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Nature's Healing Pharmacy

Historically, plants have played an important role in medicine. For early peoples, they came easily to hand, and were intricately connected to diet and healing. Through observation and experimentation, they learned which plants promoted health and well-being.

Many plants we rely on today were "field tested" by First Nations people hundreds, even thousands, of years before Europeans explored this continent. Early people used almost 3,000 different plants as medicine. Black cohosh, a staple of Cherokee medicine, served many purposes ranging from use as as diuretic to a cure for rheumatic pains. Bloodroot provided the Cherokee with medicine to cure coughs and lung inflamations. Blue cohosh, another eastern woodland plant, helped cure toothaches for the Cherokee, while the Chippewa used the root to treat cramps.

Over time, the practice of herbal medicine has grown more complex. Science has enabled us to process natural substances into pills, tinctures and powders. However, the development of a market economy also has distanced consumers from the wild plants that are the source of medicines.

Did You Know?

  • At least 175 plants native to North America are for sale in the non-prescription medicinal market in the U.S. Many of these are collected from the wild in large quantities (hundreds of thousands of plants) for commercial markets in the U.S. and abroad. For example, during the last few years, about 65 million goldenseal plants and 34 million ginseng plants have been harvested from the wild in the forests of the eastern United States on an annual basis.
  • In the United States, the market for medicinal herbs is worth more than $3 billion. Many of the plants supplying this industry are wild collected in vast quantities because techniques to cultivate them on a commercial scale have not been developed. Consider the implications of such popularity for these plants.
  • More than 60 million consumers in the U.S. take herbal remedies. More doctors are recommending herbal medicines and, some health insurance plans offer coverage for alternative health treatments such as herbal remedies.
  • The more we use medicinal herbs on a commercial scale the more important it is to ensure that they come from sustainable sources, so that these plants will continue to exist in wild places.

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Last Updated: 18-Feb-2009