"whatever the savage people could teach, in respect to medicinal herbs and roots that grew in the forest"
White hellebore (1897)
Public DomainWhite hellebore (1897) - Credit: Franz Eugen Köhler
Medicine woman (1913)
Public DomainMedicine woman (1913) - Credit: Harris & Ewing

For Native Americans, medicine and religion were inextricable and illness was usually ascribed to supernatural causes. As in Europe, cures took the form of purification, though the Native American sweat-lodge was both more effective and more pleasant than the bloodletting favored on the other side of the Atlantic. Medicines and poultices were derived from animal fats and plants. John Josselyn, who visited New England in 1638, records that the local Native Americans used white hellebore to treat wounds, toothache and herpes. Coughs and colds were allayed with a compound including sassafras root, wormwood, Jerusalem oak goosefoot, liquorice, aniseed and fennel-seed. Chewed-up alder tree bark cured cut knees, and boils were induced to burst with sterilized hemlock bark. 

Fennel seeds
Creative Commons AttributionFennel seeds - Credit: 'Psycho Delia'

Settlers' attitudes to Native American medicine varied wildly. While those such as Josselyn were keen to learn, the majority held it to be devilry and shunned it accordingly. Despite this, many plant remedies found their way into the white settlers’ medicine cabinets and some continue to be used to this day.