Home  >>  Write  >>  Health  >>  Alternative Medicine  >>  Aboriginal Treatments


Aboriginal peoples are the earliest inhabitants of an area or country, the indigenous people of a region. Amongst the many Native Medicines or Traditional Health Practices from around the globe are the extensive practices of the Aboriginal Peoples of Canada and Native Americans / American Indians and the Bush Medicine knowledge of the Australian Aboriginals. The spiritual aspect of these medical practices and treatments is generally the central core to these traditions. Some treatments pursued this more rigorously than others. A person’s spiritual relationship with the land is tacit to this healing tradition.

The Aboriginal People’s of Canada and Native American’s belief systems view the body as a totality of four aspects: the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The relationship of the land or creation, the person and the spirit is interwoven throughout the treatment. Health is a gift from the Creator and is acknowledged through ritual and prayer. Theses medical practices fall within the definitions of holistic therapies, involving the restoration of the total well being of the patient. Cures might incorporate healing methods such as the use of plant extracts, crystals, dream therapies, and sweat lodge practices. Treatments are generally conducted by tribal elders or healers as part of special ceremonies such as purification rituals. Such healing practices cleanse the body’s systems fro toxin buildups. Blood purification rituals were regularly used to fight potential illnesses and to strengthen the immune system.

Rituals and prayer are essential components of treatments, and in the traditional smudge ceremony, special herbs are burnt to bring focus and spiritual purification. The smoke clears any negative thoughts or energy and links the participants through its inhalation. Herbs used in smudge sticks and burning ceremonies include white sage (for cleansing, healing and protection), cedar (for protection) or pine, and sweet grass (the blessing of mother earth). Sometimes a pipe ceremony would be performed. Tobacco is seen as a sacred medicine connecting the person to the Creator. In the pipe ceremony the smoke invites the Spirits to enter, and also carries people’s prayer requests to the Great Spirit or Creator. The tobacco is a gift for the Spirits who will guide the conducting elder. It is brought by those requesting the ceremony. The measure of tobacco is four pinches to fill the pipe. Before being placed in the pipe the pinches of tobacco are held in the Four Directions (North, South, East and West) as an offering and supplication, and acknowledgement of balance and harmony.

Descriptive language associated with native medicine is taken from the creation. The healing traditions of the medicine man, healing elder or shaman are passed orally from generation to generation. The use of totemic animal metaphors to describe illnesses and symptoms is common. Medicinal practices might find their source of knowledge in Buffalo Medicine a term that recognizes the innate wisdom and strength of that animal in avoiding or confronting situations and foes. The buffalo was a unique source of survival materials for the indigenous Americans. Its body gave the people food and sustenance; the hides gave clothing and shelter. Its spirit gave understanding, its behavior gave example.

The sweat lodge is a traditional cleansing and healing method. It cleanses and clears the mind, the body and the spirit. The body’s internal systems are purified and balance is restored through this ceremonial contact with the spiritual world. In these rites, participants who have fasted form a circle around a stone pit inside the lodge. The lodge is closed. The shaman or elder takes the hot stones and places them in the pit. The elder then pours water on the hot stones and the lodge is enveloped in steam. This generally happens four times across the entire period which maybe many hours. Healing takes time and the experience is generally intense. Songs may sung, drums and rattles played, and prayers and gifts offered. As they sweat and cleanse toxins or illnesses from their bodies, the participants are encouraged to identify and release their fears. Inner healing is part of this journey, as balance and harmony is sought between the individual, the community, the creation and the Creator. It may be possible for non-Native patients to request Native Medicine healing practices in places that use complimentary alternative medicines.

First Nations and American Indian diets were free from refined sugars and alcohol, and revolved around foods that included grains, vegetables, roots and fruits. Animals and fish were eaten less frequently. This diet description fits within the recommended western nutrition practices. Diet can promote health and well being freeing the body from toxins, in keeping with the healing and prevention tenets off a holistic tradition

Crystal vibrations absorb and refocus body energies. Crystal healing supposedly gives the body a chance to relax, aiding the immune system. Aboriginal healing processes used crystals for prevention and healing. Amethysts are considered helpful when dealing with the emotions of anger and fear, and are thought to aid with sleeplessness. Properties in rose quartz are said to be conducive for soothing and releasing negative feelings in emotional healing.

Traditional plant medicines, included healing teas, are made from plants gathered at certain times of the plants life, at certain times of the day for increased potency, or avoiding times when a plant is toxic. Harvesting may depend on the plants flowering times, or on the lunar cycles, the new full moon times often being the most propitious. These treatments are prepared by elders with specialized knowledge, particularly to do with the toxicity of the plant matter. Fortunately, many of these plant remedies are now available in capsule form. Elder is helpful for colds and fevers. Burdock has a variety of applications, including anti-inflammatory. Echinacea can be used for colds and flu. Goldenseal aids indigestion. Traditional or sacred medicinal herbs and methods are being investigated in communities in the fight against diabetes, cancer, substance abuse, and HIV / aids.

Herbs used for aromatherapy purposes and smudge stick bundles are available commercially. They are burned to clear one’s aura, or smudge yourself or objects in your surroundings. When burning smudge sticks, blow on the hot tip and fan the smoke by feather or hand around the yourself or others from the head to toe and your space, saying prayers for healing and those in need. Fanning is mostly done with the underside of a bird’s feather washing the smoke over that which is being blessed.

In the Native American / First Nations traditions the medical practitioner-patient relationship tends to be of a more cooperative nature than that of western medicine. The patient’s active participation in ceremonies and prayer is necessary for the healing process. Healing takes time and the medical-practitioner, elder or shaman recognizes that time is an essential component of the practice.

Australian Aboriginals used bush medicines to treat a variety of illnesses. The plants were those that commonly occurred in a tribal group’s country or land and varied from group to group and region to region. Plants found in desert places are different to those available in the more tropical Top End areas. In Aboriginal spirituality, geographical places, plants and animals are woven into the totemic relations between the people and the land. That spiritual link with the land is sacred and forms the knowledge base for the whole of life that is passed from generation to generation defining the practices of the group. Aboriginals traveled their tribal lands for economic (trading in things such as ochres), ceremonial purposes and for food sources. The health care ways were holistic, concerned with the spiritual, social and physical aspects of life. Serious illnesses were often seen as the result of evil spirits, sorcery or ill wishing. Such incidences required the intervention of very powerful men, traditional healers who performed special rites. They do not use herbs or bush medicines. Women may perform special singing ceremonies to help support the ill person.

All Aboriginals had knowledge about bush medicines and herbs although older women were often consulted as the authority’s voices. Bush medicine treatments for coughs, colds, fevers and diarrhea might come from species of Lemon Grasses (Cymbopogon). Eucalyptus tree bark could be used as an infusion that was effective for diarrhea. The bark from Paperbark tea trees (Melaleuca) could be wrapped around wounds like a bandage. Bleeding could be slowed by applying the crushed and heated leaves of the Peanut tree (Sterculia quadrifolia), from the Queensland rainforest areas, over the wound. The heated leaves could also be used on stings. Ointments were made using animal fats and plants, for example mixing the pulverized plant with kangaroo fat.

With the emergence of drug resistant diseases scientists are looking towards traditional bush medicines for alternative cures. Tea tree oil has been found to have antifungal and antibacterial attributes and can be used for coughs, colds, and fevers. The oil from Eucalyptus leaves is a powerful antiseptic. It helps with coughs and colds, sore throats and other infections. The seeds of the Moreton Bay Chestnut or Black Bean Tree from Queensland’s rainforests are being looked at as containing elements for the potential treatment of AIDS and diabetes. Aboriginal medicines have much to offer conventional practices. Certainly the plant lore bears closer investigation as an alternative medicine treatment basis.