon Tea, Navajo ephedra or Cutler’s jointfir (Ephedraceae Ephedra cutleri), is a species of Ephedra native to the Southwestern United States (Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming). Used in the treatment of treatment of asthma, hay fever, and the common cold. Article in the works. – Doc. Photo: U.S. PD internet


Fennel – Decreases phlegm. Reduces gall stones.


Ginseng - Medicinal PlantsGinseng (Panax notoginseng) [and about ten? others]. Known to the ancient Chinese, much later introduced in Europe; a medicinal plant (the dried root) used as a muscle relaxant, a stimulant, a diabetes treatment, an aphrodisiac, a cure for sexual dysfunction in men and generally viewed as a total cure-all.  While it grows in northern North America, it was actually introduced into the old west and used in medicine by Chinese immigrants and the Europeans. Mentioned here because of modern wild collection by traditional trappers and other natural harvesters. (starting at, $300-$350 lb. in late summer 2016). Photo: U.S. PD 2006 U.S. FWS.  {001}


Golden Seal - Medicinal PlantsGolden Seal (Hydrastis canadensis); orangeroot or yellow puccoon. Known well before the arrival of the Europeans. Used by some eastern tribes as a colorant and as various medications. Used as a wash for eye infections (ophthalmia) and as a dietary stimulant. The Cherokee were reported as using it for the treatment of cancer. Like Black Cohosh, Golden Seal is often seen as a panacea. Collected by modern wild harvesters and trappers for today’s active herb market. (roots $20. leaves $2 lb. in 2016) Photo: U.S. PD 2009 James Steakley.  {001}


Juniper – Oil made from the berries is useful for indigestion. Also helps with kidney and bladder disease.


Mexican Buckeye
Soap Berry – below


Mullein - Medicinal PlantsMullein Flowers - Medicinal PlantsMullein (Verbascum thapsus) aka: great mullein, common mullein. This hairy useful weed is an import (native to Africa, Asia & Europe) brought by the various newer arrivals to North America. Used widely for herbal remedies, highly recommended for coughs, throat, breathing and related problems. Smoking the leaves for pulmonary ailments was quickly adopted by Native Americans. Mullein was also used in topical applications against a variety of skin problems. The plant has well-established emollient and astringent properties. The entire plant has been used via: infusions, decoctions from leaves, teas and oils extracted from the flowers. The Zuni use the plant in poultices of powdered root applied to sores, rashes and skin infections. A wide variety of mullein preparation can be found in today’s natural health markets. Mullein also has numerous functional uses. Photos: U.S. PD 2004, Forest & Kim Starr  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Functional Plants


Oneseed Burr Cucumber - Medicinal PlantsOneseed bur cucumber (Sicyos angulatus), aka: star-cucumber. A decoction of the plant has been used by Native Americans to treat venereal disease. Photo: U.S. PD 2007, SB_Johnny.  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index – Resources and Hazards – Plants
Food PlantsOneseed burr cucumber


PoisonOak - Medicinal PlantsPacific Poison Oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum), aka: western poison oak. Some Pacific native peoples use the sap to cure ringworm, and as a poultice of fresh leaves applied to rattlesnake bites. An infusion of dried roots, or buds eaten in the spring, was taken for an immunity from the plant poisons. Chumash peoples used Pacific poison oak sap to remove corns, calluses, warts, to cauterize sores; and to stop bleeding. They drank a decoction made from the roots to treat dysentery. Photo: U.S. PD.  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index- Resources & Hazards – Plants – Hazardous PlantsPoison Oak)


Parsley – Comforts the stomach, breaks wind in in stomach and bowels and opens obstructions to the liver and spleen. Can help with urination.


Morphine Advertisement 1900 - Medicinal PlantsLaudanum - Medicinal PlantsOpium Poppy (Papaver somniferum) These drugs are derived from opium: Laudanum An over-the-counter medication; a tincture of opium, codeine and all the other opiate alkaloids, about 10% opium, by weight, dissolved in ethyl alcohol (about 1% morphine). Used to control diarrhea, prescribed as an analgesic, a cough suppressant or for menstrual cramps. Widely abused, it also produced calm babies and numbed or dead doves*.
Morphine – The alkaloid was isolated in 1804 and when the hypodermic needle was invented in 1857, it came into its own as the best pain reliever in the world. Never enough on the frontier. It does have serious addiction issues. Heroin, was a Bayer trade name for morphine. Photos: U.S. PD, LH 2008 Cydone; RH c. 1900, Ad offering to cure Morphine addiction.  {001}
see also:
*The Originals Index – Entertainment in the Old West – Doves and Nighthawks)


Rose-Hips 01 - Medicinal PlantsRose Hips: Wild Rose [Sweetbrier] (Rosa eglanteria) and others. Emergency food, tea, candy, jams & jellies, vitamin C source. Photo: U.S. PD 2014 Doc  {001}




Rosemary – Helps relieve diseases of the head, quickens the senses and helps a weak menory. Heps with diseases of the stomach belly and liver.


Sagebrush Big - Medicinal PlantsSagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) Big Sagebrush was used in preventing infection in wounds, stopping internal bleeding, and treating headaches and colds; the active medicinal constituents include camphor, terpenoids, and tannins. Photo U.S. PD 2009, Peemus  {001]




Soap Berry, aka, Mexican Buckeye – Used as an herbal tea: A good anti-inflammatory and analgesic. Excellent for arthritis.


Sorrel – Cools inflamation. Resists putrefaction of the blood, kills worms and is mild to the heart.


Cucurbita Fruits - Medicinal PlantsSquash (Cucurbita various) Cucurbita fruits are an important source for humans of carotenoids, vitamin A, and rhodopsin, all of which are important to good visual acuity. The flesh of Cucurbita argyrosperma is used for treating burns and skin conditions; its seeds, treated with water, are used to promote lactation in nursing women and as an anesthetic. Cucurbitin is an amino acid and a carboxypyrrolidine found in Cucurbita seeds can eliminate parasitic worms. Various Cucurbita preparations used in cosmetics for dry and sensitive skin and in treating schistosomiasis (parasitic flatworms). Photo: U.S. PD 2006, Wildfeuer – A sampling of Cucurbita fruits.  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Food PlantsSquash
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Functional PlantsSquash


Strawberry – Cools the liver, blood and spleen. Refreshes and comfort fainting spirits. Quenches thirst.


Sweetgrass - Medicinal PlantsSweet Grass (Hierochloe odorata) Native to Eurasia and North America; Plains Indians believed it to be the first plant to cover the earth. Harvested in the summer, cut to length stalks are sun-dried; then it could be soaked in water to regain pliability and woven into braids and again sun-dried. Sweet Grass smoke is viewed as a purifying agent and the braids are burned for various ceremonial and practical purposes. The scent comes from the presence of coumarin (a fragrant organic chemical) in the plant. The smoke is thought by the Blackfeet and Flathead to have medicinal value in treating coughs and sore throats. A tea might be made for the same maladies but it could also be used as a wash to treat chapping and windburn or as an eyewash. Different tribes used the plant in a variety of ways. It was chewed as a stimulant by the Blackfeet. Photo: U.S. PD 2007 Kodemizer.  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Functional Plants – Sweet Grass
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Hallucinogenic Plants – Sweet Grass


Tobacco Tobacco - Medicinal PlantsTobacco (Nicotiana tabacum & N. rustica), the two principal species grown for tobacco products.  Native to North America, used from pre-historic times; today grown and used in many parts of the world both as a stimulant and for shamanistic/religious purposes*. The most active alkaloid is nicotine, a stimulant. The plant also contains a host of others, of varying activities. Any part of the plant contains the alkaloid in small concentrations, but tobacco leaves contain 2 to 8% nicotine and they are the part of the plant usually processed for use. Commonly smoked in cigarettes, cigars and pipes, it can also be taken as snuff or chewed. Nicotine is well known as a habit forming drug with a number of specific health risks. Most of the methods of using tobacco also present additional dangers to the users health. Photo: U.S. PD 2005, William Rafti, N. tabacum.  {001}
also at:
*The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Hallucinogenic Plants Tobacco)


Western Skunk Cabbage - Medicinal PlantsWestern Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) used to cure sores and swelling (infusion, sap?). Photo: U.S. PD 2008 Martin Bravenboer.  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants
Functional PlantsSkunk Cabbage)



Wild Cabbage Echinocystis lobata - Medicinal PlantsWild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) aka: Prickly Cucumber, Balsam Apple. The Taos Pueblo (NM) used it to treat rheumatism. The powdered root was used to prepare a poultice to relieve headaches. The Menominee of Wisconsin made a bitter extract from the roots for use as a love potion and as an analgesic. Photo: U.S. PD 2007, Aung.  {001}
also at:
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants
Functional PlantsWild Cucumber


Wild Onion – Provokes appetite and increases thirst. Eases the belly and bowels.


Willow (Salix, numerous) [salicin & tannin] Perhaps the principle source of browse on the Western range, used by deer, elk and moose; fair for cattle, good for sheep. Good recovery on burns. The source of natural aspirin, easily the best, and safest, of the common herbal pain relievers.  {001}

for more on this subject in Old West Daily Reader, see:
The Originals Index – Entertainment in the Old West – Alcohol in the Old West
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Food Plants
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Functional Plants
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Hazardous Plants
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Hallucinogenic Plants
The Originals Index – Resources & Hazards – Animals

 nostrum remedium

These are some of the wild medicinal plants still collected and marketed
by modern trappers and wild harvesters:

Black Cohosh, Bloodroot, Blue Cohosh, Chicory, Dandelion, Echinacea, Ginseng,
Golden Seal Root, Hemlock, Hydrengea, Mayapple, Mullein, Pawpaw, Prickly Ash,
Queen of the Meadow, Reishi, Sassafras, Slippery Elm, Sage, Star Grub Root,
Stone Root, Sweet Grass, Wild Cherry, Yam Root, Yellow Dock

Mostly eastern and/or northern plants but “back then”, as now, these things get around.

Patent Medicines

Here is a short list of some that were available in the old West.
Often in ethyl alcohol, sometimes 40% or more (sometimes, lots more…)
(I will add to this list as I remember or find them.)

Blackberry Balsam
A common medication of my childhood, I wish they still made it! – Doc

Brandreth’s Universal Vegatable Pills

Dr. Bonkers Celebrated Egyptian Oil

Bonomore’s Electo Magnetic Bathing Fluid

Clark Stanley's Snake Oil - Medicinal PlantsClark Stanley’s Snake Oil

Dr. Kilmer’s Swamp Root

Dr Rush’s Thunderbolts (aka: thunderclappers)
A proprietary purgative mixture of calomel, chlorine, jalap and mercury. Rush sent 1300 doses with Captain Meriwether Lewis and Second Lieutenant William Clark on their expedition to the Pacific coast. Particularly notable in that the mercury in a latrine, due to the use of the product by two men Clark noted as ill at the location, has become a marker used to verify the location of “Travelers Rest” (1806), a campsite so named by Clark, along Lolo Creek just a few miles south of Missoula, MT (2005).

Elixir of Life

Fletcher’s Castoria
I remember radio ads for this product. – Doc

Kickapoo_Sagwa - Medicinal PlantsKickapoo Indian Sagwa

Lydia E. Pinkhams Herbal Medicine
I remember these products, still made? – Doc

Mahon’s Rattlesnake Oil Liniment

Mug-Wump Specific
(prevented & cured venereal disease)

Oxien (Gannett’s)



Snake Oil - Medicinal PlantsWebSnake Oil




Swaims Panacea - Medicinal PlantsSwaims Panacea 1895 - Medicinal PlantsSwaim’s Panacea
This was one of the most popular of these “medicines”. Sold from c. 1811 to the 1920’s. Swaim and his heirs and successors made a fortune selling the product. Three dollars a bottle even in the early 1800’s! The concoction contained mercury and prolonged use was definitely toxic. It took a long time for the medical profession and the government to understand and deal with the wild claims, intense marketing and popularity of such products.


see: Willow – above


 Mrs Winslow's Soothing Syrup - Medicinal PlantsMrs. Winslow’s Southing Syrup
(it should have been soothing, it was 65% morphine)



 Children of the Poppy
See: Opium Poppy (above)
It was all available over-the-counter and though the dangers were somewhat known; the medications worked, in that, most any kind of pain (physical or mental) was certainly relieved if enough of the product was used in the manner prescribed. Take even more and you probably wouldn’t worry about taking too much of it either.

heroin – laudanummorphineopium (powdered)
Usually ingested as liquids, although some can be smoked.

see also:
The Originals – Resources & Hazards – Plants – Hallucinogenic PlantsOpium Poppy
Resources – Dictionary laudanum

Other Medical Options…

None of it plant based , but here are a few of the other ways available in the times
to address various medical issues:

Blood letting - Medicinal PlantsBloodletting (aka: bleeding) – for the purpose of curing or preventing illness. Sometimes performed by one’s barber. There were an number of reasons why it was done; removing “bad” blood or “worn out” blood, etc. Most likely, it only weakened the patient, though there seemed to be a placebo effect for some. The volume of blood removed from a patient could range from mere ounces to multiple pints; occasionally, ten or more. Falling out of favor by the turn of the century (1900). Photo: U.S. PD 1860 The Burns Archive, one of only three photos of the process known to exist.  {001}


Hirudo medicinalis leech - Medicinal PlantsLeeches – Yet another instrument for bloodletting, but also, then, as now, perhaps the simplest and best way to clean a wound of mortifying flesh with little further damage to the wound and a relatively low probability of infection. Particularly, if you are far from any help and maybe a bit low on medical supplies, like antiseptic and clean bandages? Rarely used in modern medical practice. Photo: U.S. PD 2007 Karl Ragnar Gjertsen, (Hirudo medicinalis).  {001}

Tapeworms – People really did occasionally intentionally infect themselves with these parasites as a weight loss mechanism. A rather bizarre and dangerous approach to obesity.  {001}
see also:
The Originals – Resources & Hazards – Disease Tapeworms

Trepanated skull neo-lithic - Medicinal PlantsTrepanation (aka: Trepanning) – Drilling a hole (one, to forty in the most extreme case known!) in the skull for health problems related to epileptic seizures, migraines, mental disorders, etc. It was an old art, long before it was practiced a bit in the old West.  You would have to say that it is still done today, but modern medicine has gussied it up more than just a little bit. Photo: U.S. PD Neolithic 3500 BC – Natural History Museum, Lausann. Bone growth around the bore hole shows that the patient survived the operation.  {001}

barbed wire divider - Medicinal PlantsEnd: Medicinal Plants

{001}  C 05/20; E 10/17: F 07/14; P 04/18

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