IN 1838, the Cherokee Indians were forcibly evicted from their homeland in Georgia after gold was discovered there.

They undertook, on foot, an arduous 800-mile journey westwards to Oklahoma.

During the six-month ordeal, thousands of Cherokees died, yet the majority managed to survive because they had a profound knowledge of their natural environment.

For the Cherokee, a spiritual connection exists between all things on Earth humans, animals, plants and rocks.

Ancient tribal wisdom was passed down from generation to generation and now Native American medicine is making a deserved comeback.

In Cherokee medicine, herbs are seen as messengers which provide important constituents as well as vital energies needed for the healing process.

One of the herbs introduced by the Cherokee is black cohosh, a shrub-like member of the buttercup family.

Its medicinal extract is derived from the plant's lumpy black rhizomes underground stems) and was traditionally used for a variety of conditions, from gynaecological problems to rattlesnake bites.

Now black cohosh is finding increasing favour with women who are going through the menopause.

During menopause, levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone decline and hormone replacement is routinely paraded as the only viable option to reduce troublesome symptoms and safeguard against osteoporosis and heart disease.

Synthetic hormones, however, cannot be so easily disposed of by the body and often cause just as many side-effects as they reduce.

Numerous clinical trials have confirmed that black cohosh is highly effective in relieving the hot flushes, headaches, vaginal atrophy, sleep disturbances and mood swings associated with the menopause.

So far, it is the most extensively studied natural alternative to HRT and is widely prescribed in Europe and the United States under the name Remifemin.

Remifemin is not available in this country but Solgar sells a product here called Black Cohosh Root Extract which contains the same active ingredient in the same strength.

For a list of stockists and further information, telephone 01442 890355.

The main active ingredients in black cohosh appear to be isoflavones and triterpenes which possess oestrogen-like properties and help restore hormonal balance.

Black cohosh also provides benefit for pre-menstrual tension and painful periods but is contraindicated during pregnancy or lactation.

Unlike HRT, long-term use appears to be safe. No negative side-effects have been observed, although excessive doses may cause nausea, giddiness and headaches.

The Cherokee list more than 800 plants in their compilation of medicines and have been responsible for introducing many of these into modern practice.

Cherokee society was matriarchal one and children took the clan of their mother. Women had an equal voice in tribal affairs and the menopause was seen as a liberating and positive stage of life.

They became invaluable at assisting overburdened young mothers and their experience was highly valued.

We could learn more from them than just herbal wisdom.