The culture of the American Cowboy and the use of herbs have widely crossed paths with the American Indian and also with the Mexican cowboys or “Vaqueros”. Much of the knowledge of herb-use was also brought in from the “old country” of each cowboy’s own heritage.
There is also some major influence from the Chinese due to the Chinese railroad workers who brought their Chinese Medicine with them. They often crossed paths with the cowboy or rancher that was always looking out for the health of his crew. If you were lucky they shared a bit of their knowledge of herbal medicine with you and maybe even gave you some Chinese herbal pills to try.
This incredible mix of medicinal knowledge that fell upon the American cowboy actually inspired one of the best medical systems this country ever had. They were called “The Eclectic Physicians”.
“Regular white man’s medicine” at the time made extensive use of purges with calomel and other mercury-based remedies, as well as extensive bloodletting. (Both of these kinds of practices proved to be not only disastrous but quite “insane” (Much like today’s chemotherapy)
However, by 1940, all private medical schools had vanished and ONLY “standard practice” medicine (“allopaths”) survived. This was a sad time for the health of America when it could have been so good.
But all was not lost! Let’s take a look at some of the individual heroic medicinal herbs used by the American cowboys:
The different regions of the country offered different herbs that were available and growing near by. However, much of the cowboy’s herbal medicine came from the Southwest. This includes a vast amount of cattle country including Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California, Nevada, Mexico and even parts of Oklahoma and Colorado. You will be surprised to find out how these herbs became the base of our modern natural medicine of today.
Chaparral is very common in all of the Southwest. It is also known as “Greasewood” and “Creosote Bush” This herb was a favorite of the Mexican Vaqueros and was used by all the Indian tribes in the region. The American cowboy quickly adopted the use of this herb after seeing how man and beast were healed internally and externally by this amazing plant.
Its uses are legion and there are countless stories of horses (And cowboys) being gored by bulls and surviving by the use of Chaparral powder dusted into their wounds. There are also countless stories of bullets being removed with nothing but Chaparral tincture used as an antiseptic leaving perfect healing.
The cowboys also encountered many of the Cherokees who shared there medicine and gave us so much of our modern knowledge of herbal medicine today. The two so very popular herbs known as Echinacea and Golden-seal were both presented to us by the Cherokees and these herbs could always be counted on by the cowboy’s camp cooks to stop deadly infection while out on the trail.
There was also the very well known Yellow Dock and the lesser known Red Dock which, although closely related, had opposite uses:
The Yellow Dock Root was used as the perfect mild laxative (Commonly needed out on the trail) and the Red Dock Root could stop the worst cases of diarrhea (Just as common out on the trail)
The contribution of the cowboys to our modern herbal medicine goes on and on and is covered in my book, “His Hand Has Provided” (Subtitled “A Christian Cowboy’s Guide to Nutrition and Natural Healing with Herbs” ) Please be sure to get a copy here.