Plant Medicine Comes Full Circle in the Ramapo Valley
Prior to the invention of “Big Pharma”, Lenape Indians in the Ramapo Valley had used natural resources in its pure and raw form to concoct medicinal remedies for many different ailments. But natural herbal medicine is making its way back.
For thousands of years, prior to the historic periods of which the Harmony Hall-Jacob Sloat House was built, the Ramapough Lenape Indians occupied the Ramapo River Valley. Numerous documented Indian occupation sites along the Ramapo River and deep within the mountains proved that they were living, hunting, and foraging for subsistence. For example, down the road from the Harmony Hall-Jacob Sloat House, off Eagle Valley Road in Sloatsburg, the Spring House Rock Shelter existed during the late and mid-archaic periods (6000-1000 years B.C.E.) to historic contact cultural period (up to 1750 C.E). Also in the 1780’s, Indian women were living in
a wigwam on the Ramapo River in Sloatsburg.
Plants, barks, roots were commonly used by Lenape Indians as remedies for many different ailments. Descendants of these Indians carry and still practice the knowledge of natural medicinal traditions. Some examples are--poultices made from plantain leaves treated skin conditions, calamus root was used to treat stomach aches, staghorn sumac was used for sore throats and toothaches, sweet grass was used as an insect repellant and burned as incense to appease the Spirits, and sassafrass roots, leaves, and bark were used as medicine for the Springtime to thin the blood getting it ready for hot humid weather.
Many people today are looking to nature for answers. Enduring side effects of allopathic medicine is becoming more unacceptable, although allopathic medicine is still very effective and relied upon to help cure and relieve many ailments.
One can easily go foraging right here is the Ramapo Valley around the neighborhood or in the woods for plants such as plantain, mugwort, white pine, yarrow, golden rod, elderberry, St. John’s Wort and stinging nettles to make salves, extracts, teas, and infusions. Mountain Mint is also found growing wild in this area. A cultivated variety “Blunt Mountain Mint – Pycnanthemum muticum” is grown in the curator’s herb garden at Harmony Hall, and I’ve used it to make an uplifting, refreshing, and anti-bacterial moisturizing salve. I’ve also gathered stinging nettles along the Ramapo River and in wooded areas in Sloatsburg and added the fresh
leaves in soups. I also bundle the leaves hanging them up to dry for making tea for allergies and boosting adrenals.
One can take baby steps toward incorporating herbal remedies by gathering a few plants and making tea or salves, or you can choose to living independently from technology like Paul Tappenden (Facebook Rockland Forager). Paul’s facebook page is a wonderful resource for learning about foraging in this area.