Legends and Uses of the Plants and Flowers of the Prairie

Good Morning!

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.

Over to the left here is Indian hemp or dogbane.  In the old days dogbane was used to ward off evil spells or “bad medicine.”  It was also used as a remedy for headaches.

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

Be sure to order your copy of one today!

Website | + posts

KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
Please refer to https://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules for all contest rules.

19 thoughts on “Legends and Uses of the Plants and Flowers of the Prairie”

  1. I’ve never heard about birch trees protecting you from lightning or about the pictures on the bark. I’m definitely going to check out the trees in my yard. Lightning has struck a few of the evergreen pine trees. They are a lot taller than our birches.

    Plant treatments tha I’ve heard of:

    Aloe- burn treatment

    Cone flowers /echinacea-builds your immune saytem

    garlic -prevents disease …heart

    St Johns Wort-fights depression

    Poppies -morphine

    White willow bark- aspirin

    Cranberries -used for kidney problems

    Ginger- prevents nausea

    Honey and Lemon are in cough drops to soothe a sore throat

  2. I just love your posts, Kay, they’re always so full of knowledge, and so beautifully expressed.

    I love learning about plants, flowers and trees that can be used for food and medicine. It’s so important to know these things, and often better for us to use nature’s medicine when we can.

    I’ve never heard about the birch trees, either, and I’ll definitely be looking for the little thunderbirds next time I’m among birch.

    And Wow on your releases from Samhain! I’m trying to keep up, but they’re just releasing one after another. Now I see two more I’ll have to snatch up.


  3. Kay, this is so interesting. You always find the most fascinating things to blog about. I use a lot of aloe vera and keep it handy. It’s good for all kinds of things.

  4. It really is an interesting exercise when writing a book if you need someone to get sick. If it’s an illnes like a cold or the flu or measles is has to COME from somewhere. You have to catch it from someone else and if your character lives far out of any town with no one coming and going, then they just can’t catch a cold.
    Injuries work better…if you want to harm your characters of course…………….
    and it seems we all do.

  5. Karen great post as always.. It is amazing what we learn from plants and flowers and what kind of healing agents they have…

  6. Hi Kirsten!

    Yes, I’m going to do the same thing the next time I see a birch tree — look for the little thunderbirds. And aren’t those covers beautiful! 🙂

  7. Hi Linda!

    I used to do the same thing with Aloe Vera — had two of the plants in my yard — but now that we’ve moved, I’m going to have to get some more aloe plants — I used them for the same things. 🙂

  8. Good Morning Kathleen!

    Yes, it really is interesting — but then in the past that’s what we had in order to get people over illnesses, and such. 🙂

  9. I’ve never heard the tale of birch trees protecting from lightning either. We had black birch trees in our wood lot growing up and we chewed on the twigs and sometimes made tea from them. I don’t know if it had any medicinal benefits but it tasted as good as the birch beer we could buy at the grocery store. (Birch beer is similar to root beer, a different flavor, and often pink in color as is the tea.)

    One of my favorite wild plants is Lambs quarter. It can be an extreme nuisance in the garden but when its small and tender it can be used in place of spinach and has the same nutrients. And it grows everywhere, much better than my spinach some years.

  10. Yes, and one also can get that xylitol syrup from the birch trees that helps those who can’t have the sugar very easily.

    I have never heard of Lambs quarter — but then there is so much I don’t know — and wish I did know — about herbs and plants. Thanks so much for telling us your thoughts. 🙂

  11. Karen,
    Thanks for another interesting and informative post. I had not heard the lore of the birch before. Don’t think I’ll test the lightening protective properties, however.

    When I was in college I heard stag horn sumac berries could be used to make a drink similar to lemonade. Never did try it. While checking this out, I read they mixed the dried leaves with tobacco for their pipes.

    I can attest to the effectiveness of the Aloe plant. My son is a blacksmith and works construction. He gets burns both jobs and I make sure I have several plants available at all time. It works well on sunburns as well as “regular” burns.

    The large, soft, thick leaves of the mullein plant can be used for toilet paper if you are caught out in the woods without. When checking on this plant, I was surprised at the many medicinal uses. The seeds however, are toxic.

    The dandelion is also useful. The young leaves and buds can be eaten. The root can be used. My mother’s cousin made dandelion wine with the petals.

    Hilltop Farmwife, Thanks for the information on lambs quarter. I am forever pulling it up in our gardens. I’ll start using it in our

Comments are closed.