Have you ever wondered why Native Americans had resilient indigenous hair? Or ever asked why, when you see the old pictures of their ancestors, not too many of the older people had gray hair? Or why their hair was so long? Or why even the men had such healthy hair?
The answer is pretty simple and applies to every aspect of who American Indians and Alaska Natives are. As a people, our ancestors saw their indigenous hair as a part of their identity. It was an embodiment of how they lived, just like everything that surrounded them. They gave respect to everything in nature, as you probably already know from history lessons.
For one they never used all these so-called “modern” hair care gadgets and products on their indigenous hair. They took pride in their hair and different indigenous hair styles represented different things in their life. Their hair was of great spiritual importance to them, and they took great pride in it. They had many natural hair care practices that kept their indigenous hair strong, thick, shiny and long. These include herbs, roots, teas, oils and infusions. Some of these are as follows:
1. Aloe Vera
Aloe Vera is a great natural moisturizer that was used in every day Native life for protecting the hair and the body from the sun and other harsh weather conditions, and also keeping the hair soft and silky. This was one of the main ways that they used to keep indigenous hair healthy. Aloes are also edible and very good immune boosters and toxic cleansers. They also ate this in their daily life to help them stay fit. These are just a few of the benefits of using aloe vera, but for an even longer list of uses… there is a pretty good article here that lists some 40 different uses. Although that article is pretty current, it seems that many Native Americans were already familiar with many of them.
Aloe vera gel
2. Saw Palmetto
This herb is indigenous to the Native lands and it formed part of their nutritional diets and also has very good medicinal value. The fruit Saw Palmetto is a scarlet red berry; they would dry it in the sun for days then grind it and infuse it into tinctures, teas and ointments which were applied to their hair to help strengthen it and also prevent scaly scalp – dandruff. Saw Palmetto also has properties that suppress the hormone that causes baldness, so taking it orally and as a topical application is one of the ways the indigenous hair was kept so beautiful.
3. Stinging Nettle
Most male pattern baldness is caused by testosterone being converted into DHT. The Stinging Nettle has been found to have properties that stop testosterone from being converted into DHT; this is the hormone which is responsible for hair loss in many men and some women. This plant grows wild and in abundance in America. The Native Americans used it a lot which is why you don’t see too many Native Americans with hair loss problems or having to get hair transplants. Since it grows in the wild, they would just hand pick it, (of course paying attention to the stinging, because it has a spiny stem) and infuse it into oils to moisturize their hair. They would also brew it as a tea for drinking. Stinging Nettle has K, B, and C vitamins and it also has a lot of amino acids and iron. Amino acids help with protein formation in your body and the hair needs protein to grow strong and healthy. Vitamin B and C are also important for healthy hair.
4. Washing & Protective Styling
They didn’t wash their hair and mess with their hair everyday so this allowed their hair to relax which is very important for hair growth. If you are constantly messing with your hair it can hinder the growth. Indigenous hair is also braided often. This is a form of protective styling that helps to keep your hands out of your hair. They would take it out and dress and decorate their hair for different occasions but, you would normally see one big braid or a French braid in most indigenous hair and this helped to protect their hair.
This is another one of those simple things that can have a pretty drastic influence on healthy hair that so many people overlook, yet many Native Americans have been aware of it for centuries. When visiting a hair doctor, or getting a consultation at one of the companies that specialize in hair loss and hair restoration like Bosley Medical… aside from genetic and pattern baldness, time and time again that hair loss is often caused by people “exhausting” their hair by doing too much to it too often.
Courtesy Danielle Ta’Sheena Finn
Danielle Ta'Sheena Finn, Lakota Hunkpapa and Assiniboine Sioux from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe
This spice is known worldwide and used in many culinary delights; just like many other spices Rosemary has great benefits for the hair. It helps to promote hair growth by stimulating blood circulation in your scalp thus allowing the hair follicles to breathe and function well. Rosemary has also been known to reduce early graying. The herb was infused in oil, and the oil was rubbed into the scalp and then roots, and then the rest of the hair.
Every part of the world has plants with natural properties that are medicinal and good for their health and once we realize that as humans we will value what we have and use what we have naturally growing around us to prevent us from the many common diseases that were unheard of back in the day.
Marie Miguel, of Kuna ancestry, enjoys writing on a wide variety of subjects that she's passionate about or that she feels should be discussed by the general public.
This story was originally published June 19, 2014.