How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft
Foraging wild food requires practice, knowledge, and experience on your landscape. Notice I used the word your land. What you’ve read in books and watched on YouTube may not apply to your locale. While survival principles may never change, self-reliance is local.
Many of us are self-taught in skills of wilderness living. However, one way to shorten your learning curve is to find an experienced skills practitioner in your area who is actually Doing the Stuff. After receiving instruction, you gain knowledge. Knowledge weighs nothing but is not enough. You make knowledge applicable through time and experience and context. There is no substitute for time in your woods.
Trees of Southern Appalachia
Unlike most plants, trees stand ready to share their resources year-round.
Winter tree identification would not be challenging if trees would stop dropping their leaves. Mark taught winter botany lessons which I had never been exposed to. Sharing all I learned would take several articles. For our purposes today, we will explore 3 of my favorite trees in my woods and how the Cherokee and settlers used them for food, medicine, and craft resources.
Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) it is not a poplar at all. It is actually in the Magnolia ((Magnoliaceae)) family of flowering trees. There are many common names for Liriodendron tulipifera besides Tulip Poplar… Yellow Poplar, Canoe Wood, Yellow Wood, and Tulip Tree. That is one reason it is important to use scientific names of plants and trees… if you can manage to pronounce them. This will remove any confusion over common names.
The Tulip Tree, while not a nutritional powerhouse, is a favorite of mine mainly for craft and outdoor self-reliance. Tulip Tree blooms are a main source of nectar for honey bees which produces a dark, amber honey loaded with antioxidants.
- The only part of a Tulip Tree that I know is edible is the nectar in the flowering blooms.
- Edit: Darryl Patton, The Southern Herbalist, sent me a message saying he collects, dries, and pounds the inner bark into flour for baking in his spring classes. Thank you, Darryl.
Tulip Tree’s inner bark and leaves were used medicinally by the Cherokee and settlers in Appalachia for treating…
- Poultice from leaves for inflammation and sores.
- Inner bark tea for periodic fevers, diarrhea, pinworms, as a digestive aid and for rheumatic pain.
- Supposedly, inner bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac.
- The bark could also serve as a substitute for quinine in treating malaria.
- Tooth aches. (Read more: Dental Care after SHTF)
- Used as a tonic to induce perspiration to treat fevers.
- Root bark and seeds useful as a wormer for the body.
- Cough syrup from bark. Here you can find another method for making your own cough syrup.
- Fire Craft ~ Wood for friction fire, inner bark for tinder, hot, quick burning firewood which does not produce long-lasting coals like other hardwoods.
- Cordage ~ Inner bark fibers can be processed into cordage and rope.
- Indigenous cordage:
- Containers ~ Outer bark crafted into berry baskets, arrow quivers, and larger pack baskets.
- Carving ~ The soft hardwood lends itself to easy carving of spoons, bowls, pottery paddles, canoe paddles, and even the canoe itself. One common name of this tree is Canoe Wood.
- Insulation ~ Shredded inner bark can be stuffed between layers of clothing to create dead air space to retain body heat in a survival situation.
- Roofing/Siding ~ Outer bark slabs used for shingles and siding on shelters.
Hickories make excellent wildlife resource as squirrels and feral pigs love to eat their nut meat. Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa), and Shagbark (Carya ovata) are the three hickories I’m most familiar with in Georgia, Mockernut being the most common.
- Sap ~ Sap water from hickories can be consumed without treatment. Read more: 4 More Trees That Can Be Tapped For Sap And Syrup
- Nuts ~ Contains fats (18g/serving), protein (3.6g/serving), and carbohydrates (5 g/serving) – Serving size = 1 oz.
- Hickory syrup from crushed and processed nuts.
- Cooking oil from nuts.
- Kunuche (ku-nu-che) ~ A traditional Cherokee hickory nut soup.
- Nuts with exterior husks are useful as charcoal for cooking food.
- Hickory Milk ~ “They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes.” – Source
- Infusion of boiled bark for arthritis pain.
- Inhaling fumes of young shoots on hot rocks as a treatment for convulsions.
- Cold remedy
- Liver aid
- Gynecological aid
- Dermatological issues
Hickory was used by the Cherokee’s for…
- Stickball sticks
- Crafting bows
- Smoking meats
- Inner bark of Mockernut and Shellbark Hickory used to finish baskets
- Ashes from hickory were used by settlers to make quality lye for soap.
- Inner bark used for cordage. Mark described a method of slicing down a hickory limb to remove the bark and twisting it to make a strong rope. I’ll explore that method in a later post.
- Green nut husks used as dye
- Nut oil mixed with bear fat as an insect repellent.
There are 36 pines in North America to choose from. These evergreens are easy to spot for anyone. To narrow down the species, count the needles. The Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is the only species in Eastern North America with 5 needles in the fascicle sheath (the paper-like sheath surrounding the base of the needles).
Hemlock is a part of the pine family and grows in southern Appalachia. Like other pines in our region, the inner bark is edible.
- Pine nuts are edible and tasty.
- Inner bark was eaten when other foods were scarce. Should be boiled/cooked since it is high in turpenes. Can also be dried and ground into a flour.
- Pine pollen can be collected and is edible and used like flour.
- Long strips of inner bark can be boiled to make pine noodles.
- Pine needle tea has the following medicinal properties: antiseptic, astringent, inflammatory, antioxidant, expectorant, high in Vitamin C for colds – flu – coughs, congestion, and even scurvy.
- Shikimic acid, the main ingredient in Tamiflu, is harvested from pine needles in Asia.
- Pine resin applied to skin conditions.
- Arthur Haines describes on his YouTube channel how pine pollen provides multiple avenues of protection against radioactive cesium.
- Warm poultice of pine resin will draw splinters and foreign matter from skin.
- The inner bark can be fashioned as an antiseptic Band Aid for cuts and scraps
- Chew softer sap straight off the tree like a gum for sore throats and colds. You could pre-make “gum” with these ingredients: bees-wax, pine sap, and honey.
- Pine sap/resin
- Fire Craft ~ My favorite fire starter. Resin-rich fat lighter produces a chemical burn for fire lighting.
- Wood for shelters and bows for bedding.
- Rescue Signals ~ A pre-made signal fire built with green pine boughs on top will generate enough white smoke to be seen for miles.
- Pine needles were used to make baskets and resin was used as a sealer.
- Logs were used in home building.
- White pine and hemlock are both good wood for friction fire.
- Dried and ground hemlock inner bark used as flour.
- Dried pine “flour” is useful when rubbed on the body to cover human scent while hunting.
Cherokees called trees “The Standing People.” Trees do not walk to new locations like animals in search of food. They are always in the same spot. Learning to identify trees and their resources will put you in a better position of appreciation and stewardship of your natural environment.
To mention all the trees used by the Cherokee would be better addressed in book form. In this article, we’ve highlighted three of my favorite trees in our woodlands.
This article was written by Todd and first appeared on Survival Sherpa.
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