Medicine in your backyard: How Indigenous peoples have used medicinal plants – Saskatoon

You may not need a trip to your local pharmacy to find the medicine you need for aches, pains or trouble sleeping.

Medicine is all around us. For centuries, Indigenous peoples found all of the medicine they needed on the land, using plants to treat a variety of ailments and conditions.

Those medicines are the focus of a program available at Wanuskewin Heritage Park just north of Saskatoon. Guides take groups on a walk, showing people plants that are native to the land and explaining how people have traditionally used those plants.

Here is a look at some of the plants featured on the tour.

Trembling aspen

  • When the leaves of the trembling aspen turn upside down, rain is coming.
  • When young men would go hunt, they would peel off the bark and boil it. The water would be combined with bison fat. The hunters would then apply the mixture to their skin as a way to mask their scent.
  • A white powder will come off the bark when you rub it with your hand. You can then wipe the powder on your skin to be used as a sunscreen.

The trembling aspen is a good weather predictor.


  • The root can be applied to burns and skin infections.
  • The male pollen can be crushed and made into flour.
  • The fluff from the cob was used in mattresses, for feminine hygiene and for diapers.
  • When the cob is still green, it can be cooked like corn.
  • The leaves can be weaved into a mat. When combined with the fluff, the mat can offer insulation.

Cattails have a variety of uses, from their root to their leaves. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)

Stinging nettles

  • The little hairs on the stem will give you a rash, much like poison ivy.
  • If you pick the plant when it’s young, you can eat the root, which is high in iron and minerals.
  • It can be used to stop nose bleeds or interior hemorrhaging.
  • When someone was suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, the stem would be used to whip the spot on the hand where the pain was as a way to encourage blood flow.

Stinging nettles will give you a rash, like poison ivy does. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)


  • If you crush the plantain and wrap it onto cuts, it will act as a disinfectant. It also helps to stop bleeding.
  • This will help with bug bites and skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
  • If you get a rash from the stinging nettle, chew the plantain and put it on the rash.

The plantain is a natural disinfectant. (Courtney Markewich/CBC)


  • This plant can act as an insect repellent.
  • The leaf can…

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