Hickory trees have a long history of varied medicinal uses by Native American tribes.
There are around 20 species of hickory that are native to North America, and various tribes made use of several different species for their healing properties.
The Native Americans had a profound knowledge of plant medicines, and hickory was an important part of their herbal pharmacy.
Let's explore some of the main medicinal uses of hickory by Native Americans.
- Hickory bark was used extensively by Native Americans as a diaphoretic to induce sweating and bring down fevers. This helped treat colds, flus, and more.
- It served as a digestive aid and was used for cramps, bloating, gas, and constipation. Chewing the bark or making a tea were common preparations.
- In larger doses, hickory bark acted as an emetic to cause vomiting. This was seen as having a cleansing effect.
- Hickory was used alone or combined with other herbs to treat respiratory illnesses like coughs, sore throats, and congestion.
- Some tribes utilized hickory bark to treat women's health issues like menstrual cramps, irregular menstruation, and to ease childbirth.
- The bark provided pain relief as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. It was used for body aches, toothaches, and rheumatic problems.
- Hickory bark helped eliminate intestinal worms and parasites when used as an anthelmintic.
- Externally, hickory bark aided skin and hair health and was applied to skin sores.
- Many different Native American tribes and nations valued hickory as an important herbal remedy.
One of the primary medicinal uses of hickory by Native Americans was as a diaphoretic. A diaphoretic is a substance that induces sweating.
Many Native American tribes used preparations of hickory bark to promote sweating, which could help bring down fevers and treat colds and flus.
The Catawba tribe used an infusion of pignut hickory bark as a diaphoretic and general tonic.
The Alabama tribe boiled shagbark hickory bark to make a diaphoretic tea.
Promoting sweating was used to warm the body, fight off chill, and restore balance.
2. Digestive Aid
Hickory bark was commonly used by Native Americans to aid digestion.
They would brew teas or chew on the bark to ease digestive issues like cramps, gas, bloating, and constipation.
The Cherokee used an infusion of pignut hickory bark for digestive problems.
The Rappahannock tribe chewed on hickory bark or used it to make a bitter tea that could stimulate digestion.
Some tribes would also use the oils from crushed hickory nuts as a digestive aid.
In larger doses, hickory bark was used as an emetic by some Native American tribes. An emetic is a substance that causes vomiting.
The vomiting was seen as having a cleansing effect.
The Cherokee used a decoction of pignut hickory bark as an emetic when necessary.
The Iroquois also used hickory bark to induce vomiting if someone had consumed toxic or poisonous plants.
Caution was needed with emetics, and they were administered in controlled amounts.
4. Cold Remedy
Native Americans used various species of hickory to help relieve and treat colds.
Hickory was often combined with other herbs like elderberry or pine in preparations used for respiratory illnesses.
The Osage tribe made a tea from shagbark hickory bark to treat sore throats and coughs.
The Alabama tribe combined hickory bark with wild cherry bark in a cold remedy.
The warming and diaphoretic properties of the hickory helped fight chills, reduce congestion, and speed healing.
5. Gynecological Aid
Some Native American tribes used hickory medicinally to treat gynecological conditions in women.
An infusion of the inner bark was used for issues such as menstrual cramps, irregular menstruation, and to ease childbirth.
The Cherokee administered a mild infusion of pignut hickory bark for menstrual issues.
The Choctaw tribe gave an infusion of hickory bark to pregnant women to prepare for labor.
The Creek tribe used hickory bark to make a tea that was drunk after childbirth to promote healing.
As an analgesic, hickory bark was used to relieve general pain throughout the body. It had mild pain-relieving properties similar to aspirin.
The Creek Indians used a decoction of hickory bark to ease body aches and pains.
The Chickasaw tribe mixed hickory bark with black gum bark as an analgesic to relieve muscle soreness.
Some tribes would also chew on hickory bark to ease toothaches.
Some Native American tribes discovered that hickory bark could help eliminate intestinal worms and parasites.
It served as a natural anthelmintic.
The Cherokee administered a strong decoction of pignut hickory bark to children when they showed signs of intestinal worms.
The Potawatomi tribe used hickory bark tea as a deworming agent for children in the spring seasons.
The tannins in the bark helped expel the parasites.
To relieve the symptoms of rheumatism and arthritis, Native Americans used preparations of hickory bark.
This served as a useful antirheumatic. The anti-inflammatory properties of the bark helped ease stiff, painful joints.
The Iroquois tribe made an ointment from hickory bark and bear fat to rub on arthritic joints.
The Pamunkey tribe boiled hickory bark and applied it hot with cloths to swollen, inflamed joints.
These remedies provided welcome relief from rheumatic pain.
9. Dermatological Aid
In addition to internal uses, hickory bark also had some external dermatological applications for Native Americans.
They used it on the skin and hair in various ways.
The Iroquois used a preparation of hickory bark as a skin/hair product to treat dry skin and dandruff.
The Costanoan tribe applied crushed hickory bark to heal skin sores. The antibacterial properties of hickory helped protect skin infections from worsening.