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Use of Plants by Native Americans

Native Americans have a cultural appreciation and knowledge of plants which is vast and has been passed down through their generations for centuries. Native Americans have learned to utilize plants for a multitude of functions including for ceremonies, as a food source, for medicinal purposes, for clothing and for shelter.

Historically, for Native Americans, various plant species had strong significance culturally. Certain plant species were used for cooking or as a form of clothing which was specific to that culture. For example, a plant species named Canadian Wildginger was used as a food source and even as a perfume for clothing. Canadian Wildginger was cooked with catfish to improve the taste of the fish and in other cases, was used as a perfume when the roots were cooked into a fine powder (1).

In addition to cultural applications, Native Americans utilized all sorts of plant species for medicinal purposes. For example, a plant called Little Bluestem was used to treat open sores by applying the ashes of the burnt stems of the plants directly onto the wounds (1). This plant was also used for indigestion, but in this case the ashes of the burnt stems were mixed with water (1).

For thousands of years, plants allowed Native Americans to survive in the diverse environments they resided in. The numerous plant species which were gathered and observed were multi-dimensional in their functionality and it is this knowledge which has provided civilizations today with some of the food sources and pharmaceutical products available.