Alternatives A-Z – Part 5

Donna Easto, Traditional Herbalist, Certified Herbal Educator, Certified Herbal Educator

The Medicine Wheel

Medicine Wheels are depicted in many ways–through various forms of artwork or as an impressive stone construction on the land. Used by generations of Native American tribes for guidance on health, healing and lifestyle, it traditionally embodies the Four Directions, as well as Father Sky, Mother Earth, and Spirit Tree (usually the Red Cedar on the West Coast). In the simplest terms, it’s a visual representation and guide for the cycles of life. Not all First Nations and tribes interpret the significance and the use of the Wheel in the same way. This article briefly discusses one I’m most familiar with, the Ojibwe/Anishinabe Medicine Wheel. All share in common a circular movement, typically in a sun-wise direction, moving from East (Spring) to North (Winter). 

Spring/Ziigwan (the element is earth, the first creation, and the colour is red), this quadrant speaks to nutrition, exercise, personal hygiene and setting healthy boundaries. Summer/Niibin (the element is air, the colour is yellow). The life stage is youth and the focus is on emotions, how to deal with them in healthy ways, and how to seek help when needed. Autumn/Dagwaagin (the element is water, the colour is black), the life stage is adult. It’s a time of introspection. Have we taught our children well? Have we developed and modelled the morals and values that honour our spirituality? Are we a credit to our family and our people? Winter/Biboon (the element is fire to keep us warm and the colour is white), it’s a cold time, the earth lies dormant and the stage of life is the Elder. Our circle is completed; we have passed down our knowledge to our children and grandchildren in the hope they honour the teachings of the Medicine Wheel and will live a full and balanced life. There are many books and websites for adults and children interested in First Nations topics, you’ll find a wide variety and a virtual classroom at https// (Victoria, B.C.)

Cedar Medicine

Cedar is one of the four sacred medicines given to First Nations by the Creator. It is used to purify dwellings, during fasting a circle of cedar surrounds the faster’s home, and in sweat lodge ceremonies cedar branches cover the floor. Western Red Cedar was, and still is, used in the creation of medicine healing totems, symbolizing good health and healing. In appreciation for the sacrifice the tree is making for mankind, a solemn ceremony is held to bless the tree and to give thanks for its sacrifice and its powerful medicine: Cedar is a powerful antimicrobial. Cedar promotes immune function through helping white blood cells to work better. The leaves have long been a popular internal and external medicine for painful joints among Coastal Native Peoples. They have also been infused for cough medicine, tuberculosis and fevers. The leaves make wonderful incense and are used in smudging for purification. They’re anti-fungal for skin and nail fungus. The tincture, infused oil or salve can be used topically and should be applied 2-3 times a day until a week after the fungus disappears. You can also soak your feet in cedar tea by steeping a cup of dried cedar leaves in about 10 cups of hot water. Let the tea steep until it is warm, and then place it in a bowl or basin large enough for your feet. Soak for 10-15 minutes. Cedar steams a few times a day can help to clear respiratory infections.

 I am the heat of your hearth on the cold winter nights, the friendly shade screening you from summer sun, and the dancing bows that capture your imagination. I am the beam that holds your house, the board of your table, and the roof that shelters you from rain. I am the handle of your shovel, the bark of your basket, and the hull of your canoe. I am the medicine that heals you, the incense that carries your prayers, and tea that is used to cleanse your home. I am the wood of your cradle and the shell of your coffin. I am the breath of kindness and the flower of beauty. “Ye who pass by me, listen to my prayer: Harm me not. Adapted by Elise Krohn from “Prayer of the Woods,” a Portuguese forest preservation prayer that has been used for more than 1,000 years. Author unknown.

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