Native American Traditional Healing

"Well and Good" is a series of articles that will provide information about a variety of approaches that many people with HIV/AIDS use to stay healthier longer. In a regular column, _Women Aliv_e will explore the realm of complimentary therapies for HIV infection. These are the treatments and/or exercises, when practiced on a regular basis, help people with HIV disease feel better. Many people believe that when you feel better, there is a resulting improvement in one's health and overall well being.

Complimentary Therapies are not intended to replace drugs that are approved to treat HIV disease and AIDS. In fact, these therapies can make it more tolerable for some people to adhere to a regimen of anti-HIV medications. Readers are invited to share their experiences with holistic approaches to healing.

Topics include, but are not limited to: Nutrition, food safety tips, Eastern medicine, acupuncture treatments and herbs, message therapy, Native American traditional healing methods, yoga and meditation, exercise, vitamin supplements, etc.

In this issue we will explore Sacred Indian Healing Herbs.

Sacred Indian Healing Herbs

By Alan "Bear" Morsette

I begin this writing with the greatest of love and respect to all of the Elders, Herbal People, and Herbal Healers. I will attempt to do a basic introduction and brief explanation of the primary intention and usage of only three of the sacred herbs in Indian Society and Ceremonies.

Sweet Grass

Sweet Grass has the most sacred usage's of all the purification herbs. It is a seasonal plant and grows only in certain places. Sweet grass is used primarily for the blessing of one's self. It is placed in a shell or a bowl and burned, similar to incense. The smoke gives forth a very pleasant smell. When people engage in the ceremony of blessing ones self, he/she holds the bowl of burning herb and slowly moves it around in a continuous circle surrounding the body from head to foot with swirling smoke. Sweet Grass is often used for purification during sweat lodge ceremonies. It is used for smudging "(blessing-down)" our homes, protecting them from evil spirits. It is also used to purify all of our sacred prayer instruments. This herb is carried with us when we travel, attached to our sacred war-ponies and/or in our vehicles.

Medicinally, it is used as a portion of a combination of other herbs in a special formulated "medicine tea" which flushes the impurities out of the body. Sweet grass is very calming and relaxing to the user who is taught to use it in a traditional and respectful manner. The sacred herb, sweet grass, is used in all phases of healing by the doctoring healer. Sweet grass must be used only by those who have a thorough understanding of its sacred value to Native American traditional ways.


Sage has a variety of uses. When burned, it has a pungent odor. Sage is used principally for smudging but can also be used in the blessing down of our homes and vehicles. It is commonly used in medicine tea to flush ones system of all impurities. Along with tobacco and other substances, sage is part of a mixture used in the sacred smoking of the pipe. There are may varieties of sage. However, in many places, the natural supply of sage is dwindling. This is due, in part, to people harvesting sage in order to sell it to the general public. In recent years, there seems to be an increase in the fascination with the use of sage burning. One must know it's proper use in order for it to be affective.

In sweat lodge ceremonies, sage is used to sit on and represents part of the plant world. It is also burned in smudge pots. The herb is widely used in many of our sacred ceremonies including but not limited to lodges, drum circles, healing and doctoring. Only those who are well-grounded in Native American traditional values should attempt to use this herb in a sacred way.

Cedar & Juniper

There are several different types of these sacred herbs. They are found all over this great turtle land. People have to be very careful in the usage of cedar and juniper and how they present themselves with it. To some tribes, Cedar is considered the "tree of life" because it withstands the four elements year round no matter how harsh the seasons are. These herbs are used extensively in all of our sacred ceremonies, healing, and doctoring methods. It makes an excellent tea for the purpose of flushing out the system.


Message to readers: This is just a basic summary of some sacred herbs and their usage in all phases our tribal traditions. Their significance, sacredness, and precise usage's are much more complex. The effectiveness of their healing qualities depends on highly specialized techniques that are handed down from generation to generation. A person must go through the proper steps and many years of training before attempting to use the sacred herbs for any smudging or medicinal purposes. (For example, one would not practice acupuncture on oneself without consulting an acupuncturist). Medicinally, herbal healers can only administer these herbs.

If you are considering exploring the healing powers of these herbs and ceremonies, we urge you to consult an Indian Healer. Call American Indian Health and Services in Santa Barbara at 805.681.7356.or your local Urban Indian Organization to find out more.

The most important thing to remember is that if you do not know the proper use and respect for these sacred herbs and their medical usage DO NOT pretend that you know. DO NOT attempt to doctor yourself or give them to anybody for any reason. These sacred herbs, just like the mother earth, are not for sale at any price AHO!