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A guide to Earth medicine


Last updated 2/6/2020 at 7:39pm

The life force that moves through the roots of a dandelion is thought to be the same life force that moves through us.

Wendy Hammarstrom

Special to Village News

"Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it, such that whatever he does to the web, he does to himself," according to Chief Seattle, Duwamish.

Growing up in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, I was surrounded by the not too distant past of the original inhabitants of our countryside. My friends and I held great respect for the previous keepers of the land, the peaceful Lenapes, as we explored the local hillsides, streams and jasper quarry.

After several years in Southern California, I began to connect to the Native American presence near the Santa Rosa Plateau in Murrieta. In Escondido I embraced the presence of the Kumeyaay Indians in San Pasqual Valley, and in Fallbrook I have had fleeting feelings of the Luiseño presence around the Santa Margarita River, San Luis Rey River and even right down the street from me where there are acorn grinding holes in the boulders in the creek.

The Luiseños Indians originally lived and thrived in the coastal areas from northern San Diego County to southern Los Angeles County. The original tribal name was Payomkowiichum. They were thought at one time to have been called "The Westerners" by other tribes, or Ata axum, "The People."

It is somewhat difficult to learn of the original inhabitants of the Fallbrook area, partly because the Spanish missions forced out Indian traditions. Many indigenous people were enslaved or even murdered. Sadly, our area has a dark history in this respect.

But I have always wondered, how did the people before us heal themselves and each other? There were almost one thousand tribes in North America that viewed health as more than just a physical state; health also depended on a person's inner harmony with the powers of nature.


A large part of the indigenous people's health was due to their diet, rich in heart healthy and colon friendly fiber and antioxidants. In fact, 70% of their diet came from plant food.

Another component of their well-being was their reliance on hot springs, saunas and sweat lodges. When I lived by Murrieta Hot Springs, I learned that the hot springs were considered neutral territory by warring tribes, a place for all to heal.

Today, many people visit hot springs, but the European invaders were initially shocked by the cleanliness of indigenous people. In Europe, bathing rarely took place. Native Americans were clean and relatively disease-free due to their reverence for water, heat and healing herbs and creating sacred spaces

In addition, seeing yourself well or visualization, vision quests, spending time in sacred spaces, fasting and personal attention from medicine people all played their part. Drumming, singing and dance summoned help from the spirit world for patient and healer alike. The sound waves of drumming addressed the diseased organs by restoring normal vibrations.

A wellness practitioner from Pala told me when she is in nature, especially if harvesting herbs that she leaves a gift for the spirits, perhaps a plate of food, tobacco, coffee or water. She said she asks for permission before taking a plant and always leaves with a prayer of thanks.


"All plants are our brothers and sisters. They talk to us and we listen. We can hear them," according to an Arapho proverb.

The Native American pharmacy consists of more than 500 herbs. The indigenous people believe plants heal by enabling them to become one with Mother Nature. The life force that moves through the roots of a dandelion is thought to be the same life force that moves through us.

According to Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona, medical director of the Center for Complementary Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and author of "Coyote Medicine," "When we are in harmony with the earth and the people around us, our cells are in harmony within us. It's disharmony that creates cellular degeneration and disease."

Common remedies like black and white sage leaves relieve asthma, congestion, allergies and colds. Dried sage leaves are burned for spiritual cleansing. Smudging with sage or dried cedar or bearberry is supposed to purify, banish trouble and bad spirits.

When I first experienced being smudged by another, I felt as if a layer of tension and darkness was being removed from around my body. Sweetgrass welcomes good spirits and energies back into an area.

Both sage and sweetgrass show the ways in which herbs not only increase physical health but also enhance emotional well-being.

In fact, plants can be adaptogenic, analgesic, antibiotic, antiseptic, astringent, nervine, antidiabetic, antispasmodic, expectorant, sedative, antidepressant, stimulant and much more.

Tea from yerba mansa roots is used to treat kidney problems and are applied to the skin to cure fungal infections. Cholla heals burns, reduces scarring and promotes rapid healing. Yerba santa leaves can be boiled to make tea used in treatment of colds and other respiratory infections.

The Native American pharmacy also includes aloe which treats skin disorders of all types. Dandelion is a known diuretic and liver tonic, as well as a digestive aid and topical antiseptic. Hawthorn is a heart tonic, assists tissue repair and reduces high blood pressure.

Hops has a sedative influence on nervous stomachs and spastic colons. Horsetail is used for compresses. Milkweed and mullein are anti-inflammatory and wormwood is an anti-parasitic.

For healing wounds, the Kumeyaay Indians used wild onion and cooked and crushed tule, or marsh plant, as well as cattails. Arnica is also great for wound healing and bruises. American mistletoe, yarrow, prickly pear cactus, wild strawberries, sumac, sweetgrass and yucca are also used throughout the southwest as well as bark scrapings, pitch and leaves of aspen, oak and pine.

Today herbal remedies come in many forms including bach flower remedies, Bach rescue remedies, herbal tisanes, infusions, decoctions, essential oils, tinctures and tonics.

Homeopathy uses plants in their most minimal doses to affect change. There are also compresses, poultices, plasters, salves, creams, lotions, ointments and powdered herbs, as well as mists and diffusers.

Not all oils or plants are good for everyone, so it is best to work with an herbalist, naturopath, homeopath or a qualified aromatherapist.


"The Medicine Wheel Circle is the Universe. It is change, life, death, birth and learning. This Great Circle is the lodge of our bodies, our mind and our hearts. It is the cycle of all things that exist," according to Hyemeyohsts Storm in 'Seven Arrows" in 1972.

Stones also play their part in earth medicine. Some indigenous people believe that rocks and stones have a spirit that can tell us certain things. Lakota author Ed MaGaa Eagle Man teaches about finding your own stone or wotai. "Sicun wotawe wotai" is a special stone whose spirit is obvious and comes to the bearer in a special way that can be a healer or protector.

Several years ago, when I was traveling around Riverside County seeing massage clients, I began or ended each session by walking in the area fields and hillsides. I collected stones and, after thanking the earth, brought them to Murrieta to create a stone mandala based on the color and the order of the chakras.

The red jasper was in the center for grounding and re-energizing the body followed by orange carnelian and quartz, yellow and green stones and turquoise. The outer circle consisted of amethyst and clear quartz, known as the master healer for balancing and revitalizing the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual planes.

I created the mandala with the help of friends who were lifelong rock hounds, and when it was finished, we walked in silence circling around each color of stone and individually ending up in the center. As I stood there, and asked for healing for all who have been wounded, I felt an energy vortex spinning around me.

Sage is a popular and powerful healer.

Crystals can also be placed directly on the body at the chakra areas or at other sites needing their attention. Stones can be worn, placed in a living space or on a medicine wheel. Even tinctures of gems, or gemstone remedies are available from certain holistic health practitioners.

"Healthy feet can hear the very heart of holy Earth," according to Chief Sitting Bull.

Earth medicine has always been here to help us enhance our health on many levels, at all stages of our lives. Be it with plants, rocks or healing waters, health is in our hands.

Wendy Hammarstrom has been practicing, teaching and writing about bodywork since 1976. Her book, "Circles of Healing, The Complete Guide to Healing with Massage and Yoga for Practitioners, Caregivers, Students and Clients" is available on Amazon or her website at


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