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Midē´ Therapeutics

 Native American Nations | The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society                   

During the period of time in which the candidate is instructed in the foregoing traditions, myths, and songs the subject of Midē´ plants is also discussed. The information pertaining to the identification and preparation of the various vegetable substances is not imparted in regular order, only one plant or preparation, or perhaps two, being enlarged upon at a specified consultation. It may be that the candidate is taken into the woods where it is known that a specified plant or tree may be found, when a smoke offering is made before the object is pulled out of the soil, and a small pinch of tobacco put into the hole in the ground from which it was taken. This is an offering to Noko´mis—the earth, the grandmother of mankind—for the benefits which are derived from her body where they were placed by Ki´tshi Man´idō.

In the following list are presented, as far as practicable, the botanical and common names of these, there being a few instances in which the plants were not to be had, as they were foreign to that portion of Minnesota in which the investigations were made; a few of them, also, were not identified by the preceptors, as they were out of season.

It is interesting to note in this list the number of infusions and decoctions which are, from a medical and scientific standpoint, specific remedies for the complaints for which they are recommended. It is probable that the long continued intercourse between the Ojibwa and the Catholic Fathers, who were tolerably well versed in the ruder forms of medication, had much to do with improving an older and purely aboriginal form of practicing medical magic. In some of the remedies mentioned below there may appear to be philosophic reasons for their administration, but upon closer investigation it has been learned that the cure is not attributed to a regulation or restoration of functional derangement, but to the removal or even expulsion of malevolent beings—commonly designated as bad Man´idōs—supposed to have taken possession of that part of the body in which such derangement appears most conspicuous. Further reference to the mythic properties of some of the plants employed will be made at the proper time.

Although the word Mashki kiwa´bun—medicine broth—signifies liquid medical preparations, the term is usually employed in a general sense to pertain to the entire materia medica; and in addition to the alleged medicinal virtues extolled by the preceptors, certain parts of the trees and plants enumerated are eaten on account of some mythic reason, or employed in the construction or manufacture of habitations, utensils, and weapons, because of some supposed supernatural origin or property, an explanation of which they have forgotten.

Pinus strobus, L. White Pine. Zhingwâk´.

     1. The leaves are crushed and applied to relieve headache; also boiled; after which they
               are put into a small hole in the ground and hot stones placed therein to cause a
               vapor to ascend, which is inhaled to cure backache.

     The fumes of the leaves heated upon a stone or a hot iron pan are inhaled to cure

     2. Gum; chiefly used to cover seams of birch-bark canoes. The gum is obtained by
               cutting a circular band of bark from the trunk, upon which it is then scraped and
               boiled down to proper consistence. The boiling was formerly done in clay

Pinus resinosa, Ait. Red Pine; usually, though erroneously, termed Norway Pine.

     Used as the preceding.

Abies balsamea, Marshall. Balsam Fir. Ini´nandŏk.

     1. The bark is scraped from the trunk and a decoction thereof is used to induce

     2. The gum, which is obtained from the vesicles upon the bark, and also by skimming it
               from the surface of the water in which the crushed bark is boiled, is carried in
               small vessels and taken internally as a remedy for gonorrhoea and for soreness of
               the chest resulting from colds.

     3. Applied externally to sores and cuts.

Abies alba, Michx. White Spruce. Sĕ´ssēgân´dŏk. The split roots—wadŏb´-are used for
               sewing; the wood for the inside timbers of canoes.

Abies nigra, Poir. Black Spruce. A´mikwan´dŏk.

     1. The leaves and crushed bark are used to make a decoction, and sometimes taken as
               a substitute in the absence of pines.

     2. Wood used in manufacture of spear handles.

Abies Canadensis, Michx. Hemlock. Saga´inwunsh—“Raven Tree.”

     Outer bark powdered and crushed and taken internally for the cure of diarrhea. Usually
               mixed with other plants not named.

Larix Americana, Michx. Tamarack. Mŏsh´kīkiwa´dik.

     1. Crushed leaves and bark used as Pinus strobus.

     2. Gum used in mending boats.

     3. Bark used for covering wig´iwams.

Cupressus thyoides, L. White Cedar. Gi´zhĭk—“Day.”

     1. Leaves crushed and used as Pinus strobus. The greater the variety of leaves of
               coniferæ the better. The spines of the leaves exert their prickly influence through
               the vapor upon the demons possessing the patient’s body.

     2. The timber in various forms is used in the construction of canoe and lodge frames, the
               bark being frequently employed in roofing habitations.

Juniperus Virginiana, L. Red Cedar. Muskwa´wâ´ak.

     Bruised leaves and berries are used internally to remove headache.

Quercus alba, L. White Oak. Mītig´ōmish´.

     1. The bark of the root and the inner bark scraped from the trunk is boiled and the
               decoction used internally for diarrhea.

     2. Acorns eaten raw by children, and boiled or dried by adults.

Quercus rubra, L. Red Oak. Wisug´emītig´omish´—“Bitter Acorn Tree.”

     Has been used as a substitute for Q. alba.

Acer saccharinum, Wang. Sugar Maple. Innīnâ´tik.

     1. Decoction of the inner bark is used for diarrhea.

     2. The sap boiled in making sirup and sugar.

     3. The wood valued for making arrow shafts.

Acer nigrum, Michx. Black Sugar Maple. Ishig´omeaush´— “Sap-flows-fast.”

     Arbor liquore abundans, ex quo liquor tanquam urina vehementer projicitur.

     Sometimes used as the preceding.

Betula excelsa, Ait. Yellow Birch. Wi´umis´sik.

     The inner bark is scraped off, mixed with that of the Acer saccharinum, and the
               decoction taken as a diuretic.

Betula papyracea, Ait. White Birch. Mīgwas´.

     Highly esteemed, and employed for making records, canoes, syrup-pans, mōkoks´—or
               sugar boxes—etc. The record of the Midē´wiwin, given by Minabō´zho, was
               drawn upon this kind of bark.

Populus monilifera, Ait. Cottonwood. Mâ´nâsâ´ti.

     The cotton down is applied to open sores as an absorbent.

Populus balsamifera, L. Balsam Poplar. Asa´dĭ.

     1. The bark is peeled from the branches and the gum collected and eaten.

     2. Poles are used in building ordinary shelter lodges, and particularly for the

Juglans nigra, L. Black Walnut. Paga´nŏk—“Nut wood.”

     Walnuts are highly prized; the green rind of the unripe fruit is sometimes employed in
               staining or dyeing.

Smilacina racemosa, Desf. False Spikenard. Kinē´wigwŏshk—“Snake weed or Snake

     1. Warm decoction of leaves used by lying-in women.

     2. The roots are placed upon a red-hot stone, the patient, with a blanket thrown over
               his head, inhaling the fumes, to relieve headache.

     3. Fresh leaves are crushed and applied to cuts to stop bleeding.

Helianthus occidentalis, Riddell. Sunflower. Pǔkite´wǔkbŏkuns´.

     The crushed root is applied to bruises and contusions.

Polygala senega, L. Seneca Snakeroot. Winis´sikēns´.

     1. A decoction of the roots is used for colds and cough.

     2. An infusion of the leaves is given for sore throat; also to destroy water-bugs that have
               been swallowed.

Rubus occidentalis, L. Black Raspberry. Makadē´wĭskwi´minŏk—“Black Blood Berry.”

     A decoction made of the crushed roots is taken to relieve pains in the stomach.

Rubus strigosus, Michx. Wild Red Raspberry. Miskwi´minŏk´—“Blood Berry.”

     The roots are sometimes used as a substitute for the preceding.

Gaylussacia resinosa, Torr. and Gr. Huckleberry. Mī´nŭn.

     Forms one of the chief articles of trade during the summer. The berry occupies a
               conspicuous place in the myth of the “Road of the Dead,” referred to in
               connection with the “Ghost Society.”

Prunus Virginiana, L. Choke Cherry. Sisan´wewi´nakânsh´.

     1. The branchlets are used for making an ordinary drink; used also during gestation.

     2. The fruit is eaten.

Prunus serotina, Ehrhart. Wild Black Cherry. Okwē´wĭsh—“Scabby Bark.”

     1. The inner bark is applied to external sores, either by first boiling, bruising, or chewing

     2. An infusion of the inner bark is sometimes given to relieve pains and soreness of the

Prunus Pennsylvanica, L. Wild Red Cherry. Kusigwa´kumi´nŏk.

     1. A decoction of the crushed root is given for pains and other stomach disorders.

     2. Fruit is eaten and highly prized.

     3. This, believed to be synonymous with the June Cherry of Minnesota, is referred to in
               the myths and ceremonies of the “Ghost Society.”

Prunus Americana, Marsh. Wild Plum. Bogē´sanŏk.

     The small rootlets, and the bark of the larger ones, are crushed and boiled together with
               the roots of the following named plants, as a remedy for diarrhea. The remaining
               plants were not in bloom at the time during which the investigations were made,
               and therefore were not identified by the preceptors, they being enabled to furnish
               only the names and an imperfect description. They are as follows, viz: Minēn´sŏk,
               two species, one with red berries, the other with yellow ones;
               Wabō´saminī´sŏk—“Rabbit berries”; Shi´gwanau´isŏk, having small red berries;
               and Cratægus coccinea, L. Scarlet-fruited Thorn. O´ginīk.

Typha latifolia, L. Common Cat-tail. Napŏgŭshk—“Flat grass.”

     The roots are crushed by pounding or chewing, and applied as a poultice to sores.

Sporobolus heterolepis, Gr. Napŏ´gŭshkūns´—“Little Flat Grass.”

     1. Used sometimes as a substitute for the preceding.

     2. Roots are boiled and the decoction taken to induce emesis, “to remove bile.”

Fragaria vesca, L. Wild Strawberry. Odē īmĭn´nĕ—Heart Berry.

     Referred to in the ceremony of the “Ghost Society.”

     The fruit is highly valued as a luxury.

Acer Pennsylvanicum, L. Striped Maple. Mōn´zomĭsh´—“Moose Wood.”

     The inner bark scraped from four sticks or branches, each two feet long, is put into a
               cloth and boiled, the liquid which can subsequently be pressed out of the bag is
               swallowed, to act as an emetic.

Fraxinus sambucifolia, Lam. Black or Water Ash. A´gimak´.

     1. The inner bark is soaked in warm water, and the liquid applied to sore eyes.

     2. The wood is employed in making the rims for frames of snow-shoes.

Veronica Virginica, L. Culver’s Root. Wi´sŏgedzhi´wik—“Bitter Root.”

     A decoction of the crushed root is taken as a purgative.

Salix Candida, Willd. Hoary Willow. Sisi´gewe´mĭsh.

     The thick inner bark of the roots is scraped off, boiled, and the decoction taken for

Symphoricarpus vulgaris, Michx. Indian Currant. Gus´sigwaka´mĭsh.

     The inner bark of the root boiled and the decoction, when cold, applied to sore eyes.

Geum strictum, Ait. Aven. Ne´bone´ankwe´âk—“ Hair on one side.”

     The roots are boiled and a weak decoction taken internally for soreness in the chest,
               and cough.

Rumex crispus, L. Curled Dock. O´zabetshi´wĭk.

     The roots are bruised or crushed and applied to abrasions, sores, etc.

Amorpha canescens, Nutt. Lead Plant. We´abŏnag´kak—“That which turns white.”

     A decoction, made of the roots, is used for pains in the stomach.

Rosa blanda, Ait. Early Wild Rose. O´ginīk.

     A piece of root placed in lukewarm water, after which the liquid is applied to inflamed

Anemone (sp.?) Anemone. Wisŏg´ibŏk´; also called Hartshorn plant by the mixed-bloods
               of Minnesota.

     The dry leaves are powdered and used as an errhine, for the cure of headache.

(Gen. et sp. ?) Termed Kine´bĭk wansh´kons and “Snake weed.”

     This plant was unfortunately so injured in transportation that identification was
               impossible. Ball-players and hunters use it to give them endurance and speed; the
               root is chewed when necessary to possess these qualities. The root is likened to
               a snake, which is supposed to be swift in motion and possessed of extraordinary
               muscular strength.

Rhus (aromatica, Ait. ?) “White Sumac.” Bŏkkwan´ībŏk.

     Roots are boiled, with those of the following named plant, and the decoction taken to
               cure diarrhea.

(Gen. et sp. ?) Ki´tshiodēiminibŏk—“Big Heart Leaf.”

     Roots boiled, with preceding, and decoction taken for diarrhea.

Monarda fistulosa, L. Wild Bergamot. Moshkōs´wanowins´—“Little Elk’s Tail.”

     The root is used by making a decoction and drinking several swallows, at intervals, for
               pain in the stomach and intestines.

Hydrophyllum Virginicum, L. Waterleaf. Hunkite´wagūŭs´.

     The roots are boiled, the liquor then taken for pains in the chest, back, etc.

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The Midē Wiwin or Grand Medicine Society, 1891

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