Tapping into Native Roots

Although “native roots” may conjure up thoughts of the medicinal plant cannabis, that is not what this post is about. Sorry guys, but many of you probably already have your sources and could teach me a thing, or two, or three about that ancient plant. What this post is about is learning to use the native plants we have all around us, for medicine. Since this is one of my many passions, it was not surprising to hubby that I asked (ok, maybe begged a bit) the Campus Manager at Yellowstone Forever to allow me to support this field seminar. My charms won out as he graciously agreed. 😉

Linda Black Elk

I was so honored to be a part of this course, led by Linda Black Elk, PhD and Ethnobotanist. Linda is part of the Catawba Nation and is married to Lakota native, Luke Black Elk, who has an illustrious family history – activist mother and revered grandfather, Chief Black Elk.  Side note:  Black Elk Speaks is a great read.

Hubby supported Luke’s course on Lakota Creation Stories immediately after the Native Plants class. Sadly no amount of begging or bribing has convinced him to write a guest post about his experience, which he loved. Fortunately for me, the Native Plants and Their Uses class began with singing and praying by both Linda and Luke, in their native Lakota tongue. It brought me to tears it was so beautiful. No photos were allowed during this sacred ceremony.

Luke and Linda sharing stories around the campfire.

Our Native Plants’ course consisted of indigenous stories (many were heartbreaking), identifying and learning the beneficial uses of local plants, foraging for specific plants, and bringing our bounty back to the Lamar Buffalo Ranch to make balms, salves, and elixirs. Seeing what I do at home, making so many of my own products, hubby said he couldn’t imagine a more perfect course for me to support. I had to admit that it was very special and completely in line with my belief system.

Classroom time after some foraging.

Since removing anything from a national park is strictly forbidden, our foraging for two days took us outside the park, where we strolled through forest lands for several hours, as Linda educated us on the medicinal properties of the many plants we found along the way. We harvested fireweed, sticky geranium, and yarrow, to be used later in the making of balms and salves, as well as wild onion and garlic for fire cider.

Salve in the making

There is something so comforting about walking in nature, harvesting plants that have been on this earth since ancient times, providing countless generations of people food and medicines. I’ve been told a time or two that I am an old soul and being in this environment, feeling such a strong connection to the past, I feel that may be true.

I loved this course and would highly recommend it for anyone interested in creating their own elixirs, salves and balms or want to learn more about native customs. Check out Yellowstone Forever for this and other great field seminars here.

Linda Black Elk and her husband Luke are a fantastic couple, armed with a wealth of indigenous history they are anxious to share.  It was a humbling experience to be in their presence. I walked away with a notebook full of information that I am happy to share if anyone is interested.

Since cold and flu season is upon us, here are a couple of recipes that might be of interest, because it’s all about keeping it natural (at least for me):

Elderberry Elixir


  • 1 c. dried elderberries (I purchase mine from Mountain Rose Herbs.)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 3 cloves
  • one good-sized piece of ginger (~4 slices)
  • 4 c. good quality water
  • 1-2 c. raw honey

Add all ingredients except honey to heavy-bottom pan. Bring to boil, then reduce to simmer. Cook down liquid to 1/2. Add honey at end, after pan removed from heat. Keep in the fridge so elixir doesn’t ferment. Lasts a long time.

 NOTE: Powerful anti-viral & anti-bacterial agent. Great for treating colds.

Fire Cider


  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated & minced
  • 3/4 c. horseradish root, finely diced
  • 1 (6″) piece of ginger, diced
  • 1 (6″) piece of turmeric root, diced
  • 2-3 T. peppercorns
  • Chilies, sliced – add according to your heat preference. One large jalapeño might be a good start.
  • Unfiltered, raw apple cider vinegar

Pack all ingredients besides vinegar in 2-quart jar. Add enough vinegar to fill the jar.

Let fire cider steep for 3-4 weeks on your countertop. Shake periodically.

Strain the vinegar into a clean jar & store in fridge, where cider will keep for up to 12 months.

Enjoy a shot of this daily. Honey can be added for a little sweetness. Be forewarned, this one packs a bit of a punch! 😮

NOTE: This can be used as an expectorant and is a great tonic for sore throats. Great for those with high blood pressure and is also good for the heart.

Disclaimer:  The views expressed here are my own and those of the instructor and do not necessarily represent the views of Yellowstone Forever.  






33 thoughts on “Tapping into Native Roots

  • I would love this kind of class! We did have something similar in Sedona through one of our OLLI facilitators, using our local plants for balms, salves, aroma-therapy, etc. One of my hobbies is growing herbs; for cuisine and pot pourri and I have given classes on herbs and their uses. Today, my raised bed is home to marjoram, parsley, chives & basil, with thyme, oregano and lavender in the xeriscape. So enjoy your “Paintings”

  • I would have loved experiencing this with you, Lu! I’ve been making my own herbal remedies for many years and our medicine cabinet in our RV is filled with natural remedies. I like your addition of turmeric root to the Fire Cider. And your elderberry elixir looks delicious! My recipe is similar to yours, and it’s our primary defense against cold and flu bugs. It really works (and there’s good science behind the anti-viral properties of elderberries). Very cool that you supported this class with Linda Black Elk. The love of herbal medicine is being passed down in our family — our daughter has just started a PhD program in ethnobotany. :-))

    • I think it is wonderful that your daughter is starting her PhD in ethnobotany. If I had it to do all over again, that is where my schooling would be. I know it is more time consuming to make our own products but it is so much healthier I believe. At least I know what is in the medicines I am taking. I love the fire cider and can’t yet get Terry to drink it.

  • I’m a firm believer in natural remedies. Thanks for sharing. I’m sure there’s quite a few of us finding this of considerable value and interest 🙂

    • Yellowstone is one of our favorite national parks. Spending the summer in Yellowstone, in a cabin at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch, was educational and inspirational! Thanks for stopping by!

  • It would have been very interesting to learn more about the medicinal properties of so many wild plants. Sounds like a wonderful class. I thought about how much Laurel would have enjoyed taking this with you. So far our teaching germs have been staying with us. Knock on wood…it has been over ten years since either of us has had a cold or the flu. Sure hope this continues!!! Looks like you have lots of new remedies to try out!

    • It was a very interesting class Pam. This would have been the perfect class for Laurel. I told her she could have taught it. I am also not one to get colds or the flu thankfully, but I have a notebook full of remedies to try.

  • What a wonderful class.. I would love to go to something like that and learn from the masters. I am a big fan of natural plant products for anything and everything. We have a friend here in Sri Lanka who makes beautiful salves and soaps and natural dishwasher and clothing soap. Such a wonderful skill and so amazing to use products that are directly from nature.

    In Sri Lanka Ayurvedic medicine has been around for every and many medicines are made from plant for all sorts of ails and illnesses. I have not yet learnt much about them other than ashwaganda which is made here and is great for dealing with stress and increasing energy.

    I was recently reading and learning about elderberries and how taking this can help with cold preventing and also with reducing colds once you have them.

    Great post!

    • Thanks Peta! In a world where so many of our products are made with so many unhealthy fillers, I try to make what I can on my own without all of that “nasty” stuff in it. Not to mention how much money I typically save when I make my own products. I would love to come to Sri Lanka and learn from some of the masters there.

    • Both my husband and I felt blessed to be able to support Luke and Linda’s classes. They are teaching their sons as well to keep their ancestors’ ways alive.

  • How wonderful that you managed to get into this particular class.Thanks for sharing the recipes, I will give them a try some day when I have more space!

    I can tell that this summer in Yellowstone was a boon to your spirit.

    • Our Yellowstone summer was such a wonderful educational experience, not to mention what being in a national park all summer can do for your soul. I am thinking that there might be a lot of what Terry calls “science experiments” in your kitchen when your living arrangement changes. 🙂

  • What an interesting course and right up your alley! I know you must have been thrilled to get to support this one.
    The elderberry elixir sounds good, but I can definitely understand why Terry is reluctant to try the Fire Cider. Like Lisa, someday when I have a much bigger kitchen and refrigerator I would like to try making some of your recipes.

    • It was a very interesting course. I make all of these concoctions in my kitchen, which isn’t very large either, and I have to say that at times the clutter drives me crazy. As for the fire cider, I would say it is an acquired taste for those who aren’t keen on potent spices. I love it!

  • I just love your header photo!
    I think this class would be amazing. I know next to nothing about native plants and their medicinal purpose. When I was looking at the photo of Linda making the Elderberry Elixir, I could smell it. Oh what a glorious smell. Thanks for the neat post.

    • I have been fascinated for several years about using plants and essential oils to make my own products, whether they be cosmetic, cleaning, or remedies for specific conditions. The elderberry elixir tastes wonderful Marsha, not like the nasty cough syrup we drank as kids. Linda Black Elk said she has a hard time keeping it in the fridge because her kids sneak in to drink it. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas.

  • The Fire Cider recipe is very similar to what a friend of mind just gave me this weekend, except for the chilis part. I had been taking a 1/4 cup a day and so far I am liking it. When I am out of it, i might try yours but minus the Chilis 🙂 That class is just right in Laurel’s alley!

    • The nice thing about fire cider is that you can use the ingredients you want, while leaving others out. It is so good for the immune system. As for Laurel, I told her she could have taught that class. There’s another gal I have learned so much from!

  • This sounds great, it seems like a great window back in time to when we relied first hand on nature for our cures. I would love to do something like this, just walking in nature is great but adding that layer of knowledge about that what is hidden in plain sight can do is brilliant.

  • I got a big chuckle out of your opening sentence, LuAnn and so enjoyed ‘meeting’ the Black Elks. They sound like a truly amazing couple with a wealth of knowledge and a passion for preserving their culture as well as educating others about the history and customs of their ancestors. As a pharmacist in my previous life, my background is mostly in mass-produced pills and potions which contain various excipients and fillers (often unnecessary) in addition to the active ingredients. However, like you, I find myself gravitating towards traditional medicines more and more and I can totally appreciate the satisfaction that comes from gathering ones own ingredients to compound a natural medicine. P.S. I would have loved to have read a guest post on Lakota Creation stories!

    • The older I get Anita, the more my beliefs seem to gravitate towards keeping it clean, simple, and natural. Unfortunately, no amount of arm twisting could get that hubby of mine to write a guest post for me, and I have tried in the past. Linda and Luke Black Elk, and their rich ancestral history, were two of my very favorite instructors this past summer. Sending you both the very best wishes for a beautiful holiday season and a most sincere wish for a new year that provides some peace for us all.

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