When an elderly Lakota woman limped into the medical tent, one foot sporting a painful burn, Linda Black Elk knew just the herb that would help. She began boiling yarrow, a plant that blossoms golden yellow and has been prized for its healing properties for centuries. Though she had applied the remedy countless times, Black Elk was startled by her patient’s reaction.
“She started to cry,” recalls Black Elk, who apologized for causing her any additional pain. “No, these are happy tears,” the woman said. “Because I remember my grandmother talking about this plant when I was little, and I remember the Lakota name of it.”
Keepers of a once outlawed body of plant lore who have endured centuries of genocide, colonization and repression, Native American healers are working to integrate their traditional medicine with Western approaches to offer patients new ways to heal.