Ethnobotany Plants and People
Writer / Nancy Craig
Last month, my sister Liz and her friend Robin were visiting from Arizona, so we went to see the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art. While there, we went on the Ethnobotanical Explorations in the museum garden. The garden plants are native flowers, trees and shrubs which were used in many ways by the American Indians here in Indiana. Read more here: www.eiteljorg.org/explore/outdoor-spaces/outdoor-gardens.
Ethnobotany is described by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “the study of how people of a particular culture and region make use of indigenous [native] plants.” Plants provide us with food, fiber, medicine, shelter and tools. Plus, as we saw at the Eiteljorg, the plants are used by the American Indians in making and inspiring works of art. Birch tree bark was used in making wigwams, the Red Chokeberry tree can be seen in the designs of the bead work and several plants were used in making dyes. The Black-eyed Susan flowers were used for a yellow dye, and the Blue Wild Indigo, Baptisia australis, leaves were used to make a blue dye.
The Baptisia, or False Indigo plant, is my favorite perennial plant in my flower garden. I love it for the beautiful blue sweet pea-like flowers, its silver-green foliage and the seed pods that turn black and stay on the plant over the winter. The American Indians and colonial settlers used this plant for dyes and medicines, but I just enjoy its beauty and how it attracts butterflies.
My great nephews and nieces know firsthand about many of the plants that we grow for food like blueberries, peanuts and edible flowers. We are going to use this book, “Nature’s Art Box” by Laura C. Martin with drawings by David Cain, to make some art from plants. Eli will like making the pinecone bark houses out of the birch tree bark. We have a river birch tree in our front yard and plenty of pinecones from our pine trees in our side yard. The twins, Lindsey and Lauren, are going to try hammering to transfer images of the flowers and plants like Zinnias and the Chokecherry tree that are in their yard to make greeting cards.
Plants are very useful for us today, whether we use them for food, fiber, shelter or tools and very importantly in medicines for the future.
For more on Ethnobotany, visit fs.fed.us/wildflowers/ethnobotany/index.shtml