Nature Trail ~ Medicinal Plants

The natural world provided our Mi’kmaq ancestors not only with food and shelter, but also with the ingredients to cure what ailed them. Lennox Island provided our ancestors with a modern-day pharmacy’s worth of traditional herbal medicines. Over the course of countless Mi’kmaq generations an impressive wealth of knowledge about medicinal plants was formed, to cure all kinds of maladies. Much of this knowledge is still used today.

In traditional Mi’kmaq communities, most people had a basic knowledge of medicinal plants but each community also had a specialist or two considered Mi’kmaq healers. In the early 1900s, Madeline Labobe was one such woman. Madeline lived on a small mixed farm with her husband, Lem. She and her family had such a great reputation as healers that news of their talents spread beyond Lennox Island. On one instance, a non-aboriginal man with a badly infected leg came to see them. The Labobes prepared a salve of mutton fat with antibiotic ingredients extracted from the bark of Red-osier Dogberry. The man walked away not only cured, but so impressed that he later returned to give Madeline $20 as a thank you for their service – a large sum of money in the 1930s.

Many traditional medicines like Madeline would have used are now being explored by modern science as a basis for new pharmaceuticals. Taxus canadensis, for example, is being used to produce Paclitaxil, an effective cancer treatment. It’s also being used in hair loss prevention and scalp rejuvenation.

Here are some example remedies that Madeline and Mi’kmaqs used as treatments. (We do not recommend the use of these remedies without supervision by a Mi’kmaq healer.)

• The heated leaves and the bark of the speckled alder, wrapped on the skin, will reduce fevers.
• A tea made from the Muskrat root plant boosts the immune system and is effective against the common cold.
• The inner bark of the yellow birch relieves indigestions. When chewed or steeped as a tea it makes a fine general tonic.
• The teaberry has many and varied medicinal uses. It thins the blood and can prevent heart attacks and blood clots. It also has a pleasant winter green flavour.