Learning New Medicines: Exchanging Medicinal Plant Knowledge amongst Northwestern North American Indigenous and Settler Communities


  • Nancy J Turner University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, CDN


Herbal medicine, Exchanging knowledge, North American Indigenous peoples


Virtually every human society holds a rich body of knowledge regarding herbal medicines. Through a study of medicinal plants used by Indigenous peoples in Northwestern North America, as well as plant names and medicinal applications, I investigate the ways in which such knowledge is acquired and shared across cultural and geographic space. Not only are there many similarities in medicinal plant traditions among the region’s Indigenous cultures, there is also evidence of exchanging medicinal plant knowledge – and even the medicines and plants themselves – between newcomer Europeans and Asians and Indigenous peoples. As well as introducing their own herbal medicines from their homelands, the newcomers acquired herbal medicinal knowledge from First Nation practitioners, adapted this knowledge to their own needs, and incorporated it into their official pharmacopoeias. This process of medicinal knowledge transmission can enrich our lives and increase our resilience in the face of ongoing change.