Medicinal Plants of the Inuits

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Willow contains salicin, a painkilling and anti-inflammatory chemical similar to that found in aspirin.

The Inuit, the people of Northern Canada, use many materials as medicines; some of these ingredients include snow, lemming skins, stones and seal oil. The Inuit also use a number of medicinal plants, including trees, berries, mosses and algae. In many cases, the use of these plants has been validated by scientific research. Common ailments include mouth infections, cuts and burns, diarrhea and general illnesses such as colds. However, there are many different groups of Inuit and not all of them use all of these plants.

  1. Mouth Infections and Toothaches

    • Traditionally, cranberries or pinecones are used to treat mouth infections. These are probably effective because of their antibiotic properties. The root of dwarf willow can be peeled and bitten to treat a sore tooth.

    Infections, Boils and Bleeding

    • Pine and larch are two trees that are used to treat cuts, infections and boils. Inuit boil the inner bark of these trees and use it as a tea or poultice for skin problems; they might also apply pine gum directly to the skin. Teas made from prickly saxifrage, dwarf fire weed and blueberry bush are also applied to cuts. Algae is sometimes used to treat boils. Although they are not technically plants, dried mushroom tops are also used to dry out infections and puffball mushrooms are used to stop bleeding.

    Diarrhea

    • Diarrhea is treated using a number of plants. One plant eaten raw is mountain sandwort, also called "maliksuarak" or the "lettuce of the Inuit." Some Inuit also use the roots of yellow oxytrope. Another solution is to eat blueberries and blackberries to harden the stool.

    Childbirth

    • Arctic cottongrass is mixed with charcoal and applied to a newly cut umbilical cord to heal it. Flowers from a willow tree are also used for this purpose. In both cases, the plants are an astringent and the powder probably helps stop bleeding. Lamp moss is traditionally burned under a woman's breast to help her start nursing.

    Tuberculosis

    • Black lichen, also called rock tripe, is traditionally boiled into a tea and used to treat tuberculosis.

    General Illness

    • A plant known as labrador tea can be boiled or made into an ointment for general illnesses or aches. Ground juniper, fireweed, cloudberry, bear berry, alpine smartweed and mountain sorrel are other plants used to treat common conditions such as colds and indigestion.

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