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Native plants used by Native Americans

Updated on October 19, 2011

Disappearing native :(

Stewards and Shepherds

And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. Every green plant I give you as food. (Genesis 1)

You may not believe in God, but that's ok, we all differ in some way, just like the flora upon this earth. I have read many books on native plants and I have read several references in those books as to the practical and medicinal uses of plants indigenous to our country. If not for the native peoples of this land, many a perspective settler would have perished not knowing what to eat, how to make shelter, how to clothe ones self etc... from what grows at our feet and above our heads. This is my attempt to elaborate on this subject of diversity of flora in this great nation and to speak in the highest regard for our native peoples to this land and the Creator.

So I might be able to speak of firsthand knowledge and to not make this into a book, I will only choose a few plants known to grow in my home state of Maryland.

I will begin with Bloodroot, a small plant to approx. 8 inches high, it sprouts from the ground rather early here, say about late March, early April. Leaves that are bound tightly together, shoot upward from the ground first, with a ghostly, grayish green color, they quickly unfurl revealing a gorgeous and anemone resembling, white flower with yellow center. This plant is highly toxic, do not ingest.

Bloodroot has been used by natives to treat many skin ailments, such as wart removal, but extreme caution to be observed here as it will destroy and burn skin tissue. Bloodroot makes a very fine red dye and has been used to stain baskets. Pretty to look at, but handle with extreme caution.

Next up, let's talk about something we can eat; say Jerusalem Artichokes. These are members of the sunflower family and they grow very tall sometimes. they have multiple stems and flowers that are yellow in color. The edible part of this plant is the tuber,. The tuber (root) resembles a rhizome (root) like that of an Iris.

This plant food has many nutients and instead of starch, it contains inulin. This inulin can not be digested by our systems and can lead to flatulence. But these guys taste very good and because of the lack of starch, some have recommended them as alternative to potatoes for diabetics.

Another edible, this time from a tree, known as the Paw Paw, it is a smallish tree reaching heights of about 30 feet, it usually grows as an understory tree and is often found near streams. The fruit will ripen in my area about late August or early September and it looks like a greyish-green, rounded kidney bean about 3-5 inches long.

Now get this; it tastes very similar to a banana! Another name for this great tasting fruit is Custard Apple. The Leaves on this beauty can grow to18 inches long and resemble a tobacco leaf (canoe shaped) Flowers are about 2 inches and look like upside down umbrellas, they are waxy looking, puplish brown in color. This tree is also sub-tropical.

Now before you think I have mislead you, the native Americans have eaten or used these previously mentioned plants for thousands of years.

Anyone care for grapes? Fox grapes that is, we have our very own native grape vine from where the Cocord grape has it's origins and the same grape that caused European varities demise and resurection a couple hundred years ago. You can eat these right off the vine, vines snake through underbrush and up into the canopy of large trees like oaks, I have cut a vine that was killing an oak and at the base, the vine was 20 inches around!

Want to make your own Christmas wreath? These are just the vine to use.

Allright, last one and this is another tree, the American Persimmon, this fellow produces many a delicious fruit about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. It has a sepal of four leaves that clings to the rosy orange fruit until frost occur. Be ever so careful not to eat these guys before then or until you see some on the ground, but if you do eat the unripened fruit, you will surely not forget too soon how awful the experience.

Well, that's it for now. I hope you check back from time to time looking to see if I added any new additions, for outside abounds all sorts of interesting and useful plants and they are here for us to use, but remember; only take what you can use and help preserve this gift for future generations and the wildlife that depend on them. Thanks for reading.

Paw Paws


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    • hecate-horus profile image


      6 years ago from Rowland Woods

      Good hub...I too feel that every plant was put here for a purpose.


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