3 Native American Folk Remedies Lower Blood Pressure, Fight Cancer and Allergies, and Stop Pain

Steve Kroening, ND
September 19, 2018


I love folk medicine. My mom was the daughter of an itinerant farm worker. So money was scarce as she grew up. Her family relied heavily on natural means to treat illness. And she passed much of that on to me.

She grew up in Oklahoma and Texas, where there’s a large population of Native Americans. As a result, her family used many folk remedies from the Natives. And I had a deep love of the Native culture.

My mom also spent a good bit of time with my Great Aunt Anna, whom I’ve written about before. She was a doctor of osteopathy in western Colorado in the early 20th century. She served in an area where there weren’t any other doctors for a hundred miles or more. Aunt Anna lived in the Wild West, born just a few years after Geronimo was roaming Texas and New Mexico a few hundred miles south of her.

With the influence of these two women, you can see why I love Native American remedies. And when I find folk remedies from their culture, I get excited – especially when they work so well.

Through the years, I’ve looked for some of the lost folk remedies from Native Americans. I say lost only because modern medicine doesn’t use them anymore. But plenty of Native Americans and alternative doctors still use them every day. And today, I’d like to introduce you to three of my favorite Native American remedies....

Eastern Native Americans Discover Treatment for Pain and Cancer

One such remedy grows in the Eastern U.S. in wet forest and swamp lands. This particular plant remedy is a bitter berry that can lower blood pressure and blood sugar, and it can fight cancer and heart disease.

Even though the chokeberry or Aronia berry is native to the U.S. and used in Native American folk medicine, we don’t have a lot of studies on it from this country. Europeans, however, have conducted extensive research on it and found it very useful in fighting these health challenges.

Fortunately, Aronia is finally catching the attention of U.S. researchers. One such study from the U.S. looked at the black chokeberry’s ability to fight colon cancer. The researchers wanted to see how an extract of the berry affected normal colon and colon cancer cells.

The researchers exposed the cells to 50 mcgs of an Aronia extract for 24 hours. The extract caused a 60% growth inhibition of the cancer cells compared to cancer cells they left untreated. The extract didn’t inhibit normal colon cells at all. I suspect the high antioxidant value of Aronia probably boosted the health of the normal cells.

While this is a lab study, it’s very encouraging for anyone who has cancer. Aronia extract can boost your immune system and may fight the cancer at the same time.

Aronia berry’s cancer-fighting and overall health secret comes from its many antibacterial, antiviral, and antidiabetic agents. In fact, Fox News did a spot on Aronia berries several years ago. They said the berries “fight the formation of arterial plaque … and … protect the liver against a host of insults and toxins. In our ever-increasingly diabetic society, Aronia’s compounds help to lower blood sugar and improve the body’s own natural production of insulin.

“Several of the compounds in Aronia are natural cancer fighters, and protect against the development of tumors of the bladder, breasts, colon, lungs, ovaries and skin. In addition, these compounds fight Crohn’s disease, inhibit HIV, reduce uncomfortable symptoms of PMS, and fight herpes. Preliminary studies have also shown that Aronia may prove helpful in slowing the growth of glioblastoma – a form of fatal brain cancer.”

Fortunately, Aronia berry extract is available in the U.S. in supplement form. You can find it in many health food stores and on the Internet. If you like to garden and live in an area conducive to the Aronia berry bush, you can plant Aronia berry bushes in your yard. They grow quite large and one bush can produce up to 40 pounds of berries in a season. They’re perfect for jams and cooking. They’re bitter tasting (thus the name chokeberry), but cooking and freezing them will reduce their bitterness.

Common Weed Reduces Allergies and Pain

Another Native American folk remedy is one they used to treat allergies, headaches, and inflammation. This particular remedy comes from a weed. It’s called butterbur. Butterbur is actually part of the daisy family, though it’s much more robust than your typical daisy. Some people don’t consider it a weed, but I’m not here to argue botany (I’d lose).

What’s important about butterbur is its medicinal abilities, especially with allergies and pain. Most allergy sufferers turn quickly to antihistamines. These are effective for treating certain symptoms of allergies, such as sneezing, watery eyes, and runny nose. But the problem with antihistamines is that they inevitably make you drowsy. Even some of the non-drowsy formulas list drowsiness as a symptom (I never figured that one out).

Wouldn’t it be great if you could have the benefits of an antihistamine without the drowsiness? Well, you can. One study from 2002 found that butterbur works every bit as well as the antihistamine Zyrtec. In this study, the researchers divided 125 people into two groups. In the first group, 61 people took butterbur. The other 64 took the Zyrtec. After two weeks, both groups experienced the same relief.

Zyrtec is one of the antihistamines that’s not supposed to cause drowsiness. But in this study, that didn’t pan out. Eight of the 64 people taking the drug said it made them drowsy. That’s not a huge number, but it’s still 12.5% of the test group that experienced it. And when you compare it to the butterbur group, where not one single person reported feeling drowsy, the difference is significant. Plus, this isn’t the only study showing that butterbur works as well as the drugs. Another one in 2005 had the same results when compared to Allegra.

So butterbur works every bit as well as the drug, without the side effects. That’s pretty impressive. But butterbur doesn’t stop there. It also helps reduce pain. In fact, it has a long history of relieving pain.

The plant is also native to Asia, where they used it to treat pain. And the Mayo Clinic reported in 2008 that it can effectively reduce the severity and frequency of migraines. Obviously, if butterbur can reduce inflammation, it has a lot of uses in treating just about any type of pain.

The only negative with butterbur is that you can easily take too much. Doing so can upset your stomach. So you need to take small doses throughout the day instead of one big dose. And butterbur contains alkaloids that can cause cancer and be toxic to your liver. So you want to make sure you buy a quality supplement from a manufacturer that certifies it’s free of pyrrolizidine alkaloids. The bottle may say “PA free.” You can find butterbur in most health food stores and online.

More Relief From Pain and Cancer

Another Native American pain treatment is barberry, which they used to treat back pain. Back in 1879, one of the noted uses of barberry was also to reduce “the spleen enlarged by malarial poisoning.”

While we don’t have too many people in the U.S. with this specific problem today, the reason it worked on an enlarged spleen is the same reason it can help you with heart disease, memory problems, and a host of other inflammatory conditions. Barberry is a great anti-inflammatory.

But what about studies? Let’s just say that barberry has come a long way since 1879. In one study, researchers wanted to know if berberine, a compound in barberry, could inhibit COX-2, a known cause of inflammation. The researchers looked to see if taking the compound orally would reduce COX-2 inflammation in cancer patients. As you may know, inflammation can lead to cancer.

Not only did the berberine reduce inflammation, but it worked fast. The researchers said, “This berberine induced effect occurred rapidly (3 h) as a result of reduced COX-2 protein.” In other words, barberry clearly helps reduce inflammation very quickly. Much faster than most pain herbs.

What I find interesting about barberry is that a good bit of the research surrounding it involves fighting cancer. In fact, one impressive study showed that a particular compound in barberry caused liver cancer cells to self-destruct.

In this study, Wendong Huang, PhD, associate professor in City of Hope’s Division of Molecular Diabetes Research, discovered that bbd24, a derivative of berbamine (from barberry) also halted cancer cell growth.

This is exciting news, as we’ve known for some time that barberry helps cleanse the liver and gallbladder. But now it looks like it does a lot more for these organs.

Feel free to use barberry if you’re concerned about inflammation, or have any inflammatory condition. And if you have cancer, you can add barberries to your diet. Taking the supplements to fight cancer should be followed by a doctor who can monitor their effect and how they interact with the rest of your cancer regimen.

Fortunately, our methods of using the herb have improved considerably. Back in 1879, when my great aunt used the herb, she had to mix the formulation for you. But today, you can take it as part of an anti-inflammatory formula. There are many wonderful products on the market that offer 50 mg or more in each daily dose.


Fox News June 7, 2013

Nutrition and cancer. 2003, v. 46, no. 2, p. 186-196.


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