Cherokee plants and their role in the life of native Cherokee sustainable agricultural practices is a topic that Pat Gwin has spoken on for a decade at various conferences, native plant walks and events. Nove 20 he will share that wisdom at Muskogee Garden Club’s monthly meeting.
“Ethnobotany is strictly about the native plants and Ethnobiology includes animals,” said Gwin. “My talk will be 95% about plants. Part One of the talk is gardening with heirlooms and Part Two is about ethnoforestry which is usually the more popular part of the talk.”
Gwin is the director of the Cherokee Nation Seed Bank and Native Plant Center at Cherokee Nation Natural Resources in Tahlequah where he helps coordinate the heirloom seed exchange program. He also helps plant and oversee the Don Guy Memorial Garden on the grounds of the Cherokee Nation complex where they grow heirloom plants in a display garden.
“One thing that people don’t think about is the fact that in the past gardening was done to ensure survival in the winter months and today most gardeners grow summertime produce,” Gwin said.
Cherokee Ethnobotany refers to the many roles plants have played in traditional Cherokee society as food, shelter, weapons and medicine. One purpose of the Natural Resources Department is to increase and preserve environmental knowledge of Cherokee wild herbs, vegetables, trees and fruit.
Gwin pointed out that most people don’t realize the chemical-free nature of livingwith native plants, utilizing them for food and growing them for medicine.
“Western medicine has its roots in medicinal plants,” said Gwin.”Traditional plants played a role in that.”
A link at the Cherokee Nation website (http://hort.li/1C4n) lists plants and animals with links to articles about them. For example, Gray Squirrels are described as an historically important food source, with skins used for hats and pouches.
The Cherokee Natural Resources Board donated five copies of the English version and five copies of the Cherokee language version of their recent book to be given away as doorprizes at the meeting.
Here are some examples from the Cherokee Nation’s 2014 book, “Wild Plants of the Cherokee Nation” –
Sweet Everlasting, Gosdudv or Pseudognaphalium obstifolium is a member of the Aster family. The Cherokee name means ash-like and is named that because the flowers and stems look ashy. Grows 1-2 feet tall in disturbed, open areas. A tea is made of the aerial plant parts and drunk to prevent or cure colds and respiratory ailments.
Rattlesnake Master, Selugwoy, Eryngium yuccifolium, Corn Leaves Weed, Button Snakeroot is a member of the Apiaceae or Parsley plant family. It is known by Cherokees as a warrior’s plant as well as a survival kit. The button of the root is carried as protection, consumed for energy, snakebite remedy and cancer inhibitor.
It is a perennial plant that matures at 3 feet tall with white flowers. Rattlesnake Master thrives in prairies, wooded areas and along roadsides but has become rare due to urban clearing and spraying.
The Cherokee Nation’s heirloom native seedbank (http://hort.li/1C4k) will open for requests in Feb. 201, and those who attend today will find out how to obtain seeds for their gardens. The number of seed packets distributed each year has ranged from one to five thousand, depending on the weather and growing conditions.
The seeds were collected over a 20-year period from traditional Cherokee areas, grown locally, saved and grown again to ensure a good supply of seeds that are direct descendants of traditional crops. They began giving away seeds in 2007.
“This was a bumper crop year for the seedbank,” said Gwin. “We’ll have plenty to share.”
You can watch the October, 2013, Oklahoma Gardening segment on the Cherokee Nation’s Don Guy Memorial Garden at http://hort.li/1BT3.