Teaching Science through History
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Interpreting Native American Herbal Remedies

by Toni Leland

This case study begins with the compelling drama of Jacques Cartier and his crew suffering from an unknown illness as winter traps the expedition unexpectedly in remote territory in 1534. The local Iroquois tribe recommends drinking a juniper tea — but could one trust them, or their remedy? In subsequent episodes, students follow James Lind investigating the same ailment two centuries later (but wth different strategies); the recommended use in Colonial times of bloodroot for digestive problems; and several patent medicines in the 1800s advertised as based on Native American cures—some real, some fraudulent. Major NOS elements include:

  • science in different cultural contexts
  • credibility
  • role of experiment and controlled investigation

Open PDF document. Download Minnesota herbs


Jacques Cartier

"First Contact between European Explorers and Iroqoises" John Frost (1853)

Seneca Chief Cornplanter, by F. Bartoli (1796)



James Lind


wild quinine


cascara sagreda

tobacco (1570 print)