Home Remedies We Have Used
As told by Elenore McMullen to Connie Hendrick
Iíll tell you about the plants that I use and that other people used recently or in the last two or three years. I have some notes and some tape recordings on plants and home remedies that have been used.
One of my favorite plants is cranberry, the high bush cranberry plant. I use the whole berry including the stem. I go out and collect the berries, and either freeze them or make them into a jelly. I just cook them up with sugar and thickening.
I use that through the winter months for people who need it, with bad colds. (I usually take a jar of it to Vera Ukatish when she needs it.) It is a very good cough suppressant, like cough syrup. If you are coughing a lot, it relieves the phlegm in your throat and helps control your coughing. I usually take a certain amount of that and add it to a cup of coffee or tea. Itís very good.
You can also just take the juice, (squeeze the juice out of the berries), and freeze it. Then you can add sugar or whatever to sweeten it to your taste, because it is really super sour. Thereís a high content of vitamin C in it.
Cranberries make a really fine sauce, also.
You can use the stems anytime of year as long as you can identify the bush itself. (I think all of the children know what the cranberry bush look like in wintertime after the leaves have fallen off.)† Anyway, you take the small, tender young stems and remove the outer coating by scraping or peeling it off. The inside of the stem will be nice and white. Next make shavings with the white part. (You can use that as a poultice to remove infections, draw them out, and treat cuts.) You heat the shavings with a little bit of water on top of the stove. If you have an infected cut on your leg or any part of your body you apply those shavings directly on the cut, while the mixture is warm. You donít want it too hot, or youíll burn the skin. In a matter of 2 or 3 applications of that you will have all the pus drained out. It works beautifully. Iíve used it myself on boils, on someoneís arm, and on the infected cut on my foot. Various people have also told me how effective it is.
The Bethlehem Star, or ikignganaq, it is a little flower that looks like a star thatís always bending towards the earth. It grows about 3 inches tall. It is usually found under trees and mossy areas. They are used for sore throats, to gargle. For colds and as a general cold remedy. They are used the same way as cranberries, except you donít have to dry them and put them away for the winter. To dry the Bethlehem Star, you pick a bunch of them and tie their leaves together. Then you† hang them up to dry. After the plant is dry, it could be stored and used all winter long. You brew them into a tea. All you need are 2 or 3 of those little plants. You use the whole plant that you have dried. Itís good for your cough or sore throat. Itís very effective. I donít know of any other use for this plant.
For diarrhea, you take the (qaruckaaq) alder berries, the brown clusters of the berries on the alder plants, and boil them into a tea. Take very little of it. Itíll stop your diarrhea. Uncle Sergius always uses it.
Then thereís the qanganaruaq. I donít know what itís called in English. Itís a little furry plant. Everyone knows what it looks like. It is used for colds and sore throat remedies. It is used almost like the Bethlehem Star. The cranberry bush is brewed into tea. Some people have their preferences over qanganaruaq, you have to pick and tie a bunch of their stems together. Hang the stems up to dry. After the plant is dry you can store them and use them all winter long. You can brew the qanganarauq into a tea for colds and sore throats. You can also use it as a dressing or poultice on a cut injury or bruise. It brings relief to that area.
My uncle Willie once told me when he was a young man he had a real bad toothache. It was abscessed. It had gone on for several days. His mother dug up some nettles (uuqayanaaq.) They are those burning weeds. But my grandmother took the real fine roots and cleaned them off, washed them off. Then she wove them into a little square, abut 4 inches by four inches. This can be a very dangerous medicine. You have to use it very carefully. She kept one root for him to bite down on. Anyway, she heated this little woven pad she made out of the roots. She heated it in the stove among the hot rocks. She also heated the root for him to bite down on. She placed the root for him to bite down on in his mouth on the tooth. Then she placed the woven root on the outside. He said she put three or four applications of that and then she removed it. She told him not to use it anymore. It can be dangerous. The next day, that whole tooth just crumbled! He didnít have a toothache anymore. Everything had been removed, root and all. He said he never would have believed it, but it happened to him. He said if you are not careful, you can lose all your teeth!
Uncle Willie also said you can use those devil club roots in the same way. Fred Ukatish confirmed that to me. You can use the devil club roots for people with arthritis too. I have never used it but someday I will, because I have problems with arthritis. You take the roots and you do the same thing as you do with the nettles. You heat them up and apply them to the painful area.
Uncle Willie said he hurt his foot when he was working in the cannery. He couldnít walk for days. He used that treatment and after one or two applications he was able to walk again. Whatever it was drew the pain out. It could have been the heat, too.
Along time ago Fred Ukatish related to me the way to treat ear infection. First, they took the dead inner core of a tree that has laid dead for a long time. The inner core falls apart and deteriorates. They go and find the rotten powdery part, and place it in a persons ear. It is used for draining ears or earaches. In a little while there is no more drainage and the pain is gone. He suffered a lot of earaches as a child and his mother used to treat them that way.
Thereís a special treatment for a new born babyís umbilical cord. When the baby is three or four days old a little piece of the umbilical cord is still attached. It usually falls off at that time, but sometimes it gets smelly and stinky. Use qanganaruaq packings if the cord if the cord becomes infected. Lay the packings over the cord and wrap something over it.
For a mother who has just delivered, you can give her qanganaruaq to drink. Itís for cleaning the uterus. It causes the uterus to clean itself. That is what Malania told me. Several other women have told me the same thing.
If a new born baby is having problems with bowel movements; black stools, thereís a remedy for that. The belief among native mothers is that if the baby didnít pass all of that black stool, the baby will always be colicky and have a belly ache. So they go out and get those little alamíaaskaaqs, (camomile.) They
Are little plants that grow about three or four inches tall. They have little greenish-yellow berries on top. (We used to string them and make necklaces and rings for ourselves.) Anyway, they take one of those plants and boil it in water and give the baby two or three little bits in a spoon. That cleans their intestines out. Itís like a laxative. If you went outside and ate two or three of the yellow tops of the plants, after a while you would have to run to the bathroom.
Broken limbs, bones, were set in the best possible fashion. They used splints. They never received first-aid training like a lot of us have around here, but they did splint with limbs and branches and whatever they had. Thatís why a long time ago you used to see people with a leg or an arm that was deformed. They would break their leg while they were out hunting or fall and splint it right there until it healed good enough to walk. There were several people in the village I remember when I was a kid who had deformities. The healed and they were able to walk and get around very well.
First there was silence, quiet, nothing to disturb the mother during the labor process. The mother cannot be disturbed while preparing for the birth of her child. I used to go with my grandmother sometimes to different houses in case she needed help. I wasnít allowed to be in the room while the mother delivered. But I could be out on the porch or in the kitchen. I couldnít watch. It would scare me just listening to them. If grandmother needed help I could run and get it for her. All you heard was soft talking to the mother, telling her what to do, instructing her or telling her how the baby was. You know, grandmother used her hands to tell the position of the baby before it was born.
Childbirth is a great big beautiful process. My grandmother used to go around delivering babies. It was a thing I experienced myself here in the village. I delivered one of my children here. It is an experience totally different from delivering my babies in the hospital.
All this time they would be sitting on the floor. They had a pad, a bed made on the floor for the mother. It was firm and supported the motherís back. During the process you would hear my grandmother or my aunt or whoever was there helping in the delivery, making noises to themselves. That was relaxing to the mother. It affected me a lot. I was calmed and relaxed.
My aunt was whispering to herself while she was working, and it was real quiet. The quiet and calm affected me. I was going through labor and I was scared. I was wondering what was going on. Just listening to her whispering or humming to herself calmed me through the whole thing.
Cleanliness was always stressed to the mother during the pregnancy and after the delivery. Take care of your body respect your body were always stressed among our people. During the pregnancy the midwife would take the expecting mother into the bania and check the position of the baby. During that period she would instruct the mother on what she should be doing regarding health, to maintain good health and cleanliness. After the baby was born, again cleanliness was always stressed.
After the delivery, the afterbirth was handled in a special way. It wasnít just discarded. Itís the lining of the uterus that the babyís lifeline (cord) was attached to. The afterbirth is about ten inches around, soft and looks like blood. But it has a lot of nutritional value in it. It was always treated with a lot of respect. It was placed in a container, covered and buried in the ground, where no one else would walk over it.
The bath water of the newborn baby and the water the baby is washed in for the first six weeks or so wasnít just discarded either. It was dumped under a tree or a bush where no one would walk over it. Iím not sure if that was a religious belief or what.
Also, you didnít take your baby out in the environment until it was baptized or until it had gone through some period. It could have been six weeks. Also the mother didnít eat some things during that period. The belief was if she ate certain species of wild game there would be affects to the child, unborn, during the pregnancy and after the delivery. There was a taboo against certain foods. If you ate them, the child would develop the characteristics of that animal.
There was a practice a long time ago that had to do with a young girl becoming a woman. It isnít practiced anymore. It was practiced when I was a young girl. They called it patuteq, when you start the monthly menstrual periods.
Iíll relate the story of a young girl in English Bay. Her family followed the practice, they were very strict. She lived with her step-father and mother. She was about thirteen or fourteen years old. I was about the same age. I went to English Bay one spring and I could hardly wait to see my friend. When I got to her house they wouldnít let me see her. I didnít understand why they wouldnít let me see her. I thought, ďWhatís wrong with me?Ē Her mother was real busy cooking. I just sat there thinking that if I sat here long enough theyíd let me see my friend. Finally her mother said I couldnít see my friend. Sheís a young girl and canít be exposed to the world. I didnít understand what it was all about.
In their house there was a stairway going up to the attic. There were bedrooms upstairs. Under the stairway, they had built an enclosure with some materials like blankets. That girl had to live in there for thirty days, I think it was. She couldnít look up at the sky or eat wild game. She had started her menstrual period. We couldnít participate in any activities at home. Her mother kept her in that area. They washed her clothes separately from everyone elseís. Her urine, anything that contained any of her discharge, was placed and treated just like that of a baby. It was placed and dumped where no one would walk, or be disturbed by anybody.
When I was that age, I was told not to look at the heavens, the sky. I was told I was vulnerable to whatever spirits that might do something to me. I couldnít eat any wild game like seal or bear meat during my periods, I would probably be placing bad luck on the person who hunted. He would never catch wild game again. But I couldnít go down to the beach when I was having my period. That was a taboo. There was some kind of belief that I would interfere with the environmental process of the beach.
Copyright 1981,† Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.† All rights reserved