Dr. Jan Timbrook

Woman examining artifact with magnifying device.
Dr. Jan Timbrook

Chapter 26

Dr. Jan Timbrook, Curator of Ethnography, Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, talks about the indigenous use of medicinal plants.

For common, everyday ailments, Southern California mainland Indian people used widely known plant medicines. For example, they used the tea of willow bark for headaches or fever and elderberry flowers for colds. Yerba buena was taken for stomachache, yarrow used to stop bleeding from cuts, and yerba mansa for skin infections. Unlike today, most people did not get an itchy rash from poison oak. Instead of avoiding the plant, they used its juice to heal warts or persistent sores.

If these treatments did not work—if a person was seriously ill or if witchcraft was suspected—then a specialist would be consulted. There were several kinds of doctors whose goal was to restore the patient to harmony, thereby assuring recovery. The pipe doctor, for example, used tobacco smoke, along with singing and praying, as part of the treatment.

People on San Nicolas Island did not have access to many of the plants that mainland peoples used medicinally. They may have experimented to find local substitutes, received some medicines through occasional trade with other areas, or simply have gone without those remedies.

Last updated: November 26, 2017