A Native American gardener shared her cultural knowledge of native Indiana, Fort Wayne, plants and their medicinal uses.
The marshes (protected areas in Fort Wayne) contain special grasses and floral plants. Sage is a component of the sweet grasses and is used in ceremonies. One ceremony is burn or smudge to purify area, which will get rid of evil and impurities-an herbal cleanse?
Sweet grass also grows in and near the marsh, women braid the grass and wear around neck to repel insects and counteract sweat aroma. (Personally I’m not sure this will work as well as a bath, but something is better than nothing.)
Another bush native to the area is Spice Bush, the leaves smell like citrus and the berries have an all spice aroma. Lovely. Medicinal use—cleansing.
Corn is a major component of the Green Corn ceremony of the Miami Nation. White corn: silk can be tied and put in a tea, which is a medicine for kidneys. Use the jawbone of a deer to scrap corn, then grind the kernels in order to make tortillas and bread. After the husks and stalks have dried use them as fire tender-can you imagine how great the air would smell?
Corn is important to Miami and they have several words referring to the vegetable in addition to using songs to chase away crows and encourage growth, the harvest and the process. How sweet is the community of people who put music to their tasks?
I love Redbud trees when they are in bloom and apparently the flowers when seeped taste similar to green tea.
Slippery Elm is another tree that has medicinal use for constipation; diarrhea and if you hold the bark in your mouth your sore throat will be reduced. Pulverize to make into powder and used in tea.
She showed us a basket made with American Elm and a braid on top is made from hickory, which gave a solid beautiful reddish brown color. The natives peel bark off the tree in large enough slits to draw the pattern on one side and used the portage as glue to hold it together.
She also shared their saying for sap collecting:
freeze at night warm in the morning.
When they have sugar dried from the tree collection they put it in a basket and bury to keep from animals.
Different plants can be used as cords for weaving, especially fishing baskets: Mulberry, milkweed, and dogbane (dogbane is also used as digitalis).
Buckeyes can be strung into a necklace and helps with arthritis and sore joints. Men put buckeyes in pockets. The inners of the nut can be used as a meat substitute…I’m not buying it. 😉
Walnut: I have experience with using fallen walnuts as a stain for furniture. The rich brown tint is unbelievable
The nut flesh helps with brain worms and memory.
Hazelnuts can be hulled and made into flour—can you imagine how many of those little fellows it’d take to make a cup of flour?
Sumac-fragrant collect berries three days post rain-strip them off the branch and steep in tea to prevent cold. Leftover can be used as a pink dye.
Mullein: I’m not familiar with this plant but she said it has yellow flowers and the leaves are fluffy like lambs ears. Mullein helps with respiratory infection. The leaves can be wrapped on cut to reduce bleeding (shrinks tissue). When a fellow attendee asked if there is documented validation our little bear responded: TRUTH.
The stalk can be used as a torch and a spindle as a bow and spindle to start a fire.
Poke: I’m not sure what this is but she had a lot of laughter when she talked about eating the green and white plant when grilled or crumb coated and fried. If the poke gets bigger and has red streaks (tropical looking) don’t eat.
The berries are used by a vet to treat worms and as a dye (purple).
Remember: Green, wash and eat
Red, dead if eat.
This was the most interesting of the topics discussed. The cattail leaves and roots are used to make mats. In the fall dig up roots, burn on fire and take out the inside to eat. In the spring they eat the plant like asparagus, when the cone is white and green soak in water and eat like roasted corn. Take the cone and shove through the hole of a clean milk jug and the “tail” can be used as flour. Store in fridge.
Anytime a native gardener digs up or alters a plant it’s important to talk to the plant, like talking to a friend. State appreciation for the life and nutrition it provides and cover the root or damaged area to heal the plant and the plant will heal the person. (I didn’t do justice to the lyrical loveliness of this notion, but I believe in the value and will attempt to “talk” to my plants.)
Fertilizer isn’t a friend of the Native American and wishes more farmers committed to GMO. River Rice hasn’t been present in the environment for centuries and some has been discovered around the bend of one of the three rivers in Fort Wayne.
On tradition the Miami maintain is to set out a plate at Thanksgiving for ancestors, a symbolic reminder of the ancients who have passed. I liked the idea!