Native American Plant Wisdom: Local Plants Can Teach And Heal

Native American Plant Wisdom: Local Plants Can Teach And Heal

Healing with plants is part of our ancient heritage. All over the world there have been healing systems based on the wisdom of medicinal plants. Before it was forcefully repressed, native indigenous cultures maintained a deep- rooted relationship with healing plants for centuries. In many ways it seems as though we are being called now to recognize the importance of this primal knowledge, our relationship to the Earth, and to learn how the plants around us can aid us in healing once again.

Native indigenous populations accessed knowledge about the medicinal uses of specific plants by communing with plants directly. The information might appear in the form of a dream, vision or subtle sensory message. This system of gaining knowledge by connecting to the plant-world is a practice that Stephen Harrod Buhner has termed “Heart Perception” in his books The Secret Teachings of Plants and Sacred Plant Medicine. Let’s take a deeper look at this practice, and then discuss a few local medicinal plants used by Native Americans in Colorado.

The latest scientific research from the Institute of HeartMath proves the existence of neuron cells within the heart. Apparently, it is not only the brain that functions through neural networks of cells that code, interpret and perceive information. The heart also has the ability to store memories within its cells and make connections from its observations. In other words, the heart is also a complex organ of perception.

The heart’s beating pattern is regulated by highly specialized pace-maker cells within the heart that emit electromagnetic fields. Plants also emit specific electromagnetic fields. Research shows that the heart senses other electromagnetic fields in its environment and decodes information it receives from them.

Knowing this new information on how the heart interacts with the world, we may approach plants differently. An important practice might be to sit near a plant with the intent of connecting with its presence. As our heart senses the plant’s electromagnetic field we might notice emotions, thoughts or connections that arise within. This could give us clues to the energy, function and possible medicinal properties of the plant itself. To regain our ability as healers it could be beneficial to build a practice of Heart Perception with our environment as our ancient Native relatives did.

In Colorado there is a rich history of native plants used in medicine. Common plants such as dandelion, used by Natives for skin issues, liver and digestive problems, are making a comeback for their varied benefits.

Echinacea, another important Colorado medicinal, was used by the Sioux and Comanche for upper respiratory infections, burns and cancers. The Cheyenne used it for sore throats and the Lakota used it to relieve general pain. Echinacea is a valuable aid to the immune system and can be taken at the first signs of cold or flu.

Other Colorado plants were used in both spiritual and physical healing. Osha, for example, is considered a sacred plant to the Rocky Mountains and has been called Colorado Cough Root and Bear Medicine. Bears have been observed emerging from hibernation, digging up the root, rolling in it and ingesting it. This is how bears became associated with the plant’s spirit. Osha was used by Native Americans to treat colds, flu and allergies. The Lakota also prepared a tea of the roots to treat circulation issues, fevers, bronchitis and women’s menstrual cramps.

A Colorado plant that might be familiar to some people is White Sage. Just as we do today, Natives burned the leaves as incense smoke to disperse negativity and to purify people, places, horses or tools.

The medicinal plant Elder  was considered a “complete medicine chest” in folk tradition. It is also found throughout Colorado. The Elder tree represented protection, wisdom, stability and compassion that comes with age. Many Native tribes including the Cherokee used Elderberries to treat asthma, rheumatism, colds, flu and seasonal allergies.

Healing is one of the most basic yet amazing feats of the human body. Whether the healing is needed on physical, spiritual or emotional levels, there are many plant allies that can be utilized. Just as Native indigenous cultures did for centuries, we can begin to recognize the subtle information, messages and signals we experience while practicing Heart Perception. It is my hope that through tuning in to the plant-world directly, we can each begin the process of healing ourselves from the inside out.


Written by Staff Herbalist Brita LaTona

Brita LaTona is a Certified Professional Herbalist who works and teaches classes at Golden Poppy Herbal Apothecary in Fort Collins. She is excited to help others gain optimum health through a deeper appreciation of plant-based healing. She can be reached at:

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