Generations of Native Americans have received medical knowledge over the last 40,000 years through a strong oral tradition. Indigenous medical philosophy stresses the interconnection of humanity, nature, and the spiritual realm. A medicine person examines the patient's relationships with other people, as well as the individual's physical health, and devises an individual holistic approach to healing. The patient may undergo a combination of treatments and experiences, including herbs, ceremony, song, prayer, and sweating.
Phyllis D. Light, director of Herbal Studies at Clayton College of Natural Health, is a health educator, writer, healer, and traditionally trained herbalist. Her article entitled, "What the Medicine Men Knew," published in the summer 2004 issue of Winds of Change Magazine, reviews common medicinal practices among North American Indian nations. Light, who is of Cherokee, Creek, and Scots-Irish descent, insists that although Native American medicine is not a "homogenous system of healing, common, underlying principles can be discerned."
Modern medicine now recognizes the efficacy of some Native American medical treatments. According to Light, traditional and modern medicines aren't necessarily mutually exclusive and can sometimes be used in concert. Many of the plants used by Native American doctors can now be found on the shelves of commercial stores around the country; they include black cohosh, used to treat cardiovascular disorders, and Echinaceafor infections.