Medicinal Plants in New Mexico

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From the high desert region surrounding Albuquerque to the pine forests of the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico's diverse terrain provides abundant habitat for many species of plants, including several species with medicinal properties. Utilized by native people for centuries, the medicinal plants of New Mexico occur frequently throughout the state. Although many are still administered by herbalists and practitioners of traditional medicine, it's important to avoid ingesting medicinal plants without first consulting a physician.

Silverleaf Nightshade

  • Growing to 3 feet in height, silverleaf nightshade (Solanum elaeagnifolium) is a tall, weedy wildflower common across the United States. It is recognizable by its silvery, slightly curled leaves and purple star-shaped flowers, which appear throughout the summer. Although toxic in large doses, it was utilized as a medicinal plant by native people across New Mexico for its sedative, pseudo-narcotic properties, according to the book "Nanise: A Navajo Herbal -- One Hundred Plants From the Navajo Reservation," by Vernon O. Mayes.

Romerillo

  • Romerillo (Artemisia filifolia) is a common variety of sagebrush found throughout much of the desert Southwest. It grows to between 2 and 4 feet in height with silvery-green, strongly aromatic foliage. The Tewa and Dine people of New Mexico utilized it extensively for its medicinal properties, according to William W. Dunmire in his work "Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners." For the Tewa, romerillo was used to treat flatulence and other gastrointestinal upsets, as well as for dermatological issues such as boils. Mayes adds that the Dine believed romerillo to be an effective treatment for snake bites when applied as a poultice or lotion made of rendered animal fat.

Yerba del Negro

  • Sometimes called narrowleaf globemallow, yerba del negro (Sphaeralcea angustifolia) is a common wildflower found throughout much of New Mexico. Known for its coral-orange flowers, it bears an abundance of hairy, light-green foliage with a vaguely spearhead-like shape. It occurs in dense stands, forming large, well-developed roots commonly used by the Hopi people as a treatment for edema, according to the book "Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West," by Michael Moore. According to Moore, the roots were ground and boiled in water until a thick, mucus-like substance is produced, which was then drunk.

Snakeweed

  • Common throughout the western United States, snakeweed (Gutierrezia sarothrae) is a small herbaceous shrub known for its profuse, brilliant-yellow summertime blooms. Reaching 1.5 feet in height, it is a fast-growing shrub adapted to grow in poor, sandy soil and harsh climatic conditions. According to Dunmire, for the Ute, Dine and Pueblo people, snakeweed was an important medicinal plant for the treatment of respiratory ailments, dizziness and lice, either as a tea or topical, fat-based ointment.

Doveweed

  • Doveweed (Croton texensis) is a small flowering shrub found throughout most of the United States. Identifiable by its narrow, yellowish-green leaves and small star-shaped flowers, doveweed thrives in areas of sandy soil across New Mexico. For the Hopi and Apache people, doveweed was an important medicinal plant used for the treatment of gastrointestinal upsets. Dunmire says that doveweed was brewed into an emetic, or vomit-inducing drug, to aid in purging parasites such as intestinal worms.

References

  • "Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West"; Michael Moore; 1990
  • "Nanise: A Navajo Herbal -- One Hundred Plants From the Navajo Reservation"; Vernon O. Mayes; 1989
  • "Wild Plants and Native Peoples of the Four Corners"; William W. Dunmire; 1997
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