Spring, plants, fresh grass, the smell of good earth and food gathering, and the reminder that the earth refreshes itself every year. I once did a series on preparedness and different plants that one could eat, use for medicine and that sort of thing — in truth, one can never be prepared enough in my consideration. That said, let me take the time to say that there is much to be considered when talking about herbs, plants, food and medicine. If ever the “powers that be” try to starve a section of the population — pull up that series again.
Much of what I’m going to blog about today comes from the book by Fances Densmore, HOW INDIANS USE WILD PLANTS FOR FOOD, MEDICINE, & CRAFTS. But let me start by quoting this section, because I found it fascinating: From page 323 (the book starts on page 285):
“In the old days the Indians had few diseases, and so there was not a demand for a large variety of medicines. A medicine man usually treated one special disease and treated it successfully. He did this in accordance with his dream. A medicine man would not try to dream of all herbs and treat all diseases, for then he could not expect to succeed in all nor to fulfill property the dream of any one herb or animal. He would depend on too many and fail in all. That is one reason why our medicine men lost their power when so many diseases cam among us with the advent of the white man.” This was said by a Sioux and is quoted in the book.
And one more quote from the book: “It is a teaching of the Midewiwin that every tree, bush, and plant has a use.”
This is the legend of Winabojo and the Birch Tree. Winabojo was a human being who was mysterious and had many powers. As the legend goes, Winabojo was taken by the Thunderbird to his nest, where Winabojo became a play object of the Thunderbird’s children. However, the Thunderbirds didn’t realize their power and Winabojo became afraid that they would kill him with their play. In order to escape them, he hid inside a fallen birch tree. It saved his life because the Thunderbirds could not get to him so long as he hid beneath the “king-child,” so called because the birch tree is their own child. Winabojo stayed there until the Thunderbirds drifted away and Winabojo said, “As long as the world stands this tree will be a protection and benefit to the human race. If they want to possess anything, they must wrap it in birch bark and it will not decay. The bark of this tree will be useful in many ways, and when people want to take the bark from the tree, they must offer tobacco to express their gratitude.” — From the book, HOW INDIANS USE WILD PLANTS FOR FOOD, MEDICINE & CRAFTS. Now here’s the interesting part: Did you know that it is the birch tree that will stand off lightning during a storm? If you stand beneath a birch tree during a storm, you will not be struck by lightning. And did you know that the little “pictures” on the bark of the tree are pictures of the little thunderbirds? Some localities contain more distinct pictures of these children — but the next time you see a birch tree, look for these pictures right there on the bark of the tree.
Interestingly, although the Bible talks about witches, many people don’t believe that they existed. But the American Indian knew that they did, and had many remedies to counter-act the spells cast by those of evil intentions.
Wild fruits and berries abounded on the Plains. There were wild strawberries, the wild cherry, red currant, chokecherry, blackberry, raspberry, Juneberries — “Take some Juneberries with you,” is a saying with the Chippewa Indians. There were wild grapes and blueberries, wild plum trees. Most fruits and berries were either eaten raw or dried and often were eaten with fat and/or pounded dried buffalo and stored in bags — this is what we know as pemmican.
And did you know that the common milkweed was used as a vegetable. The flowers were stewed after being cut up — it’s even reported that sometimes a man might eat this “preserve” before a feast, that he might be able to eat more.
We live in a land full of food, if we could only know it — and one must really, really know it well because there are also plants and fruits in nature that are poisonous and one must be able to distinguish between the two. But for the American Indian, who was trained from birth to know what was edible and what wasn’t, the world was full of mystery, food, and adventure. Is it any wonder, then, that the American Indian would venture out into the world with nothing on him but the clothes on his back and his weapons. When one knows what to look for in Nature, Nature does provide.
Did you know that my books are filled with little bits of the American Indian culture and wisdom as told to me by elders of the tribe, and also from books? At present I have six ebooks at Samhain that are sold for almost a song at this link: http://store.samhainpublishing.com/karen-kay-pa-1676.ht