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Choctaw Medicinal Plants and Treatment

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The Choctaw make use of a large variety of plants in the treatment of various ailments and exhibit a wide knowledge of the flora of the region. The plants enumerated in the following list were all collected in the vicinity of Bayou Lacomb between January 1 and April 15. It is highly probable that a larger number could be obtained later in the year.

  1. Beshu’kchenokle (Smilax tamnoides). The stems are boiled and the extract is taken as a general tonic.
  2. Chilo’pîmtobét (Erythrina herbacea), spirit beans – The leaves are boiled in water. The liquid is strained off and again boiled. The extract is taken as a general tonic.
  3. Chînchuba (Aseyrum crux andreae), alligator – The leaves are boiled in water and the liquid is used to bathe sore eyes. The root is boiled and the extract is employed as a remedy for colic.
  4. Klotchowachokama (Obolaria virginica). – The roots are boiled in water and the liquid is used to bathe cuts, or this decoction is mixed with the scum that rises to the surface when the root of Liquidambar styraciftua is boiled in water. This decoction is highly esteemed as a dressing for severe cuts and bruises.
  5. Ête hesha kaklahashe (Populus angulata), ‘tree leaf noisy.” – The stems, bark, and leaves are boiled together and the steam is allowed to pass over wounds caused by bites of snakes.
  6. Hataks pone nepakwibe (Chionanthus virginica), old man’s beard. – The bark is boiled in water and the extract is used to bathe wounds; or the bark is beaten, and if necessary, a small quantity of water is added, the resultant mixture being used to make poultices or dressings for cuts or severe bruises.
  7. Hekania (Liquidambar styraciflua). – The roots are boiled in water and the scum is removed and mixed with water in which roots of Obolaria virignica have been boiled. The mixture is used as a dressing for cuts and wounds.
  8. Hichi (Arisaema quinatum). – The root is boiled in water and the extract is taken “to make blood.”
  9. Hohshish okwa stikbe ishkwo (Verbesina virginica), “root water put in drink.” – The root is pounded and is then soaked in water a few hours, but is not boiled. The extract is drunk during attacks of fever.
  10. Hungwekilo (Myrica cerifera). – The leaves and stems are boiled in water and the liquid is drunk during attacks of fever.
  11. Hoshukome (Rumex verticillatus). – A large quantity of leaves is boiled in water. A person bathes in the liquid four times, once each day for four days in succession, to prevent smallpox.
  12. Hoshukkosona (Pluchea foetida), “grass strong smell.” – The leaves are boiled in water and the extract is taken during attacks of fever.
  13. Ishuna igrone (Saururus cernuus), “guts not ripe.’ ‘ – The roots are boiled and mashed and applied as poultices to wounds.
  14. Kafe ashish (Laurus sassafras)  – The roots are boiled in water and the extract is drunk “to thin the blood.”
  15. Katlaha (Magnolia grandiflora). – The bark is boiled in water and the liquid is used to bathe the body to lessen or prevent itching due to prickly heat.
  16. Napopokpoke (Gnaphalium polycephalum). – The leaves and blossoms are boiled in water and the extract is taken for colds or for pains in the lungs.
  17. Neta pisa (Yucca aloifolia), “bear see.” – The root is boiled in water and then mashed and mixed with grease or tallow; the mixture is used as a salve for various purposes.
  18. Nashoba impisa (Chrysopsis graminea), “wolf see.” – The entire plant is dried and then burnt; the ashes are used as a powder to cure sores in the mouth.
  19. Notêm pisa (Cephalanthus occidentalis), “teeth see.” – The bark is boiled in water and the extract used to bathe sore eyes; also, the bark is chewed to relieve toothache.
  20. Kwonokasha îpsa (Polygala lutea) – The blossoms are dried and mixed with a small quantity of hot water to make poultices for swellings.
  21. Shinuktelele (Pycnanthemum albescens). – The leaves are boiled in water and the liquid is drunk very hot, to cause sweating as a relief for severe colds.
  22. Shoklapa (Callicarpa americana). – The roots and berries are boiled in water and the extract is taken as a remedy for colic.
  23. Taklaha (Pinus mitis). – The buds are soaked in cold water but are not boiled. The extract is drunk as a remedy for worms.
  24. Tauchima hobok (Ceanothus var.). – The roots are boiled in water. The extract is taken in small doses for hemorrhage from the lungs.
  25. Tiaôksês shuwa (Aristolochia serpentaria), “pine smell.” – The root is soaked in water, not boiled. The extract is drunk to relieve pains in the stomach.

It is rather curious that although the witch hazel (Hamamelis virginica) is plentiful in the region, the Choctaw appear not to have made use of it. Leaves of the hickory (Juglans squamosa; Choctaw, okesok) are scattered about to drive away fleas.

The writer is indebted to Mr. R. S. Cocks, professor of botany in Tulane University, for assistance in the identification of various plants mentioned in this paper.

 

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