Native Botanicals Modernizes Traditional Plant Medicine

All of Native Botanicals’ products use remedies that are wisdom-backed by Lakota elders, and incorporate traditional healing herbs like sage and yucca, among others. (Courtesy Native Botanicals)

“There’s a saying in Lakota, The time is now,” Shilo Clifford (Lakota) tells Native Business. 

His wife and business partner, Shawna Clifford (Tuscarora), adds: “We believe that it’s really time for the people to understand the true healing potential of our traditional medicines.” 

“It’s time for people to have a new awareness and respect for Indigenous people and our approach to healing,” continues Shawna, who grew up immersed in Lakota culture. “It’s a way to reclaim our authenticity, to reclaim our power — in a way that can help other people as well.”

Native Botanicals is their vehicle to do that. The couple opened the doors to customers on the Pine Ridge Reservation in Porcupine, South Dakota, in April, and on October 14th, Indigenous Peoples’ Day, they launched their e-commerce platform: RealNativeBotanicals.com. The Cliffords capitalized their e-commerce launch with seed funding from Social Venture Circle, NDN Collective, and an Indiegogo campaign.

“There is a Lakota term for what Native Botanicals is working to do. It is wicozani (we-cho-zah-nee) and it means good health and spiritual wealth that comes from living in harmony with all of creation. That’s what we’re working to create with this company,” said Shilo Clifford, co-founder and CEO of Native Botanicals. (Courtesy Native Botanicals)

Native Botanicals sells tinctures and wellness products that are medicinal in nature. “Tinctures is a more modern way to take medicines; traditionally we take them as teas,” shares Shawna, whose background is in graphic design. She is the one responsible for their savvy product packaging, marketing materials, and e-commerce platform that she designed through Shopify. 

Shilo adds that with plane travel and modern-day life on the go, tinctures and sprays allow people to consume a distilled version of the medicines they would typically take in raw form. “We’ve been giving them to elders, too, and they really appreciate it because, for example, in the wintertime, there were no fresh medicines available. (Native Botanicals) is always in their purse,” Shilo, CEO, says. 

Shilo’s appreciation for his Lakota culture runs deep. Raised on the reservation in Porcupine, South Dakota, he was taught traditional Lakota language, singing, way of life and spirituality. “From a very early age, I was very interested in my culture,” he tells Native Business. 

Beyond just selling products, the company is replanting traditional ceremonial medicines that are being overharvested or are at risk because of climate change.

“As I grew older, my mother became ill, and she was diagnosed with cancer. Through these healing ceremonies at home, and through certain medicine, she became well and cured, and the cancer went away,” he says. “I was around high school age, and that really caught my attention. I was so grateful for my mother being healed, so I wanted to follow this way of life.” 

“This pretty much became my purpose in life. I found what it is that I love and what I wanted to do, so I became involved in Lakota ceremonies and Sundance healing ceremonies and became a singer and helped Warfield Moose, the medicine man who cured my mother,” he continues. 

In 2009, when Shilo contracted Lyme disease, western medication wasn’t helping him. He healed through ceremony and traditional medicine. He made it his mission to “share this on a broader scale,” he says. “There have been a lot of requests over the years.” 

With each order, Native Botanicals provides information on products and their applications.

Together Shilo and Shawna have deepened their knowledge of traditional ways in plant medicine. “I have always been a believer in traditional medicines and natural ways of healing, and that really accelerated, when we had our own children. I wanted to make sure that, if they ever had health issues, we gave to them something that was safe and something that I believed in,” Shawna says. 

Native Botanicals doesn’t use alcohol in its tinctures. “We use something called vegetable glycerin, which makes it safe for children,” Shawna explains. 

The couple began harvesting traditional plants and making tinctures for friends and family. “Then it kind of grew. A lot of people had interest in them. And we decided the business is a great platform to share these traditional medicines with the world. That’s how we got into making the tinctures,” Shawna continues.  

A portion of all proceeds goes to a replanting initiative on the reservation to sustain medicinal herbs, prevent their over harvesting, and help the community learn about their traditional use.

For now, direct-to-consumer is their business model. “We are considering an omni channel approach. Wholesale will be an option. And we want to also partner with cultural community centers and private practitioners that can offer our products in the future as well,” she says. 

Shilo adds: “…schools, colleges, universities and different Tribal programs. Great Plains Tribal Leadership Health Board just made a big order from us to give to all of their employees as a gift, and to the companies in their program. It’s another avenue that we’re working with as well.” 

While the enterprising couple grows their business, they’re also vested in balancing production without overharvesting plants. Replanting plants is a key initiative of Native Botanicals. 

“Indigenous peoples are the original caretakers of the planet. It’s time for us to show the people, the nations of the world, how we should be taking care of our Mother Earth,” Shilo says. 

The Cliffords currently wild-harvest. “We are careful and mindful of where we do our medicines. Our long term goal is to have a greenhouse, to have places where we can sustainably grow our own medicines on our land,” Shawna notes. 

Native Botanicals, Native American-owned by Shilo and Shawna Clifford, is a direct-to-consumer company bringing Indigenous healing traditions into modern self-care rituals.

The couple is also tasked with educating the general public about the cultural significance and medicinal properties of plants, as well as the value of purchasing an Indigenous-made medicinal plant-based product from an Indigenous-owned business. 

“The greatest divide between Native American healing and modern medicine is acknowledging spirituality as a part of wellness. Our products come from the knowledge we’ve gained working with our elders and medicine people, formed into remedies that fit today’s lifestyle,” Shilo says. “We have the highest respect for the plant nation and the healing powers of the medicines,” he added.

With each product, Native Botanicals includes information about its healing properties and origins. Native Botanicals’ website and social media platforms are also ways the Cliffords educate their audience. 

“It’s important to share how we were taught to use them, because we don’t want this information or this knowledge to be lost,” Shilo says. “We want it to carry on. We want to make sure that it comes from somebody who’s Native and somebody who respects these medicines.” 

Sustainability is at the heart of Native Botanicals, as it relates to the replanting the medicinal plants, carrying on the Indigenous wisdom, and growing their business. “We want to be a self-sustainable business. We want to have our own store, our own greenhouse on the reservation, and then be able to hire locals and Native community members as we expand and grow,” Shawna says. “That’s our long term goal.” 

Native Botanicals product line includes herbal tinctures, a salve for sore muscles and skin conditions, and aromatherapy sprays for use in indoor environments.

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