Thirty years ago, traditional medicine, with its strong reliance on the healing power of plants, was considered pretty much obsolete by most Canadians.

How things change! Traditional medicine systems from around the world now flourish here. The gap between traditional and mainstream medicine is narrowing, with MDs running clinical trials of traditional remedies and reputable traditional practitioners modifying their practices in the light of new scientific evidence.

A current issue of great concern to practitioners, consumers, and government is the need to set and enforce standards of quality for both practitioners and the products marketed as traditional medicines. Normal 0 false false fals Read More

Thirty years ago, traditional medicine, with its strong reliance on the healing power of plants, was considered pretty much obsolete by most Canadians.

How things change! Traditional medicine systems from around the world now flourish here. The gap between traditional and mainstream medicine is narrowing, with MDs running clinical trials of traditional remedies and reputable traditional practitioners modifying their practices in the light of new scientific evidence.

A current issue of great concern to practitioners, consumers, and government is the need to set and enforce standards of quality for both practitioners and the products marketed as traditional medicines.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Suzanne Brant

Health Programs Coordinator

First Nations Technical Institute


Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, Ontario

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


I’d say it’s the commonality of our world view. We recognize that the natural environment provides us with health and that utilizing plants can provide us with health. Some of those plants are actually foods, so they become our medicine. Ours is more a preventative approach to wellness, rather than one in which you wait until you have a disease and then treat the symptoms. It’s about understanding that our health comes from the natural environment, whether it’s the plants, the water, the trees, the birds. They all provide us with health.

First Nations people also understand that everything is interconnected. So if I’m utilizing those plants, it’s my responsibility to ensure their health, to protect them, to protect their habitat and where they live. In doing that, there’s reciprocity. The benefits come back to me.
I’d say it’s the commonality of our world view. We recognize that the natural environment provides us with health and that utilizing plants can provide us with health. Some of those plants are actually foods, so they become our medicine. Ours is more a preventative approach to wellness, rather than one in which you wait until you have a disease and then treat the symptoms. It’s about understanding that our health comes from the natural environment, whether it’s the plants, the water, the trees, the birds. They all provide us with health.

First Nations people also understand that everything is interconnected. So if I’m utilizing those plants, it’s my responsibility to ensure their health, to protect them, to protect their habitat and where they live. In doing that, there’s reciprocity. The benefits come back to me.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Labrador Tea

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


In using plants, there are certain protocols that are in place so you don't destroy them. For example, you treat plants like your family, like your relatives, so when you’re gathering you don't destroy the whole family or mistreat where they’re growing. You protect, you preserve and encourage the habitat.

A lot of our gathering practices are about certain times of the year. There’s a certain respect for how and where and when the plants grow, their seeds, and how we gather them so that we don't destroy them. Because we want to ensure their continuation. Because that, again, is our continuation. It’s that reciprocal process. Normal 0 false Read More

In using plants, there are certain protocols that are in place so you don't destroy them. For example, you treat plants like your family, like your relatives, so when you’re gathering you don't destroy the whole family or mistreat where they’re growing. You protect, you preserve and encourage the habitat.

A lot of our gathering practices are about certain times of the year. There’s a certain respect for how and where and when the plants grow, their seeds, and how we gather them so that we don't destroy them. Because we want to ensure their continuation. Because that, again, is our continuation. It’s that reciprocal process.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Goldenseal

Royal Botanical Gardens

© Royal Botanical Gardens


Whatever [plant] you need is right around you. It’s conditioned to its environment, so it grows in certain soils and certain areas. It’s the same with us as human beings. We grow in a certain place, so we utilize those plants that are around us. And [plant use] shifts depending on where you’re at. The plants further north are different from the ones here.
Whatever [plant] you need is right around you. It’s conditioned to its environment, so it grows in certain soils and certain areas. It’s the same with us as human beings. We grow in a certain place, so we utilize those plants that are around us. And [plant use] shifts depending on where you’re at. The plants further north are different from the ones here.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense), fiddleheads (new shoots from various kinds of ferns), nettles (Urtica dioica), cattails (Typhia species), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), burdock root (Arctium species), yellowdock root (Rumex crispus), chicory root and flowers (Cichorium intybus), lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)… I’m just going through as I visualize ones that I’ve used.

Let’s say someone had trouble with their lungs … you could use mullein (Verbascum species). It’s an expectorant and antispasmodic. It works really well for colds and bronchitis. It is an interesting plant because the leaves look like a lung and this is what they work on.

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense), fiddleheads (new shoots from various kinds of ferns), nettles (Urtica dioica), cattails (Typhia species), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), burdock root (Arctium species), yellowdock root (Rumex crispus), chicory root and flowers (Cichorium intybus), lambsquarter (Chenopodium album)… I’m just going through as I visualize ones that I’ve used.

Let’s say someone had trouble with their lungs … you could use mullein (Verbascum species). It’s an expectorant and antispasmodic. It works really well for colds and bronchitis. It is an interesting plant because the leaves look like a lung and this is what they work on.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Wild Ginger

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


How you prepare the medicine depends on which part of the plant you’re using. If gathering a root, I try to brush as much of the dirt off as I can, then I chop it up and I lay it out on some kind of brown paper, like a paper bag, to dry. Once it’s dry then I put it away.

With leaves, say raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus), I cut them off the bush and lay them out on brown paper to let them dry. If it’s a whole plant, like catnip (Nepeta cataria), I cut it off at the base once the plant is full, hang it upside down to dry, then put it away. And barks, the same thing. You take it off, let it dry, and then put them away. I always store my medicines in paper or in glass, not in plastic.

How you prepare the medicine depends on which part of the plant you’re using. If gathering a root, I try to brush as much of the dirt off as I can, then I chop it up and I lay it out on some kind of brown paper, like a paper bag, to dry. Once it’s dry then I put it away.

With leaves, say raspberry leaves (Rubus idaeus), I cut them off the bush and lay them out on brown paper to let them dry. If it’s a whole plant, like catnip (Nepeta cataria), I cut it off at the base once the plant is full, hang it upside down to dry, then put it away. And barks, the same thing. You take it off, let it dry, and then put them away. I always store my medicines in paper or in glass, not in plastic.


© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Medicinal Plants stored in glass jars.

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


There are differences in the way you prepare medicines, depending on the type of medicine. For instance, if I’m using goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis), I don't use very much, only a few pieces of root, in about four cups of water. But generally you take about a teaspoon of the root or bark and put it in about six cups of water, bring it just to a boil, barely, and then you let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then you put it in a container and drink it as you need it. If it’s a tea leaf or a flower, then I use about a tablespoon to a cup of boiling water and let it steep for about 10 minutes and then drink it. Normal 0 false false Read More
There are differences in the way you prepare medicines, depending on the type of medicine. For instance, if I’m using goldenseal root (Hydrastis canadensis), I don't use very much, only a few pieces of root, in about four cups of water. But generally you take about a teaspoon of the root or bark and put it in about six cups of water, bring it just to a boil, barely, and then you let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Then you put it in a container and drink it as you need it. If it’s a tea leaf or a flower, then I use about a tablespoon to a cup of boiling water and let it steep for about 10 minutes and then drink it.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Suzanne Brant preparing herbal medicines.

Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives


That’s a very critical part of it. Because when we’re talking about looking after oneself and taking ownership of our own wellness, then it’s our responsibility to protect, preserve, gather, and utilize things – like plants – in our natural environment. If we’re not using them, then they’re not of any value to us. If they’re not of any value to us, then we destroy them, and that’s what’s happening. So the spiritual aspect is very much connected to taking on that responsibility for using those things.

I know that not everybody is going to go out and gather medicine, but the awareness should be there about preserving and protecting and making sure that that environment is available to those people that do. Because each one of us has different responsibilities. Maybe somebody else is more responsible for the water or for the birds. Maybe a man is a hunter, so he’s responsible for protecting the environment of the animals he hunts.
That’s a very critical part of it. Because when we’re talking about looking after oneself and taking ownership of our own wellness, then it’s our responsibility to protect, preserve, gather, and utilize things – like plants – in our natural environment. If we’re not using them, then they’re not of any value to us. If they’re not of any value to us, then we destroy them, and that’s what’s happening. So the spiritual aspect is very much connected to taking on that responsibility for using those things.

I know that not everybody is going to go out and gather medicine, but the awareness should be there about preserving and protecting and making sure that that environment is available to those people that do. Because each one of us has different responsibilities. Maybe somebody else is more responsible for the water or for the birds. Maybe a man is a hunter, so he’s responsible for protecting the environment of the animals he hunts.

© 2005, Coalition of Canadian Healthcare Museums and Archives

Goldenseal flower.

Royal Botanical Gardens

© Royal Botanical Gardens


Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • familiarize himself with the vocabulary used in traditional medicine;
  • describe the relationship between plants and First Nation cultures;
  • compare the way each Canadians portrayed in this learning object collection uses plants to heal and/or maintain health.

Teachers' Centre Home Page | Find Learning Resources & Lesson Plans