Young herbalists promotes importance of medicinal "weeds"

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

SHIPROCK, Sept. 26, 2013

Text size: A A A

(Times photos - Shondiin Silversmith)

TOP: Lynnelle Henderson Washburn leads a discussion on Navajo herbs and its uses during a workshop at the Shiprock Chapter House on Sept. 24.

MIDDLE: A Navajo dye chart and medicine chart made by Rosalyn H. Washburn were on display during her daughter, Lynnelle Henderson Washburn's workshop on Sept. 24. She discussed how many of those herbs were used.

BOTTOM: Local community members listen to Lynnelle Henderson Wasburn's herbal presentation at the Shiprock Chapter House on Sept. 24. Many of them responded to the humorous stories told by Washburn during her discussions.

It's common for one to think that Navajo herbalists are only the grandmas and grandpas of the Navajo Nation, but 23-year-old Lynnelle Henderson Washburn is showing people that that is not the case.

During a workshop hosted Tuesday evening by the Restoring and Celebrating Family Wellness Committee, Washburn talked about the different uses of Navajo herbs found on the Navajo Nation to at least 40 people at Shiprock Chapter.

"People think they're just weeds, but they're wrong," she said. "The simplest thing could be the most amazing thing."

Washburn is often asked why she cares about the "weeds," but she doesn't mind getting those questions because it opens up the opportunity for her to education.

"I grew up with it," Washburn said adding that everything she knows about herbs is thanks to her mother Rosalyn H. Washburn and late grandmother Francise Henderson.

She first explored with herbs when she was four years old.

"I want them to know that someone my age knows about this stuff," Washburn said as one of the main reasons she likes talking about herbs. "It's to give recognition to the people who do this, the herbalists."

Washburn lead her presentation off with the different plants used to create the different colored dyes, and within her presentation she included personal stories related to the herbs or plants she was discussing.

"This is one of the ways that plants are utilized - so you understand where weavers get their colors," Washburn said.

Washburn's mother Rosalyn created the herbal dye charts and medicine charts for people to see what the different plants are used for. Washburn used many of those charts in her demonstrations.

Much of Washburn's presentation revolved around the medicinal uses of the herbs she brought with her like sagebrush, snakeweed, tree sap, Navajo tea and red root.

Sagebrush could be used to control peoples sugar levels, Washburn said. If you drink it every morning and evening for a month your sugar levels will start to drop.

Another plant used as a medicine is the red root. Washburn explained that it is used for strains in the muscles or back. To prep the red root, one must start by shredding it and soaking in water for a few hours. Once that is done, you drink it throughout the day.

"It helps over time to restore that part of your muscle," Washburn said, adding that another way is just chewing on the root throughout the day.

"She has a lot of knowledge at her age," said Marj Benally from Cove, N.M., who attended the workshop. Benally also learned about the Navajo herbs from her late grandmother Nora Bluehorse and said that Washburn's presentation was similar to what she learned.

"It does work," said Matilda Hosteen from Red Wash, N.M. about the herbs, adding that she doesn't go to the hospital often because she uses the Navajo herbs.

A story most people enjoyed from Washburn included the plant snakeweed and how it helps with body odor.

"You see these everywhere," Washburn said of the plant and some people are scared of it because of its name. Needless to say, it has nothing to do with snakes.


To demonstrate how snakeweed works, Washburn told a story of how a boy visited her and her mother's house. His main problem was that he sweated a lot causing him to have a lot of body odor and no deodorant would work.

Washburn said she took a bit of snakeweed and lightly grinded the tips of the weed with two stones to get the juice out of the tips.

Added Washburn, it's best to grind the tips when the snakeweed is freshly picked and washed.

Once the weed is smashed, Washburn said the plant is placed into a thin fabric like a stocking and placed under the armpit for at least 30 minutes a day for a week.

"It gives off a really strong smell," Washburn said but, she added, you'll start to notice the problem go away.

Marge Bluhorse Anderson from Waterflow, N.M. said Washburn's snakeweed presentation was the most interesting of the evening because she was very hands-on and used humor within her stories.

"I was honored to be asked especially someone at my age because when it comes to traditional medicine and herbs it's usually amá san’ or elderly medicine men doing this type of presentation," Washburn said, adding that she hopes one day, young people from her generation will learn more about Navajo herbs. "If we go back and just give these teachings a chance it'll help us in return. We rely so much on modern medicine and most of the time bad results come out of it."

Washburn does recommend that people try these herbal remedies but do research about them first because people have different reactions to the plants.

"Don't just go to your yard and pick out plants," Washburn cautioned. "When you get these planets you never just take from the earth you always have to give something back to it."

"A lot of our presentations have traditional philosophy ingrained into it," said committee member Randy John, adding that they like to bring in presenters from within the community. "We have people in our community that can do these instructions."

Washburn is currently a student at San Juan College and working toward an associate's degree in applied science in human services for substance abuse counseling. She is Tangled People Clan born for Mexican People Clan, and is originally from Little Water, N.M. but currently resides in Shiprock.

She is available for advice through her email at

Back to top ^