This article makes an interesting point about Native Americans. It calls them “survivors of the highest order” because not only did they live off the land, they protected their resources and lived sustainably. They may not have had much in the way of technology, but there’s still a lot we can learn from them. In […]
Once as a child, I was running through a field grown over with tall grass, with a beautiful blue sky above me, when I stopped dead in my tracks upon seeing a rattlesnake. It was coiled and, yes, was threatening me with its tail.
My entire body tensed and in one quick moment I sprinted in the other direction. I don’t think I’ve ever run faster! My grandfather, who is from the Rosebud Sioux tribe, calmed me down quickly. He had grown up in the Black Hills area in South Dakota where there are an abundance of rattlesnakes and where treating snake bites is a weekly occurrence. Snakes aren’t the only thing to be wary of in the Black Hills. Dog bites, buffalo attacks, and mountain lion ambushes all were things to take into consideration. Let’s take a look at some things the Native Americans used to help recover from some incidents.
If Bitten By A Snake Or Animal …
So, what happened if you were bitten by a snake or an animal? First, don’t panic! There are several things that you can do to prevent swelling and pain. Native Americans have been using the plantain leaves for centuries to help reduce swelling and as an anti-toxin. According to Dr. Christopher’s Herbal Legacy website, the plantain was used for a variety of illnesses and was a key remedy to cure the rattlesnake bite. Native Americans also used them for battle bruises and for drawing out any type of snake venom. The Gwen’s Nest health website says “Plantain has been used since ancient times for snake bites, mad dog bites, and a variety of internal diseases. … Plantain herb can be used internally and externally for many different conditions. Basically, anything dealing with a toxin or venom … I have personally used it to remedy poison ivy/rashes, mosquito bites in children who have allergies to them, and bee stings.”
The plantain leaves can be chewed up and applied to a wound to help swelling. Another option would be black cohosh, which has several different applications. The Southeast Wise Women website explains that “Black cohosh has been in Native American medicine for centuries and was also used by European settlers. Native Americans worked with black cohosh to treat snake bite and as a ceremonial herb to bring visions.”
While there are several other remedies that work OK on their own, a combination of a few of them make a serious fighting power against snake bites and animal wounds. Caroline Thompson at Livestrong found that “The Menominees Indians used witch hazel to reduce swelling and inflammation. They boiled the leaves and rubbed the liquid on the area that needed treatment. In a 1994 study at the department of physiology and pharmacology at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, researchers concluded that witch hazel does indeed contain anti-inflammatory substances.” While all of these can help you in the case of a snake or an animal wound, if you are ever bitten in the neck or near a major artery, find professional help. Still, if you’re planning a trip where there may be a higher chance of an animal or snake bite, bring some of the previously mentioned herbs with you and enjoy the trip!
While I would still run away if I came across a snake in a field, I at least now know of some ways to help myself in the event of a snake or animal wound.
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or cure any particular health condition. Please first consult with a qualified health professional.
Brown, Gwen. “Plantain Herb: The Anti-toxin | Gwen’s Nest.” Gwens Nest. 21 May 2010. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://gwens-nest.com/plantain-herb-the-anti-toxin/>
Thompson, Caroline. “Native American Herbal Remedies.” Livestrong.com. 20 Oct. 2013. Web. 22 May 2016
Shraddhananda. “Black Cohosh.” Black Cohosh. Southeast Wise Women: Honoring Women and the Earth, 14 Nov. 2011. Web. 22 May 2016
“Snakebite.” Snakebite. Dr. Christophers Herbal Legacy. Web. 22 May 2016. <http://www.herballegacy.com/Snakebite.html>
If you love to fish, you might have wondered how the indigenous people of the Americas managed to fish without all that expensive equipment so many people seem to use today.
When you think about it, many native tribes relied on fish as one of their main food sources, but without metal hooks, reels, rods or sonar devices, how did they manage to catch enough fish to not only survive, but to thrive?
My father was an avid fisherman, and although he liked his expensive reels, when he took my brothers and me camping, we rarely used any type of equipment other than the occasional net, which we actually brought for frogs. (I will tell you about my father’s favorite fishing method, the one he learned from his grandfather, later on.)
Let’s take a look at some of the forgotten or little-known ways that native people caught fish and other aquatic foods.
Spears and Other Obvious Methods
Most people think of spears as a means of catching fish — like Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. While native people certainly did use this method, it isn’t always as easy as old Tom Hanks made it look like in the middle of the movie. If one was lucky, rocks provided a good platform from which to stand and wait for a fish, or a school of fish to pass. Canoes also were used, with one person navigating the canoe and holding it steady when they needed to, while two or more other persons would spear fish.
In a pinch, even the old bow and arrow could be used in shallow water. If the water was too deep, you could easily lose the fish, and your arrow, in the depths. A few tribes, such as the Powhatan, did make a type of line, called a “pemmenaw,” which was attached to arrows so they could be retrieved, along with the fish.
During the winter, a common method to catch fish was the lure and spear method. A hole was cut in the ice, and then a white piece of bone was lowered into the hole on a piece of sinew. Fish would follow this “shiny” bone to the surface, then speared.
Nets or Obstruction Techniques
These methods remind me of my father’s favorite fishing method. He often referred to it as “the lazy way to eat.” Native people were known for making obstructions that worked like a net that they placed across the opening of streams or channels. These were made from woven reeds or other types of tough grasses, tied to stakes. These stakes were then placed on either side of a channel or part of a fast running stream, very much like a fence. Fish were held fast to this “fence” by the swift moving current.
Native people used similar types of traps as well. One method involved putting reeds or small twigs in the water, making a giant V. Rather than trying to swim back the way they came, the fish would congregate at the small part of the V, trying to find an exit. Fish could simply be pulled out by hand.
Another common trap, called a weir, was made from reeds. It formed a type of funnel that fish would swim in to, but found they could not escape due to either a fast current or multitude of fish behind them. These weirs were quite large, sometimes being three feet wide at the opening and about 10 feet in length!
Still other tribes used nets made from plant fibers. These large nets were then suspended between people standing in two canoes stationed on either side of a river. Once a few fish were caught, they were placed in the boat, then the net replaced in the water. Since the nets were not strong like nylon nets, they could only hold a few pounds of fish before they needed to be pulled in. Over the course of a day, however, this resulted in a bounty of fish. This also ensured that plenty of fish were left to replenish the waters.
Another type of net involved using a tree branch that made a large Y. Reeds or plant fibers were then tied and woven between the Y, making something like a very loosely woven basket. A person could stand in the river or ocean, or on a rock or in a canoe and scoop up fish, or wait patiently until the fish swam over the net, and then quickly pull up the net.
My father would employ us kids to get sticks for firewood. He would then select a few dozen sticks about 2 inches in diameter. He used these sticks to make a large U in the water, usually in front of a swift moving part of the stream. The fish we caught, usually rainbow trout, would become trapped in the U, unable to swim out due to the strong current. This worked remarkably well and we often had fish for dinner each night, as well as fish to take home to our mother.
Seasons and Tides
Native people understood the cycles of nature. Pacific Northwest tribes knew when the salmon were returning to spawn, and would wait for them to finish spawning, before taking their dead or dying bodies as meat. In the fall, tribes could collect, literally, thousands of salmon. Drying the meat would ensure that they would always have something to eat, no matter what happened that winter.
Atlantic salmon will return again and again to spawn, so native people would make traps or use nets to catch them on their return route, after they had spawned and lay eggs. Indigenous tribes knew that if they took salmon before they spawned, there would soon be no more salmon to catch.
Those who lived near the seas quickly learned to catch fish, crabs and other sea life in tide pools. Tide pools make natural traps for fish, leaving them in very shallow pools after the tide goes out. Some tribes would take nothing more than baskets to the tide pools and pull out fish and crabs by hand.
Native people learned to find other food sources by watching nature at work. They knew when they could collect turtle eggs, birds’ eggs, clams, frogs, crayfish, sea otters, seals and basketfuls of migrating anchovies.
What alternative fish-catching methods have you used? Share your tips in the section below:
It was a food invented by the Native Americans, who depended on it when traveling on long and adventurous journeys when food was scarce, or when there simply wasn’t time to hunt and gather enough to eat. That was a lesson well-learned by many early European settlers, explorers and fur traders in North America.
It was pemmican, which was the ultimate survival food for centuries and quickly became a staple food for fur traders, voyageurs and Arctic and Antarctic explorers. The reason was simple. It was high in protein and calories, and high in fat. Fat offers the best calories for cold weather and the most calories for people who were subject to brutally physical work, temperatures and conditions.
The word “pemmican” is a derivative of a Cree Indian word “pimihkan.” Curiously, the word “pimi” is the Cree word for “greasy fat.” On a fundamental level, pemmican is a mixture of dried and powdered meat, animal fat, wild berries and salt. The fat to meat ratio was typically 1:1, or 50 percent powdered meat and 50 percent fat. Some recipes vary that ratio, and typically less fat was used in warmer climates.
Prepared properly, pemmican can last for years and years, although adding anything to it besides meat and fat will reduce the shelf life. There are reports of some pemmican lasting 50 or more years. According to a popular social studies book used in Canadian schools, “Pemmican was high in calories and protein, and could be stored in leather bags for years at a time. It was also portable, much like protein bars available today.”
A curious side note on animal fat is that it has food preservative properties. Pioneer women would pack a crock with cooked meats and pour a layer of fat over the top, allowing it to cool and congeal to preserve the meat.
The recipe by the old Hudson Bay Company – which was founded in 1670 and was key to the fur trade — used buffalo meat and buffalo fat in addition to the marrow from the buffalo bones. We’ll get into the specifics of that type of recipe in a bit. I’ve experimented with various pemmican recipes and ways to prepare and enjoy this very rustic and primitive food.
At the outset, the recipe used game animals from moose to elk and venison as the primary ingredients. Eventually, beef emerged as the primary meat ingredient and it was most commonly used by Arctic and Antarctic explorers including Admiral Peary, Roald Amundsen, Robert Falcon Scott, Fridtjof Nansen, and Sir Ernest Shackleton. In many cases both the men and their sled dogs subsisted on pemmican.
An important consideration for any recipe in the last century up to today is the type of fat used in pemmican recipes. Beef tallow and beef marrow are the fats of choice, in addition to suet. Suet is the hard, beef fat found around the kidneys and loins of cattle. Avoid lard in your pemmican recipes. Lard is pork fat and I have found few recipes that recommend it going back 200 years.
The meat is just as important and should be trimmed of all fat and sliced into thin strips. Reserve the fat for rendering, but you don’t want any fat on the meat because of a critical step in the recipe process. That step involves drying the meat.
There are varying drying approaches that we’ll cover, but the critical success factor is that the strips of meat are hard and brittle. The goal is to dry the strips of meat to a hardness that will allow you to break it and crush it into something approaching a dust.
As time went on, varying dried fruits were added to the recipe. Native Americans used dried choke cherries and cranberries. Later recipes used by adventurers and explorers added dried cherries, blueberries and currants, all of which were also pounded into bits.
The dried berries add a vitamin component, including vitamin C. The amounts vary by recipe, but you always can adjust to your taste.
Classic Pemmican Recipe
The following recipe was used during the 1700s.
Hudson Bay pemmican was made from buffalo meat. The lean meat was cut into strips and dried in the sun for two to three days or over a fire until it was hard and brittle. The strips of hardened meat were then pounded into a powder, either with a wooden mallet on a stump or between two stones.
The fat and marrow of the buffalo was then melted and mixed into the powdered meat to make a paste (using a 50/50 mixture). This was then allowed to harden and was wrapped and rolled into a rectangular piece of buffalo hide. The cold temperatures of the Arctic and far north kept it from spoiling, although pemmican stores very well.
Admiral Peary’s expedition to the North Pole subsisted on a pemmican made from dried beef ground into a powder, beef tallow or beef fat and dried fruit.
You don’t have to crush the meat between two stones; you can use more contemporary approaches. These include:
- A hand-turned meat grinder. This gets the dried meat into small bits and you can continue to run it through in a series of batches to get it as fine as you want.
- A blender. Just make sure to do it in batches until you get the consistency you want.
- A food processor. But if there is any moisture at all, the speed of the processor will turn the meat into a paste, so grind the dried meat in bursts.
The size and consistency of your pulverized, dried beef can range from small bits to the dusty powder used by pioneers. That’s up to you. I prefer the small bits, but make sure they’re very small or you’ll spend the rest of the day trying to get bits of dried beef out of your teeth.
I use a food dehydrator. It’s the same one I use to make jerky; I just extend the drying time. To test a piece, take it out of the dehydrator and tape it on the counter. It should make a hard sound rather than the dull thud you’d get from a piece of jerky. Next, snap a piece. If it breaks like peanut brittle, you’re done. If it bends, it needs more time.
You also could hang the strips over a fire for two or three days. I tend to prefer the dehydrator but in the field, I’d use the fire method in a heartbeat.
This is a slow process. You should start by cutting the tallow and/or suet into chunks. If you’re also adding marrow, slice that up into one-inch pieces. Add all to a cast-iron frying pan over low to medium heat and toss often. Eventually, the fat will pool into the bottom of the pan, leaving some brown chunks behind. Filter the fat to remove the chunks. If there are smaller bits and pieces of brown bits left in the pan, I’ll even run it through some cheese cloth to clarify the fat. Don’t let it smoke or burn. That will give the fat and the resulting pemmican an off taste.
Dried Fruit Tips
Whether I’m using fresh fruit or dried fruit bought at the store, I’ll put the fruits into a dehydrator. Even dried, packaged fruit has some residual moisture. Once the fruit is dried, I’ll pulverize it in the food processor or the blender to break it into bits.
Putting it All Together
I like a 1:1 mix of beef and fat. It’s easier to measure that way. For every cup of dried, pulverized beef, add a cup of fat. The fat should be warm, not hot and not congealed. Mix the fat and meat together with your hands or two spoons. I put it into a tabletop mix-master and use the dough hook to blend everything. If you’re off the grid you may have to use your hands.
Add the dried berries to your taste. I usually add a half-cup and mix it all together again. If you want, you can add some salt to suit your taste. For a cup of meat and a cup of fat plus a half-cup of fruit, I’ll add a half teaspoon of salt when I add the fruit so the salt gets blended into the mixture, as well.
If you want to make more, just double or triple the amounts. That’s the other thing I like about a 50/50 ratio of meat to fat. It makes the multiplication easier.
When done, I’ll spoon the pemmican into a cupcake pan and flatten the tops with the back of a knife. I then refrigerate it for about three hours and turn the tray over onto the counter. Each pemmican cake will be greasy to the touch, so place each one in a plastic sandwich bag unless you want to wrap it in a piece of rawhide. I tend to favor the plastic bags. You can store them in a cool, dark place, but mine usually ends up in the fridge.
Tips on Eating Pemmican
Three recipes for eating pemmican have emerged over the years. The first is my favorite.
- Fried pemmican rechaud. This recipe involves frying the pemmican in its own fat. Wild onions like ramps and potatoes were often added until browned, followed by two or three tablespoons of flour and salt to taste. This can be spread on bread or crackers and eaten like a sandwich. I offered some to my wife at the counter once and she walked away shaking her head with disgust. I guess pemmican is kind of a guy thing.
- Rubaboo. This recipe was a favorite of fur traders. A chunk of pemmican about the size of your fist was dropped into a quart of boiling water. Flour is supposed to be added next, and I usually mix the flour with a little pemmican first so I don’t get lumps. Onions, potatoes and carrots can be added and some salt for seasoning. Fur traders also would add a little sugar and chopped salt pork. It will have a soup-like consistency and was eaten that way. I like it with sourdough bread.
- Raw. This was the eating method of choice for Arctic and Antarctic explorers and Canadian voyageurs. A chunk of pemmican was held in one hand and sliced with a knife and chewed. I’ve tried it and it’s not bad. In France, there is a delicacy known as “lardo.” It’s sliced lard and is eaten like a slice of cheese. Suffice it to say, I tried it once and that was enough. Maybe I’ll appreciate it more if I ever go to the Arctic.
Give it a Try
This is a good survival food as a last resort and it has been shown to have a good shelf-life if prepared properly. You can use any game animal, but I would start with beef and make a small batch to start. Five pounds of raw beef will give you one pound of dried beef, and that should be enough for a trial run. Grab some suet while you’re at it so you have enough fat for a 50/50 mix. Enjoy!
How do you make pemmican? Share your tips in the section below:
When most people think of Native Americans, they picture the tribes of the Plains, riding on horseback, hunting buffalo and waiting out the winter in their teepees.
But not all Native Americans lived this way. Consider the people we often call Eskimos.
The word “Eskimo” means “eaters of raw meat” in the language of the Algonquin tribe. It was the French who began calling the native people they found up north by this name. While there are numerous tribes, such as the Inupiat, the Inupiaq, and Yupik, for the sake of this article, we will refer to these tribes as the Inuit.
The Inuit tribes that lived in the far north somehow survived in far harsher climates than the Plains people ever had to endure. How could humans have survived in areas with low light levels for part of the year, extreme wind chills, and temperatures of minus 30 or more?
There were a great many skills that helped these native people survive. While not many of us have a chance to hunt seals, we would be wise to take note of some of the survival skills that allowed these native tribes to thrive in a very unforgiving climate.
The Inuit people consumed a diet that was perfectly suited for the environment in which they lived. During the summer, the Inuit would move inland, away from the coast, and hunt caribou, which, like the Plains tribes, provided them with almost everything they needed. The tough skin on the head was used to make the soles of shoes, and the softer skin from the belly for clothing that was close to the skin. The Inuit were careful to use everything from their kill, as it took four animals to make one jacket or parka. A pair of pants for one person required two more caribou hides. The antlers were used as tools, tendons were used for thread, and fat was rendered to store food for later, also to use as fuel for “lamps.” During the short summers, berries were gathered, birds were caught and the meat dried, eggs were enjoyed, berries and herbs were gathered and stored. Fresh water fish also were caught from lakes or streams. The Inuit diet consisted almost entirely of meat, with only the few plants that could be found during the very short summer to add some variety.
During winter, dogs were invaluable hunting partners. The Inuit stayed close to the coastline. Before the sea edges froze, seals would often sun themselves on the sand or rocks. Killing a seal during these times was a challenge and took real teamwork. In the winter, dogs would sniff out the air holes these mammals used. The Inuit would lie in wait and when the seal came up for air, they speared it. Seals were as prized as caribou, but for different reasons. Their hides were waterproof, making them valuable for shoes and gloves. Seal and walrus meat was extremely nourishing. Whales were difficult to catch, as the Inuit had to hunt them using kayaks and spears; however, when they did kill them, they used every single part. The fat, or blubber, is very high in calories and helped the Inuit stay warm as they burned many calories to maintain their body heat. The blubber also was used as oil for lanterns, which provided heat and light.
Before you can get around, you need to know your way around! The Inuit used the stars and sun (when it was available) to navigate, especially on the water. On land, they often used landmarks or erected one, if they thought it was necessary.
The Inuit used sleds made from whale bones with skins stretched over them. Dogs would pull the sleds through the snow. On the water, kayaks were the usual means of transportation, but when moving larger families or supplies (such as whale meat) larger boats, called umiaqs, were used. If the umiaq used oars, it was usually the women who operated them. Paddles were used by men. While most kayaks were made from driftwood, umiaqs were made from whale bones lashed together or pegged together. Seal skins were then stretched over the frame.
For a typical umiaq of about 30 feet, seven to eight seal skins would be needed to cover it. While these boats were large, they were fairly lightweight and could be carried by two or three men. A 24-foot umiaq weighs a mere 150 pounds, on average. Dogs also were counted on to carry or drag packs during the summer months. The husky dog that the Intuits used comes from the Inuit breeding of dogs with wolves. Huskies can survive the harsh winters with their thick coats and are very strong. Most huskies easily can carry a 40- to 50-pound pack all day.
One of the best-known traits of the Inuit people was their wintertime shelters, called igloos. Igloos were houses made of snow and ice and were the best winter shelters, as snow causes air to be trapped, making it a very good insulator. A typical igloo could be built in less than one hour by two men with sharp knives. After the blocks were cut and stacked, the snow was packed on the outside for further insulation. Sometimes, several igloos would be connected via tunnels, enabling large families to have some privacy, but still stay together. Igloos often were warmed with homemade lanterns, fueled by the melted fat from seals and whales. So while outside temps might be -50 degrees Fahrenheit, inside the igloo, it could be 60 to 70 degrees.
Summer shelters usually were made of whale bones lashed together and covered with hides. The floors also would be covered with hides for insulation and comfort.
Almost all clothing was made from seal and caribou hides. In the coldest winter months, two layers of clothing were worn. The one next to the skin had the fur turned inward; the outer layer had the fur facing outward. Caribou hide has natural air pockets, which make it super-insulating. Parkas often were made from caribou hides, with the fur inside, and waterproof seal hides on the outside. Many parkas had hoods edged in fur. Gloves were made much like parkas. While polar bear skins were valuable, these were not hunted often as the risk was too great.
Perhaps we never will live in environments like those of the Inuit people, but we all can learn from the creativity, resourcefulness and determination that kept them alive.
Would you want to live as an Inuit? Do you believe you’d have what it takes? Share your thoughts in the section below:
Thousands of years ago, the Anasazi tribe of Native Americans made their homes in the cliffs of southeastern Utah. Their cliff dwellings provided a cool reprieve from the desert sun, warmth from the cool, dry nights and a measure of defense from their enemies.
Now, a modern off-grid home built into the cliffs is on the market.
In designing their home, dubbed “Cliff Haven,” Bill and Barbara Houghton created a contemporary cliff dwelling that offers 21st century conveniences along with the best of off-the-grid living. Located in Utah’s breathtaking Montezuma Canyon, just outside the small town of Monticello, Cliff Haven is a 2,100-square-foot three-bedroom, two-bathroom home. It overlooks 12 acres of property that includes a garden, a vineyard and a mature orchard.
However, the care of the home and the property is getting to be too much work for the elderly couple, who built the home in 1986. Their loss can be your gain. The Houghtons are hoping to find a new owner who will love their home as much as they do, and they are offering the incredible property at auction on Jan. 21.
A 2,400-volt solar system that provides 120-volt current powers the home. A well provides fresh water, and a 12,000-gallon cistern collects rainwater and runoff. In case of emergency, the home has propane as well as a backup diesel generator. The home also has WiFi and a phone line.
With an elevation of 7,069 feet, Cliff Haven offers sweeping views of the canyon, and hikes around the property frequently reveal artifacts, such as arrowheads or pottery, from the Anasazi. The entire area is rich in history and beauty. Within a 90-minute drive are Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Lake Powell, Monument Valley and Four Corners.
George Matochan, who lives about a mile away from Cliff House, moved to his off-the-grid home several years ago to escape the rat race lifestyle of Chicago. In an interview on the Cliff House website, Matochan comments on the strong sense of community among his off-the-grid neighbors.
“You depend on your neighbors here,” he says, adding that he knows people in Utah who live a mile or more away better than people who lived next door in his former community.
With walls of solid rock, Cliff House is energy efficient. Behind the home, Houghton created a tunnel that provides fresh cool air, the opportunity for water drainage as well as a fire escape. A separate three-car garage is on the property, and there is ample room for expansion.
If you would like to know more about this one-of-a-kind property, you can take a video tour here. Open House tours of the property will be held on Jan. 7 and 14, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. local time. For more information on the sealed bidding process, call 385-800-2045 or visit http://utahcliffhouse.com/.
Would you want to live in an off-grid cliff house? Share your thoughts in the section below:
22 TREES THAT CAN BE TAPPED FOR SAP AND SYRUP
When winter wanes and spring approaches, wild foodists all across North America tap into the time-honored tradition of sugar production – mainly, the transformation of M sap into maple syrup and sugar. This process, passed on from the Native Americans to the early settlers, is still quite popular today, and is responsible for one of the few wild foods that can be purchased commercially in most supermarkets.
Most people associate syrup with the maple tree, and although much of today’s syrup does originate from the sugar maple, all species of maple can be tapped. Even better, many other trees from other genera can be tapped to extract sap, which ultimately can be turned into delicious syrup.
In this post, I won’t be discussing the methods involved in tapping for sugar production. If you are unfamiliar with the process, there are a variety of great websites, videos, and books to guide you. Rather, I would like to provide a list of various trees (maples, birches, walnuts, etc.) that you can tap successfully to yield wonderful, sugary products.
Sugar maple (Acer saccharum)
The sugar maple yields the highest volume and concentration of sap, making it a superior candidate for tapping. Its sugar content is approximately 2.0%.
Black maple (Acer nigrum)
Black maples produce as much sweet sap as sugar maples. The trees closely resemble sugar maples and can be distinguished by their leaves. Black maples tend to have leaves with three major lobes, while leaves from sugar maples have five lobes.
Red maple (Acer rubrum)
Sap yields from red maples are generally lower than those from sugar maples, although some tapping operations utilize only red maples. The trees bud out earlier in the spring, which may reduce syrup quality near the end of sugaring season.
Silver maple (Acer saccharinum)
Like red maples, silver maples bud out earlier in the spring and have a lower sugar content than sugar maples (1.7% compared to 2.0%).
Norway maple (Acer platanoides)
Native to Europe, Norway maples are now considered invasive throughout much of the United Sates. They are not as sweet as sugar maples, yet can be tapped regardless.
Boxelder (Acer negundo)
Also known as Manitoba maple, boxelders can be found growing in urban areas and along roadsides. They’re not recommended as a first choice for sugar production, although maple producers in the Canadian prairies rely almost exclusively on boxelders for their sap. Research suggests that boxelders may yield only half the syrup of typical sugar maples.
Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum)
Bigleaf maple is the main species of maple growing between central California and British Columbia. Native Americans have tapped these trees for centuries, and although the sugar content and sap flow are less than those from sugar maples, these trees can still provide a commercially viable source of syrup for the Pacific Coast.
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Canyon maple, big tooth maple (Acer grandidentatum)
These trees are found primarily throughout the Rocky Mountain states. They also grow in Texas, where they are referred to as Uvalde bigtooth maples. The sugar content is comparable to that of sugar maples, but the volume produced is much less.
Rocky Mountain maple (Acer glabrum)
Rocky Mountain maples are native to western North America, and have been used traditionally by various groups, including the Plateau Natives.
Gorosoe (Acer mono)
Gorosoe, which translates to “The tree that is good for the bones,” is the most commonly tapped maple tree in Korea. The sap is usually consumed fresh as a beverage, and not boiled down to a syrup.
Butternut, white walnut (Juglans cinerea)
The butternut produces a sap that yields roughly 2% sugar – similar to sugar maples. The timing and total volume of sap are also comparable to sugar maples.
Black walnut (Juglans nigra)
The black walnut tree is a valuable timber species, whose sap flows in autumn, winter, and spring. It is more common in the Midwest than in the Northeastern United States.
Heartnut (Juglans ailantifolia)
A cultivar of Japanese walnuts, heartnuts have sugar contents comparable to sugar maples, but produce much less sap.
English walnut (Juglans regia)
These are the walnuts commonly eaten and purchased from supermarkets. They are not typically found in the Eastern United States, but rather are grown most abundantly in California. English walnut trees can be tapped successfully, especially when subjected to a freezing winter and spring.
Paper birch (Betula papyrifera)
The paper birch has a lower sugar content than sugar maple (less than 1%), but is the sweetest of the birch trees.
Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis)
The yellow birch tree has been found to have a higher mineral composition, lower sugar content, and a higher ORAC value (measure of antioxidant capacity) than sugar maple.
Black birch (Betula lenta)
Native to eastern North America, black birch is most popular for its use in making birch beer. And, as this list suggests, the black birch can be tapped.
River birch (Betula nigra)
Found growing abundantly in the southeastern United States, and planted as an ornamental in the Northeast, the river birch can successfully be tapped.
Gray birch (Betula populifolia)
Gray birch is more of a shrub than a tree, but may be tapped if it grows large enough.
European white birch (Betula pendula)
Native to Europe, and grown as an ornamental in urban and suburban areas of the United States, European white birch can be tapped.
Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis)
Native to North America, the sycamore tree has a lower sugar content than sugar maple, yet is reported to produce a syrup that exudes a butterscotch flavor.
Ironwood, hophornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
These trees produce a sap later in the spring, although the sugar content and volume are much less than those from birch trees.
And there you have it – a list of 22 trees that can be tapped. This is by no means an exhaustive list, as other trees surely produce a sap that can be extracted through tapping. It is, however, a good representation of the most commonly tapped trees, including those that have been used traditionally for centuries, and some that are just recently gaining in popularity.
If you are fortunate to have access to any of the aforementioned trees – and the trees are healthy – explore the traditional art of sugar production by learning and participating in this beautiful craft.
Source : wildfoodism.com
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The art of camouflage is vital to hunters and the hunted. When Europeans came to the New World, their idea of camouflage was one of single color, usually green or dark brown. Many early settlers in what would be America were taken hostage or killed because they never saw their captors until they were, literally, in front of them. The native people of America were masters of the art of camouflage.
In fact, many believe that it was the indigenous people who were the first, true inventors of camouflage. This skill gave them a tremendous advantage, regardless of the inferiority of their weapons. After all, you can’t shoot what you can’t see (and frequently don’t hear).
Camouflage also allowed native people to get closer to their prey. Before they could hope to get close, however, they had to find their prey. Tracking skills were taught from a very early age, and every native American male had to learn them or starve.
Camouflage Skills – Paint
Native people learned early that being as quiet as possible, as well as blending in with their surroundings, made them next to invisible in their world. Of course, the camouflage would depend on the terrain.
In summer months, men would paint their bodies and faces with streaks of green and white to appear as part of the summer leaves and sunlight. Long streaks of brown would run down the length of their arms so that they would appear like branches. Leggings were often painted (or even made from different colored hides) in long brown and white vertical stripes, to mimic tree trunks and dappled sunlight. Leaves and small twigs were braided into the hair. Some warriors went so far as to paint small birds or lizards on their bodies to appear even more like their surroundings.
In the fall or early spring, the green camouflage was exchanged for black, brown, yellow and bits of red and gold to mimic the changing colors of the leaves and the dying foliage.
Some of the “paint” used had spiritual or protective significance to the native people. The colors of the four directions (black, red, yellow and white), for example, were thought to offer guidance and align the hunters with the forces of nature.
Camouflage Skills – Cover
Another well-known skill of the indigenous people was to cover themselves with something that appeared to be natural. If one wanted to hide among large, grey or black boulders, a person would cover themselves in a gray or black and gray blanket.
New settlers were impressed with just how close native people could get to their prey in order to kill or manipulate them. One technique that is well-documented was the use of animal hides. Some animal hides (such as baby bison or whitetail deer) were tanned so that they left as much of the animal intact as possible, including ears, tails, legs and heads (faces, minus the skull). Hunters would try to cover up their scent by rubbing grasses and bark over their bodies. Then, relying on an animal’s poor eyesight (such as buffalo, deer, elk and moose) they would cover themselves in the hide of a grass-eating animal and crawl or walk slowly, as if they were grazing animals. As long as they moved slowly and their scent did not betray them, many hunters were able to literally walk right up to an animal and either spear it or stab it.
Another trick using the animal hide was for a dozen or so hunters to gradually work behind the herd to maneuver it so that it was close to cliffs or dead falls. When their prey was in position, they could throw off the hide and yell, frightening the herd. Often, a great majority of the herd would run off the cliff and be killed on impact. Women and other hunters were waiting below to finish off the survivors and begin their tasks.
Sometimes, native people used both bait and camouflage to capture their prey. Dead falls with bait (such as a small wounded animal tied to the top of the covering) would lure animals to their deaths. Other times, native people were known to lie on the ground and cover themselves with branches and leaves. They would tie a small animal to their leg or wrist. The thrashing of the bait sometimes caused larger predators, such as hawks, weasels, or foxes to come running. Once the animal grabbed the bait, the hunter would leap out of their hiding place.
Tracking Skills 101
Of course, before the camouflage can work, you need to find the animal. Tracking is an important skill and one that most people have lost.
Becoming familiar with the footprints and scat of local animals is just the beginning. While some tracks are distinct (possums and red foxes, for instance) others look very similar, such as goats, elk, caribou and pronghorn sheep.
One tip: When you do find a set of tracks, keep the footprint between you and the sun. The light will cast a shadow on the print, which makes it stand out.
Of course, finding tracks in wet dirt or mud is easier than in hard-packed dirt. This requires time and skill. Native people were excellent trackers who could not only tell which animal they were hunting, but they also could tell their gait (whether the animal was walking or running), how big the animal was, and approximately how old the print was. All of these clues, however, take years of study to learn, which is why boys as young as two and three were taken out for walks and taught how to identify tracks.
Native people also knew that most animals will leave other signs or clues, such as chewed leaves, nut shells, broken branches, crushed leaves or grass, broken pine cones or pine needles, spots on tree trunks where they were chewed or rubbed off, feathers, or destroyed nests and tunnels, where larger animals, such as bears or wolverines, might have tried to dig for insects or grubs.
The indigenous people of America relied on nature for everything they needed, so they studied every single tree, plant and animal in their location. They knew their habits, their calls and their patterns, and they took advantage of this knowledge whenever they could.
What camouflage or tracking advice would add? Share your tips in the section below:
Did you know that there is a nutritious food source literally dropping from your trees each fall? In fact, unless you are a squirrel, you may even see this food as a nuisance.
Alas, the lowly acorn was not always seen this way. Historical sources suggest that some of the world’s earliest civilizations ate acorns. In fact, the word for “oak” in Tunisian translates to “meal-bearing tree.”
Although acorns, which contain healthy fats, protein and minerals, found their way into many Native American foods and are the main ingredient of a traditional Korean jelly recipe, most people today shy away from eating them. Why? Anyone who has ever sampled a raw acorn can tell you. They taste bitter.
The secret to eating – and enjoying acorns – lies in removing the tannins. When you complete this process, you can produce a subtly flavored flour that works well in all kinds of baking recipes and even as a coffee-like beverage.
The first step to removing the tannins is to select only ripe, brown acorns. Avoid green, blackened or mildewed acorns. Then remove the caps and boil the acorns for about 10 minutes. You will need to strain out the brown water and boil the acorns again in fresh water. Repeat this process three to four times until the water looks clear and the acorns can be easily shelled.
Another way to remove the tannins is to remove the caps and then place the acorns inside a mesh or cheese cloth bag. After securing the opening, place the bag under running water (say, a stream) for several hours. Native American used this flushing method by placing bags of acorns in running streams, rivers and even waterfalls.
Now that the tannins are removed, it is time to dry the acorns. Spread the acorns on a baking sheet and place them in a preheated 200-degree Fahrenheit oven. Leave the door slightly ajar so moisture can escape.
Another option is to place the baking sheet outside in direct sunlight for several hours. Be sure to protect the nuts from wildlife while they are drying.
Acorns add a nutty, slightly sweet taste to recipes. You can use them as a substitute for chickpeas, peanuts or macadamia nuts. (Put them in banana nut bread or zucchini bread!) You also can use them to make acorn butter, which you can use instead of peanut butter or almond butter. You also can add them to salads, soups and stews for flavor and nutrition.
To make acorn flour, grind slightly moist leached acorns in a blender or food processor. Dry the resulting meal in a low temperature oven for a few minutes, or let the meal air dry for a few hours. Then grind the dry meal in the blender or food processor again.
You can substitute this acorn flour in any recipe that uses wheat flour, but keep in mind that acorn flour products will have a crumbly texture. If you prefer a spongy texture to your cookies or bread, you will need to mix in some wheat flour with your acorn flour.
Another option is make acorn coffee. Now, this drink will not perk you up in the morning since acorns do not contain caffeine, but it is a pleasant beverage, especially in cold weather.
Place pieces of leached acorns on a baking sheet and roast them in the oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 30 minutes. When the pieces are dark brown in color and have a pleasant roasted (not burned) aroma, they are ready.
Add one tablespoon of roasted acorn pieces per eight ounces of boiling water. Let the mixture steep for five to 10 minutes. Reheat if needed. Then you can add your regular coffee condiments or drink the acorn coffee black.
Acorns are a rich source of carbohydrates, proteins, essential amino acids, trace minerals and Vitamins A and C. This nutritional value compares favorably with barley or wheat flour. Although producing acorn flour does take some time, it is satisfying to put to use a food source that is free and readily available.
Just leave a few acorns for those squirrels.
Have you ever eaten acorns? What advice would you add? Share it in the section below:
Most of us see little use for bark. We peel it before we build with it, we trim it off before smoking fish or game, and we generally don’t see much value in it as firewood or a dependable heat source.
Native people, though, had a much different viewpoint. They used bark from many trees as a resource for numerous solutions, but there’s a trick to working with this material.
Paper birch is the bark of choice for bark crafters, and the Ojibway took barkcraft to a new level thanks to the fact that birch grew everywhere they lived. Other tribes had to make-do with stiffer and less pliable resources, although slippery elm, willow and aspen offered workable solutions.
Be careful with living, green trees. If you remove too much bark, you will potentially kill the tree. In fact, if you cut the bark from a tree around its circumference, it will be dead in weeks, if not months. Native peoples would sometime “girdle” a tree. This involved removing bark around the full circumference of the tree; this was a designed action and they knew that the following year the tree would be dead. Often, a large fire was started at the base and stone axes were used to cut into the weakened and charred wood until repeated fires and chopping felled the tree.
Even a dead birch tree will provide a strong and pliable source of bark. If you come across a dead-fall birch, harvest the bark to your heart’s content. If you’re desperate and only have access to live trees, limit your cuts and stripping to half of the tree if you can. That will at least give it a fighting chance for recovery.
You may be wondering: Why is bark so important to a tree? The inner bark or “xylem” is essentially the circulatory system for any tree. Water and nutrients are delivered to the tree from the roots to its leaves by this circulation. That’s why a “girdled” tree will soon die. When its only source of water and nutrients is cut off, the tree has no options for survival.
There are a few steps to making any bark more workable. Some tree bark, like the slippery elm, requires a bit of scraping of the outer bark to make the piece more pliable. Birch is naturally flexible, but it will be curved when first harvested. Native Americans flattened the birch bark on the ground with the curved side down and weighted it with stones. The moisture in the ground and the weight of the stones eventually flattened the bark.
Another key step is to soak the bark in hot water before working with it. This also adds some flexibility, and it helps to keep the bark from splitting when it’s folded or shaped.
Many bark creations were sewn at the seams with cordage or strips of leather to re-enforce items like baskets and bowls. If the object needed to hold water, the seams were sealed with pine pitch.
Let’s take a look at items the Native Americans made from bark:
One of the easiest and most common uses for bark was for a ladle or drinking cup. A circle of birch bark was cut and a triangular fold was made from the center to the edge. This fold was then overlapped to form a cone. The creased bark was held in place with a stick with a split in it, and the fact that the bark was not cut made it water tight to either scoop water from a spring, or to simply drink it as a cup.
This same approach was used with a wider circle of birch bark or slippery elm to make bowls supported by rocks around the side, or a hat that would shade you from the sun or protect you from the rain.
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The bowl concept also can allow you to cook with a bark cooking pot. Hot stones were picked from a fire with two sticks much like chop sticks, and the stones were swirled in the water until the water actually started to boil.
But be careful with hot rocks. A rock from a river may appear nice and smooth, but many of them contain moisture in their cracks and crevices and can explode and shatter in the fire. Igneous rocks like granite or basalt are the best because they are less likely to be porous and allow water to seep in.
“Sunglasses” are another option, with a piece of bark cut about six inches wide and two inches in height. You may doubt the need for sunglasses, but in winter, snow-blindness is a serious problem, as sunlight reflects off forests and fields of snow. These sunglasses, though, did not contain any glass or plastic. A couple of sticks were used to support the bark strip over the ears like a regular pair of sunglasses, and two crosses in the shape of a plus sign (+) were cut into the bark at eye level.
A semi-circular cut was made to fit over the bridge of the nose. The size of the crosses was usually a half-inch long both up and across, and the slit was about an eighth of an inch wide. You look at the world through the slit, which allows less light and protects your eyes. This was actually an Eskimo invention.
A backpack is also easy to make with a long piece of bark about three feet in length and a foot and a half wide. The bark was folded over, and the seams on either side were sown together with cordage or long strips of leather. Holes were poked first and the cordage or leather simply woven through. Straps from cordage or leather were attached and reinforced with more lacing. and everything from personal items to harvested plants, fruits and vegetables could be carried with ease.
6. Candle lantern
A curved piece of birch bark, wrapped and held in place at the base around a circle of sawn wood creates a wind block and reflector for a candle lantern in a fixed camp. Be careful using this indoors. Birch bark is highly flammable, which makes it great tinder, but not something you want to burst into flames in a cabin.
A simple torch is easy to improvise, with strips of birch bark held in place by a slit in a long branch. Additional strips of bark can be added as the birch burns; it actually gives off a good amount of light for a long time.
All Native American tribes crafted canoes from birch, but that’s something that’s a bit beyond my expertise, although I’ve had success making small-scale toy canoes from birch bark, and my kids and grandkids still play with them. Maybe someday I’ll see if I can scale it up and actually make a birch bark canoe, but I’ll definitely be testing it in very shallow water.
What advice would you add on making tools and utensils from bark? Share your tips in the section below:
For most of us, finding out the day’s weather is as easy as turning on our television or checking the forecast on our smartphones, but the native people of North America had to rely on what they were taught.
They simply read the signs of nature – a skill we should practice more.
Learning to read the signs of nature, which are often right in front of us, can help us track animals for food, find safe sources of food and water, and even predict the weather.
In fact, most indigenous children were able to survive on their own at a very young age because they were taught the signs to look for almost as soon as they could talk.
Unfortunately, many of these skills have become forgotten by most in our society over the last few centuries, but you can still pick up these important survival skills and learn directly from nature.
1. Following the Weather
No matter what part of the country you are living in, bad weather can sneak up on you. Indigenous people were always aware of their surroundings, knowing that dangerous animals, enemies or storms could be just around the corner.
By paying attention to nature’s signs, native people knew that one can almost feel bad weather before it starts. Before a big storm, the wind generally picks up, making the leaves on trees twist and showing you their lighter-colored underside. Look into the distance and see if you can see rain further out. Take a deep breath. Native people find that you can smell rain in the distance, even if mountains prevent you from seeing it. Birds will fly lower to the ground and begin to gather in the trees, even though it is still mid-day. Crickets will stop chirping. Fish sometimes come to the surface and even leap out of the water. If wildlife around you suddenly disappear or if you spot seagulls farther inland than normal, a storm is surely on its way.
Over the centuries, native people relied on the same water sources year after year. But for non-nomadic tribes, or when traveling, finding water was a skill no one could afford not to learn! To find water, native people learned to look for green-leafed trees, such as aspens or cottonwoods. The presence of birds, dragonflies or other animals usually means that there is water somewhere nearby. Native people learned to watch for animal trails, such as deer paths, and to follow them downhill. Since animals need water as well, you can bet that a trail will eventually lead to a watering hole. Also, if animals were drinking it, the water was most likely safe to drink. Canyons that face north are more likely to have watering holes, even in the summer, as the sun does not penetrate that far inside the canyon. Natives knew that a dry river bed might still have water. They would look for green plants clinging to the edges and dig right next to them. Chances are that water was just a few inches below the surface.
3. Knowing Which Wild Plants Were Safe for Eating
This is another skill that native people passed down to one another, and it varies greatly depending on where you are. While indigenous people knew that cattails were quite edible, there were not many in the deserts or dry valley areas. Non-nomadic tribes, such as the Ojibwa, raised crops on family plots, but nomadic tribes learned over the centuries which plants were safe to eat and when to harvest them. Native people learned to watch the animals for reliable food sources. Squirrels, blue jays, crows and other animals sometimes hide food — such as acorns — for later consumption. If food was scarce, these were dug up and eaten. Many tribes knew that when birds, deer or other animals were eating berries, these were generally safe for humans as well. Many wild berries, such as blackberries, grow near the forest edges. Plantain is found almost everywhere in the U.S. and can be eaten raw or cooked. Dandelions are another edible plant. (But don’t ever consume mushrooms unless you are 100 percent certain you know what you are choosing, as many are poisonous.) The indigenous people looked to the trees to find nuts or fruit. Native people learned to avoid plants that smelled like almonds, or any plant that has thorns.
4. Finding their Way Home
Ever wonder how the native people of this land never seemed to get lost? Even when a single young man would walk out into the woods to hunt, they never seemed to have trouble finding their way back. How did they do this? Again, indigenous people were always aware of their surroundings. They knew a marker (such as a mountain or a particular growth of trees) that would help to guide them back. Also, without a compass, they still knew the four directions.
Even without sunlight, they would know that the north end of a gorse bush, for example, had the thickest tufts of “flowers.” They also knew that trees tend to grow longer or grow more branches on the side that faces south. Before they even left camp, indigenous people knew what direction their camp lay in relation to their journey, so finding their way back was pretty easy.
5. Finding Meat
Native people ate quite a bit of meat when they could find it. Since animals tend to migrate or move about to find their own food, meat choices for indigenous people varied, depending on the season. Fishing was always a good source of food. Nets, not poles, were the preferred method of fishing, although spears were also sometimes used in deeper water.
Many women made traps near water sources or along known animal trails. Birds, such as ducks and geese, were often caught using traps, bolas or slings. Even small children learned to use slings or slingshots to kill rabbits, raccoons and squirrels.
For most of us, skills such as these would take a lifetime of learning, or at least several years of classes, plus practice. However, for the native people of North America, reading the signs of nature was as normal as putting on moccasins in the morning.
What skills would you add to this story? Share your thoughts in the section below:
Traditional food preservation and storage methods have seen an uptick in popularity in the past decade, as people show an interest in learning how the native people of America preserved food and kept it safe for later consumption without refrigeration.
Of course, in winter months, storing food to prevent spoilage wasn’t such a huge concern, but in some parts of the country, indigenous people lived in areas that did not freeze or had a small number of freezing incidents.
Let’s take a look at how the native people dried and stored fruits, vegetables, and meat for consumption during the winter months or for times when food was scarce.
The 5 Types of Food Typically Preserved
- Foods above ground: berries, fruit, nuts, corn, squash
- Foods below ground: roots, onions, wild potatoes
- Animals with 4 legs: buffalo, deer, elk
One of the factors that was critical to nomadic tribes, such as the Lakota, was that food needed to be portable. Nomadic tribes generally moved every few weeks (or months, depending on the size of the tribe) so that they did not strip the area of food and firewood, as well as to keep their horses fed. This means that food needed to be dried and made into the smallest, lightest form possible.
For example, while Southwestern tribes, such as the Hopi, could afford to simply dry corn on the cob and store the entire cob in sealed-off rooms, other tribes would strip the corn kernels off for storage. Keep in mind that the corn native people used was not the same corn we see in our supermarkets today.
Corn was typically dried on the cob, laid out on flat rocks, grass mats or hides. Children and the elderly would typically be in charge of drying food, turning it regularly and removing flies, ants or scaring away birds and raccoons.
Other types of fruit were picked and dried in the same manner. While each tribe had their own way of dealing with vegetables, the methods were the same: to dry out the vegetable so that it could be preserved for later consumption. Many tribes would cut the vegetable, such as squash, into strips, flatten it out using a bone or rock, and then dry these thinned-out pieces in the sun.
Preserving Meat and Fish
Although the native people had no scientific evidence to fall back on, they learned over thousands of years that some foods would not store well and would go rancid quickly unless cooked, dried or somehow preserved.
Fish was often smoked to preserve it for later consumption. Once gutted, the entire fish was often placed over a low fire that included a great many green branches, so that the heat and smoke would dry out the fish meat. Salmon, due to their size, were often cut into strips, and then smoked and dried.
Most other types of meat were cut into long strips and the fat removed. The fat was placed in cooking “pots.” If it was the beginning of the hot, dry season, meat would then be placed on rocks or racks made from tree branches so that it would dry in the sunlight. Again, children and the elderly did their share of work by fanning away flies, insects and marauding animals such as dogs or raccoons. If time was short, the meat was sometimes dried and/or smoked under a very low fire. This dried meat is typically referred to as “jerky.” It could be made soft again by cooking it in a soup and was often served along with other vegetables.
The fat from large animals, such as buffalo or elk, was collected and then put through a process called rendering. Animal fat is very dense in calories, but it goes rancid quickly. Indigenous people learned to render fat by cooking it, along with small amounts of water, under a low heat. All pieces of meat or other tissue will come to the surface and are removed. Rendered fat will last about one year without refrigeration if kept out of direct sunlight.
Pemmican: The Fast Food of Native Tribes
Pemmican was made by many tribes of the north and northeast, including the Cree, Chippewa and Lakota. While the “recipe” varied, the basic pemmican is dried, pulverized meat and dried berries, held together by rendered fat. This mixture was often made into golf-ball sized pieces. The meat could be whatever was handy or what was plentiful at the time, including moose, elk or bison. The fruit used was often dried chokecherries, blueberries or cranberries. Dried meat would be pulverized into almost a powder, the dried fruit also broken down into smaller pieces, and then mixed with the rendered fat. These balls of pemmican were then placed in rawhide bags for storage and transportation.
Pemmican is a nutrient- and calorie-dense food that would last for at least one year. Most tribes, as well as hunting parties, relied on pemmican to get them through the lean winter months. Most Canadian fur traders used pemmican, as well. If a person were traveling, a piece of pemmican was bitten off and then slowly chewed to soften it. If you have ever eaten jerky, you know it takes some time to break down the meat! However, pemmican could also be cooked. Some tribes would put a few balls of pemmican in a pot of water, along with some vegetables, while others would fry it with some onions or wild potatoes.
There were a great many other foods that were dried for later use or used as seasoning, including sage, dandelions, wild rice (which is actually a grass, but grows in wetlands much like rice), pumpkins, beans, azafran, sunflower seeds, acorns, mustard seeds, cactus, tomatoes and plantain (the greens, not the bananas!). What was collected and dried varied a great deal, depending on the climate and what was in season.
While most of us rely on our dehydrators or ovens for drying meat or fruit, the native people of America did it all by hand, relying only on their skill and the power of the sun or fire.
What advice would add on preserving food without refrigeration? Share it in the section below:
What could be better than relaxing on a cold day in a nice hot tub? Well, staying in a natural hot spring might be a bit better. Native Americans may have used hot springs after a nice long hunt, but they also realized the amazing benefits that came from soaking or sipping in the waters of hot springs across the nations. These benefits would spread from increased energy to eliminating diseases.
And guess what? They were right! Hot springs can be found across the North American continent, and Native Americans of all tribes found their benefits and cherished them. In fact, there 1,661 in the United States alone. Native Americans truly discovered their fountain of youth and used their healing powers whenever they could.
An example of this is the traditional site of Manataka, or modern day Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas. While the Native Americans used this for a meeting places of tribes and council leaders and for gathering rare plants and minerals, the respect they had for the hot springs there were unbound. Some would bring gifts to bond with other tribes or perform ceremonies within the area. While all of these were extremely important to the tribes, the most important aspect was the hot springs within the area.
Lee Standing Bear Moore and Takatoka explained that “Everyone sought healing and pleasure in the magical hot waters of Nówâ-sa-lon (Breath of Healing) that spewed from the sides of the mountain, creating dozens of crystal clear pools. No one was allowed to enter the sacred area, called the ‘Valley of Vapors’ carrying a weapon into the sacred area decreed by the Great Mystery as the ‘Place of Peace.’ No fighting or discord was allowed. Should anyone violate these laws, they were taken outside the valley and severely punished.”
So, what’s the big deal about some hot water? Well, as it rains, the water falls onto the rock, slowly gaining minerals and seeping farther into the Earth and heating itself. Eventually, the heat of the Earth raises the temperature of the water and once the water is pushed to the surface, it creates a mineral-rich, beautifully created hot spring.
The Native Americans knew the benefits of hot springs long before others. They realized that taking a sip of the hot spring or soaking within one created life-changing benefits or could cure ailments. Author Susan Hartzler concludes that “soaking in highly concentrated mineral water also heats up your body temperature thus killing harmful germs and viruses, eliminating toxins, increasing blood flow and circulation, increasing metabolism, and absorption of essential minerals.” Your skin is able to take in the minerals simply while you relax and enjoy your day off!
Native Americans even fought some of their more serious illnesses with hot springs. In the book “Fighting Arthritis Naturally,” Emily Thacker writes that Native Americans would use hot springs to treat their aching joints — modern day arthritis. Vern “Sonny” Johnson, in “Secrets of Native American Herbal Remedies,” wrote that he used the Ojo Caliente Springs in New Mexico to help treat his stomach cancer.
The main benefit you receive from the hot springs is the mineral content. For example, the Peninsula Hot Springs (Australia) website explain that magnesium helps your body convert sugar into energy, Bicarbonate water helps with blood flow, Boron builds muscle mass, and sodium alleviates arthritis. The Native Americans were definitely onto something.
The Native Americans did take a few precautions before going into the hot springs. They didn’t submerge their head, as there can be bacteria that can enter through the ears or nose. Also, they wouldn’t spend all day in the hot springs, because the minerals can irritate the skin after a long exposure.
Native Americans may have found the benefits of hot springs, but there are plenty of opportunities for you to go check out hot springs yourself. Visit the following website, and enjoy!
National Centers for Environment Information:
Do you have any experience with hot springs? Share your advice in the section below:
Cichoke, A. J. (2001). Secrets of Native American herbal remedies: A comprehensive guide to the Native American tradition of using herbs and the mind/body/spirit connection for improving health and well-being. New York: Avery.
Hartzler, S. (n.d.). The Ancient Healing Powers of Natural Hot Springs, by Susan Hartzler. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://hotelexecutive.com/business_review/3927/account/login
Hot springs therapy – mineral content. (n.d.). Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://www.peninsulahotsprings.com/bathing/the-benefits-of-bathing-balneology/hot-springs-therapy-mineral-content
Mark, L. A. (2015, October 11). Native American-Inspired Spa Treatments: Where To Get The Best. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://www.10best.com/interests/travel-features/native-american-inspired-spa-treatments-where-to-get-the-best/
Moor, L. S., & T. (n.d.). Story of Mantaka. Retrieved May 08, 2016, from http://manataka.org/page2.html
Thermal Springs Viewer. (n.d.). Retrieved May 08, 2016, from https://maps.ngdc.noaa.gov/viewers/hot_springs/
When we think of the Native Americans of centuries ago, we tend to think of a nomadic warrior people, living in teepees and following the buffalo herds. This image comes mainly from the Plains Indians, who depended on bison for their survival. But not all tribes were the same. Many were quite stable, living in the same place for years and augmenting the game they hunted with crops that they grew.
We need look no further than American history to confirm this. The Pilgrims, arriving at Plymouth, nearly died of starvation their first winter. But although some did die, many more survived. Their prosperity that next year was largely due to the local Native American tribe, which taught them how to successfully farm.
But the farming techniques of Native Americans were different than that of Europeans. They didn’t use draft animals and they didn’t plow the soil. This has led many to believe that their farms were simple slash-and-burn operations, where they cleared an area in the forest by killing off whatever was there and planted crops until their efforts depleted the soil, at which time they would move on to start a similar operation elsewhere.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. A slash-and-burn operation would go contrary to the Native American’s way of life, which was much more in harmony with nature than Europeans or Anglo-Americans can imagine. To kill plants, merely to plant others, would be beyond their understanding.
Rather, the Indians farmed in harmony with nature, planting in many small beds. Their farms were sustainable as well, mostly depending on perennials that aren’t cultivated today. But by using perennials, they were able keep their gardens going, with less effort and greater yields. In some places, they cultivated over 250 varieties of plants, using the plants for everything from food, to construction, to building canoes and producing dyes and glues.
In fact, the yields of the Native Americans in the Northeast part of what is now the United States were so great that their corn (or maize) production regularly out-produced that of the wheat farmers of England. Part of this was due to the higher yield that corn produces, but part was due to their superior farming techniques — techniques that did not require plowing or draft animals.
So what can we learn from the farming style of Native Americans who lived nearly 400 years ago? Here’s just a few tips:
Start With the Soil
Any gardener knows that the most important part of any garden is the soil. Without good soil, no garden is going to produce well. In this, Native Americans in the past had an advantage, as the soil was deep and rich. In most parts, the soil had a high biomass content, which is essential to replacing the nutrients.
Native Americans also knew how to care for that soil. They didn’t plow the land like European farmers. Recent experimentation is proving that plowing is not healthy for the soil. More than anything, it brings the subterraneous microorganisms to the surface, where they die. By not plowing, you keep the soil healthier by keeping these microorganisms alive.
One of the most important subterraneous organisms in any garden are mycorrhizal fungi. These attach to the roots of plants, forming a symbiotic relationship with them. While the fungi feed off the plant, they also extend the roots system, drawing in water and nutrients for the plant. A garden with a good network of these fungi will grow faster, produce healthier plants, and bring higher yields of produce.
Any soil is going to need added nutrients to replace those used by the plants growing in the garden. Native Americans understood this and were constantly providing nutrition to the soil of their gardens.
Composting wasn’t a separate activity for Native Americans who farmed. They didn’t have a compost heap or compost bin. Rather, their gardens were their compost heaps. Leftover plant matter was cut up and placed directly in the garden to break down and provide nutrients.
At the same time, adding plant matter to the soil functioned like mulch, covering the soil and preventing weeds from growing. This basically eliminated the need to weed, preventing one more activity which would disturb the soil.
Potash is essentially wood ash. But the potash used by Native Americans went a bit farther than that. They would throw the bones from their kills in the fire, as well as the shells from bird eggs. This allowed the bones and shells to burn, breaking them down so that they were ready to add to the soil. Ashes were regularly spread on their vegetable gardens, providing valuable nutrients, especially calcium.
Urine is an almost perfect fertilizer, containing many of the essential nutrients that plants need for growth. However, in its natural state, it is too acidic. So Native Americans would mix urine with water to dilute it. The acid was still there, but it was not concentrated. Added to the garden, the potash, which was alkaline, would counteract the acid in the urine and bring the pH of the soil back into balance.
Urine also served the purpose of “marking” the garden, helping to keep some pests out. Animals regularly mark their territory, warning other animals. While this doesn’t serve as a warning sign to you and I, it does to raccoons and other animals who would love to feast at our gardens.
Another thing we should all remember from our elementary school lessons about the Pilgrims is the use of fish as a fertilizer. Not all tribes used fish, and those that did usually didn’t use the whole fish. Rather, they used the leftover parts from cleaning and eating the fish. Like urine, fish contains all the necessary nutrients for plant growth, making it one of the best fertilizers around.
With the use of natural fertilizers, one major source of chemicals was eliminated from the Native American garden. Another way that they avoided chemicals is not using chemical pesticides. Granted, they didn’t have modern pesticides, but the point isn’t whether they had them or not, it’s whether they used them or not.
Not using chemicals in their gardens had another advantage. It made the garden a great habitat for toads, turtles, praying mantises and birds, who ate the insects which would otherwise destroy the plants in the garden.
Almost everyone who has grown a vegetable garden has heard of the “Three Sisters” – corn, beans and squash. This traditional means of planting was common for Native Americans. Each of these three provide benefits for the others, making them an excellent combination to plant together.
But Native Americans didn’t just plant the sisters together. Their gardens were a mixture of many different things. By mixing plant types, rather than making neat rows, they prevented insects from traveling from plant to plant, destroying them.
I mentioned earlier that Native Americans planted for sustainability, using many perennials. They also harvested in a way to prolong the life of the plants. Rather than dig up a plant and take all its fruit, they’d only remove what they needed at the time. With a potato plant, for example, they’d only take a few potatoes, covering the roots back up so that the plant could replace them.
Although not as commonly thought of as part of gardening, aquaculture is an important aspect of farming. Some tribes depended greatly on freshwater water life as a part of their diet. The salmon in the Northwest, as well as fresh water shellfish, were consumed by various Native American tribes.
While they left these water creatures to thrive in the wild, they did cultivate them. Mostly, this was by improving their environment so that they could grow well. They moved rocks to create the most productive clam beds and transplanted salmon eggs to new stream beds. In this, they increased their yields of these creatures, helping to ensure an abundance of food.
What would you add? Share your thoughts on how Native Americans gardened in the section below:
It must have been a long process of trial and error. How do you figure out that a plant or tree can have medicinal benefits? Obviously, some Native Americans, as well as many other ancient cultures from China to the Incas and Aztecs, found solace and relief from plants that surrounded them.
Significantly, many of those natural cures were derived from trees. Typically, it was the inner bark of the trees or the xylem that provided the most potent mix of natural elements with curative properties. However, there are some exceptions, such as the needles of pines and the berries from Juniper trees.
We’re going to explore five common trees in North America that continue to be used for various medicinal purposes. They are:
- White pine
- White willow
- Slippery elm
We’ll also review what type of preparation was used and how to prepare it for home use. A word of caution is related to allergies and dosage. Home preparation of natural cures is not always an exact science. Just as important, different people respond to these natural treatments in different ways, depending on their body weight and predisposition to allergies. In all cases, you should first consult your doctor. Take a low dose of any natural preparation you make, such as a teaspoon or less, to assess your body’s response. You should also avoid giving these natural treatments to young children.
Bark and needles of pine were available year-round and used regardless of weather or season. However, warmer months often provided the best concentration of ingredients due to the fact that the sap was still flowing in the xylem of the trees.
An infusion was the most common preparation technique. It’s essentially a tea made by soaking the inner bark or crushed pine needles in very hot, but not boiling water. Boiling water can break down some of the beneficial compounds. The steeping time was usually 5 to 20 minutes. The longer the steep the more concentrated the ingredients, so take good notes if you choose to make your own preparations to determine tolerable dosages.
Poultices were also used frequently to treat external afflictions. This involves an infusion or crushed ingredients that are saturated into a piece of cloth and applied to the skin where the pain or affliction is located.
As we’ve already noted, time of year in addition to the general health and age of the tree can also affect concentration of ingredients, so you may have to take that into account as well.
1. White pine
While the inner bark is often used as an infusion, the young shoots, twigs, pitch and needles of white pine were also used by Native Americans to treat a variety of conditions both internally and externally.
The pitch or pine sap was used as a poultice on a hot cloth and applied to the chest to treat coughs and pneumonia. Pitch applied directly to the skin was used to draw out boils, abscesses and splinters. It also was used as a poultice for wounds or sores.
An infusion of the crushed pine needles, often combined with the inner bark and young shoots, was used to treat colds, fever, heartburn, croup, laryngitis, bronchitis and coughs.
The scent of the white pine itself has aroma therapy properties, especially when applied externally to the chest or throat as a poultice for cough or sore throats.
2. White willow
We’ve covered the health benefits of willow bark in the past, but the medicinal value is so significant it makes sense to revisit the benefits. All willow trees have a chemical element called “salicin” in the inner, xylem bark. White willow has the highest concentrations. A German chemist synthesized this element in the 1800s and developed a tablet with both pain-relieving and fever-reducing properties. The chemist’s last name was “Bayer,” and the tablet he invented was called “aspirin.”
Native Americans would steep the xylem from the inner bark of the white willow in very hot water and drink it as a pain reliever and to reduce fever. One of the side benefits of this infusion for some people is that it does not thin the blood like regular aspirin. This has value for people on blood thinners, people with naturally thin blood due to genetics or diet, and people afflicted with hemophilia.
3. Slippery elm
Slippery Elm preparations were made from the inner bark and in some instances, the leaves. Once again, an infusion was made by Native Americans, often with a combination of inner bark and crushed leaves and used to treat digestive disorders, gastrointestinal conditions, gout, arthritis, stomach aches and sore throat. It also was used as a mouthwash or gargle to treat sore throat, mouth ulcers and toothache. As an external treatment it was used as a wash or poultice to treat skin conditions, hemorrhoids and insect bites.
As a poultice the infusion is poured into a piece of fabric and applied to the skin. It is said to have significant benefits for pain reduction, inflammation of wounds, boils, burns and skin ulcers. One recipe calls for five tablespoons of ground inner bark infused in a very hot cup of water and strained to make the basic infusion that can be either sipped or used as a wash or poultice. Here again, take a little at a time to assess its concentration and your reaction to the compound if you choose to use it as an herbal remedy.
The Juniper is an evergreen that grows around the world. The small, round bluish berries are the primary flavor ingredient in gin. When the berries are fully ripe in late summer, Native Americans would eat them off the tree to treat kidney, bladder and urinary tract conditions, digestive disorders, gum disease, diarrhea, gout and arthritis, and rheumatic conditions.
There are some cautions to keep in mind. It’s believed that Juniper berries can cause miscarriage in pregnant women, and high doses can irritate the urinary tract. It also shouldn’t be given to children, considering their low body weight and the potential for even the smallest dosage to be too high.
5. Poplar buds
Poplar trees are ubiquitous across North America, and in the spring Native Americans used the poplar buds as a topical treatment for muscle soreness and headaches when applied to the brow as a poultice. The buds were usually ground, and the sticky result was applied to the skin, around painful joints or bruises or anywhere else localized pain occurred, including insect bites. It is not intended for internal use but as a topical treatment only.
The key ingredient in poplar buds that makes them effective as a topical pain reliever has a familiar name: salicin. This is the same chemical found in willow bark and used as the base ingredient in aspirin.
What advice would you add? What trees would you put on the list? Share your tips in the section below:
My great-grandmother was an Ojibway Indian. They’re a tribe from Canada, and their Native American cousins were the Cherokee. She and my great grandfather were highly self-sufficient, as she often used herbs and plants from nature for a variety of reasons.
There was a time in our history when a pharmacy was defined by nature. Over generations, Native Americans discovered cures and treatments for various ailments by accident and tradition. Most herbs were used as an infusion in a tea, but some were pulverized and applied directly to the skin. Here are seven “forgotten ones” that may be growing in your backyard or a meadow near you:
Sage grows wild across many parts of the Great Plains and the southwest. It’s commonly used in cooking and is actually the dominant flavor note in dishes like bread stuffing and poultry. It also has medicinal qualities.
Native Americans made an infusion of tea from sage leaves to treat indigestion and sore throats, coughs and fever. An extract made by crushing the leaves also can heal the skin as a treatment for burns and chafing. It has powerful antibacterial and astringent properties, as well.
Yarrow was commonly used by Native Americans to stop bleeding. The feathery nature of the plant, plus its chemical properties, encourage clotting. It also has anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory benefits and was sometimes taken as a tea to relieve indigestion.
3. Black cohosh
You don’t hear a lot about black cohosh, but its roots were often used as a cough remedy by Native Americans. It also was referred to as the woman’s friend for its estrogenic properties and its ability to relive arthritis and menstrual cramps. It was typically brewed as a dark tea.
As the name implies, this herb relieves fever. It also was used as a pain reliever for headaches, including migraines. It has a mild tranquilizing effect. The leaves or flowers were typically chewed rather than infused because it makes for a particularly bitter tea. It has anti-inflammatory benefits and was sometimes taken to relieve arthritis.
Contrary to popular belief, goldenrod does not induce allergies anywhere close to the degree of its reputation. It’s an indigenous plant that grows across North America, and its flowers and leaves were often infused in a tea to treat urinary tract infections and as a general anti-inflammatory treatment. It also was used as a tea to treat upper respiratory inflammation and congestion.
The common plantain plant grows everywhere from urban front yards to natural meadows. Its flat leaves and central, green seed-stalk make it easy to find. It makes a good natural salad, although the mature leaves are a bit bitter.
It’s a good source of vitamin K, which is a natural blood thinner and it may be why Native Americans used it as a topical and oral treatment for snake bites. Personally, I’d get to the hospital as fast as possible after a snake bite, but when there were no hospitals this seemed to be a treatment of choice. In fact, Native Americans referred to it as “snakeweed.”
7. Rose hips
There is no other wild plant that possesses more vitamin C than rose hips. They’re the end result of flowering wild roses and usually are small red buds about one-fourth an inch in diameter. Native Americans figured out the healing properties of rose hips as a boost to the immune system. We have no idea how they figured this out, but over generations some things become apparent.
They can be chewed raw or dried, ground in a tea, or incorporated into other food. I’ve chewed them raw, and in my opinion they taste terrible. I’d strongly recommend chopping them and adding them to something else.
Final Thoughts: Be Careful Out There
I’ve instructed many classes and field excursions on the subject of natural food and medicines. Always make sure you know what you’re eating or about to ingest. There are more plants that are poisonous than are good for you. Take the time to do some research and always start with small portions of anything.
What plants would you add to this list? Share your advice in the section below: