Botica Plants and History

Cultural Plants

Local plants were of incredible importance to Native American tribes and early settlers alike, for both medicinal and nutritional purposes. Hospitals and doctors are a modern day luxury. When this land was settled, people had to rely on the curandero or curandera (healer), sobador or sobadora (massage therapy), partera(midwife) as well as the arbulario (herbalist), who could reverse spells cast by a brujo or bruja (witch).

The curandero knows what kinds of herbs and teas would heal ailments.

  • For colds one would be prescribed poleo (brookmint) and yerba buena (spearmint).
  • For coughs, anise and piloncillo (brown sugar) in pylon shaped cakes.
  • For stomach troubles, one would take oshá (root of wild celery), manzanilla (chamomile), mariola (rubber bush), chamiso (sagebrush), chamiso blanco (rabbit brush), cilantro, and café con canela (coffee with cinnamon).
  • For colic an infant would be given manzanilla and alhucema (lavender).
  • For rheumatism, one would take plumajillo (yarrow) and té dela abuela (grandmother’s tea).

Yerba de la negrita (bristly mallow) was given for ulcers. Plants high in iron were given to women after childbirth: yerba de las golondrinas (spurge), altamisa (feverfew) and capulín  (chokecherry). Oshá was mixed with lard to help heal cuts. Rosa de castilla (wildrose) was used for sore throats, and oregano with sugar and boiling water was used for coughs.

Prunus Virginiana

Capulín – Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)

Wild Strawberry

Morada de Suello – Wild Strawberry (Fragania ovalis)


Totora – Cattail (Typha species)

Pinon Pine

Pinon – Pinon Pine (Pinus edulis)

Lambs Quarters

Quelitas – Lambs Quarters (Chenopodium berlandieri)

Wild Rose

Champes – Wild Rose (Ribes montigenum)

Ribes monteigenum

Garambullo – Gooseberry (Ribes monteigenum)

Portulaca Oleracea

Verdologas – Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)


Poleo – Brookmint (Mentha canadadensis)

Prickly Pear Cactus

Nopal – Prickly Pear Cactus (Optuna species)

Rhus Trilobata

Lemitas – Three Leaf Sumac (Rhus trilobata)

Alllium Cernuum

Cebolla – Wild Onion (Allium cernuum)

Sacred Trees

Culturally sacred trees are found within the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in a place referred to as “Indian Grove.” There are currently 72 Ponderosa pines in “Indian Grove” that show evidence of use by the Ute and Apache Indians, who scarred the trees when they collected the bark for medicine. Over 200 total trees were used in the area. Some of these trees are over 500 years old and “Indian Grove” is the only location on the National Register of Historic Places that is a woodlands.

The Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) reaches up to 30 meters tall and 1.5 meters in diameter. Its evergreen needles, at 10-20 cm, are longer than those of its other North American relations. It produces cones which bear seeds, that provide winter food to the animals in the surrounding ecosystem. The Ponderosa is unmistakable with its thick, deeply grooved, rich bark which smells of vanilla and butterscotch.

American Indian tribes would visit the area in the 18th and 19th centuries and peel one side of a Ponderosa’s trunk, and use the inner bark for food and medicine. This was done in order to harvest not only the outer and inner bark, but the resin and pitch. The bark was used as a building material to make structures and useful items like trays. The resin and pitch was used as adhesives and waterproofing agents. The inner bark was pounded and used for tea, or eaten.

These trees are identifiable by large, oval openings on one side where they were peeled. Tree scars range from five inches to five feet in width and from two inches to nine feet in length with the average scar being seventeen inches wide and four feet long. A scar of that size would yield about one pound of inner bark.

For more information, visit:,tribe%20in%20the%20early%201800s.

Kathy Faz from Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve explaining the Sacred Trees to local Youth