Herbal remedies or "simples"
developed by American natives influenced not only the medical practices
of early European settlers, they also affected the course of medical
science in this country. The United States Pharmacopoeia (USP), which
was established in 1820 to set national standards for formulating
and dispensing drugs, has listed more than 200 domestic plants that
Indian healers used with "proven efficacy." In fact, some
of those same plants continue to have applications today in research
and as ingredients in dietary supplements, antibiotics, and in other
NATIVE VILLAGE, 1580s
The village of Pomeiooc, which stood near
Lake Mattamuskeet in present-day Hyde County, N.C.
EARLIEST MEDICINAL REFERENCE
Milkweed hand-tinted collotype, reproduction
of original drawing by John White at Roanoke, ca. 1585.
In the 1580s, when English expeditions first landed
along North Carolina's coast, their members quickly gained respect
for the natives' knowledge and use of the region's natural resources,
including their medicinal applications. John White, an artist who
took part in these expeditions, sketched and painted selections of
the animals, plants, and people he saw. Less than seventy of White's
original American drawings survive. This milkweed is one of them.
Known as Wysauke by Roanoke natives, this species of milkweed
(later categorized by Swedish botanists Carolus Linnaeus as Asclepias
syriaca) was no doubt drawn by White as a medicinal reference
for future English colonists. Milkweed was used at that time in diuretics
to treat gout and as an expectorant for patients with severe congestion.
Natives also used the pulverized plant as a topical ointment to treat
poison ivy rashes, acne, and other skin conditions.
Page-Holgate, Plate 50
Sabatia, hand-tinted reproduction of original
drawing by John White at Roanoke, ca. 1585.
This is another one of White's botanical drawings
that survived. Once again, the English artist and explorer recorded
this plant not for the beauty of its flowers, but for the plant's
practical applications. Still widely found in North Carolina's coastal
region, Sabatia is more commonly known as Sea Pink or Marsh
This is a remarkably detailed and accurate drawing
of the plant, although it should be noted that the original pink pigments
used by White have oxidized and darkened considerably over time. Just
as with his depiction of milkweed, White recorded this American specimen
in great detail. In England, Sabatia (Pursh) had use as an
"antiperiodic," a medication that was given to patients
to prevent the recurrence of illnesses, especially fevers.
Page-Holgate, Plate 51