Contributed by Matthew Maley
ETHNOBOTANICAL USES OF PLANTS – STORY WOODS Information provided for both Native American and some pioneer use of some plants. Note: many plants may have toxic or poisonous elements and should NOT be used as Native Americans or “folk remedies” suggest Begin review of identified plants at the junction of the A and B trails – just south of the parking area [A] BOX-ELDER Acer negundo This tree is a “riparian buffer” (grows well along river banks). It grows very fast, seeds early, and tolerates seasonal flooding of its roots. UTILITY-- fire wood possibly some structural elements FOOD—sap: collected in spring as a source of sugar, sweet drink [called mountain molasses by pioneers/settlers] MEDICINAL—inner bark: as an emetic CERIMONIAL: Charcoal for ritual paint. Wood burned during some ceremonies. [This tree grows rapidly but does not live as long as other trees, it produces large amounts of seeds that may result in it quickly overtaking vacant open areas. It is planted in “riverside” environments as erosion control] NOTE: Young growth/seedlings may be confused with poison ivy due to three leaves and red stem [A] SILVER MAPLE (Water Maple) Acer saccharinum Like the Box-Elder this tree serves as a “riparian buffer”. Studies have suggested that this tree may serve as a “bio-fuel” due to its rapid growth and soft wood. Seeds appear early and are very large (called samara). The spring dispersal of the seeds provides this tree the opportunity to begin new growth before other forest trees. UTILITY-- Fire wood, wood brittle/soft, black dye from bark/twigs growth (with iron containing clay) for hides, baskets. FOOD—sap: collected in spring for sugar, fermented as a drink MEDICINAL—bark: cramps, dysentery, and as an eye wash [B] HACKBERRY Celtis occidentalis UTILITY-- bark strips from young branches for cord, bindings FOOD--ripe berries: (dark red) eaten raw (sweet), dried and pounded to season or flavor meat, pounded and molded with into “sticks” and baked as winter food or food for travel MEDICINAL-- bark (inner) for sore throat [Historically the wood was commonly used for tobacco stakes] [B] WILD CHERRY, BLACK CHERRY Prunus serotina UTILITY-- ripe fruit: as a dye -- sap used as a weak glue/adhesive -- wood; furniture, musical instruments, precision instruments FOOD—berry: raw or cooked. Sap reported to have been chewed like gum MEDICINAL--* Inner bark: (aromatic) as a tea or syrup for cough, cold, fever, sore throat, diarrhea, and bronchitis [*Caution: Bark, leaves, and seeds contain cyanide-like glycoside (prunasin) which converts to highly toxic hydrocyanic acid if ingested. Most abundant in bark in the fall. It is indicated that heating/boiling destroys the toxin ] [ There may be a risk if livestock eat the leaves – removing lower limbs in a pasture reduces the risk. Also, the leaves are a favorite of the spring “tent caterpillar.] [C] RED CEDAR Juniperus virginiana UTILITY—Wood: for structural elements, limbs for covering, sweat lodge, posts FOOD-- Reported that cone/”fruit” used for flavoring* MEDICINAL-- Cone/”fruit” tea for colds, worms, rheumatism, coughs and to induce sweating. Chewed or steamed for bronchitis, colds, rheumatism (poultice), and purification ritual. Used like incense. [This tree is “sacred” to some tribes and is used in ceremonial activities. Some refer to it as the “tree of life”. This association may be why many people in the past planted this tree on graves or in grave yards.] (Historically used for wood in closets, chests (moth control), pencils, and fence posts) This tree is indicative of calcareous (limestone) soils. The cone seeds are relished by birds) * Caution: All parts are considered potentially toxic [D] BLACK WALNUT Juglans nigra. [J.cinerea Butternut Walnut – rare] UTILITY-- Wood: for fuel, tools, other. Bark, roots, and nut husk for brown or black dye. Male flowers produce brown dye. FOOD—Nut: provides very good source of food and can be stored for long periods. Ground as flour, pressed for oil MEDICINAL-- Contains “Juglone”: Husk juice topically for fungal infection (ringworm), poultice for inflammations. Inner [E] BLACK LOCUST Robinia pseudo-acacia UTILITY -- Wood for posts, rail ties, mine supports – very strong, hard & durable MEDICINAL – root: to induce emesis (vomiting) -- bark: held in mouth for toothache -- “folk use”” purgative, emetic, rheumatism -- flowers contain glycoside “robinin” – studies suggest use as diuretic [Note: All parts of plant are considered toxic] [F] CORK BARK ELM Ulmus thomasi (See [R] for possible uses) This tree is not common in our area [G] DOGWOOD Cornus florida UTILITY—wood: loom shuttles, handles, & golf club heads. Very hard wood -- twig: used at tooth brush (end pounded to make a “brush”) MEDICINAL -- bark: tea for backache, chewed for toothache -- root bark: poultice, tonic, stimulant, antiseptic, astringent [H] WHITE ASH & ASH SPECIES Fraxinus americana UTILITY – wood: tool handles, snow shoes, structural elements, “splits” braided into baskets, pipe stems, bows, arrows (saplings) -- currently used for baseball bats, furniture, doors, veneer, paddles BARK -- strips & sheets made into vessels. MEDICINAL -- leaves, buds, & seeds for teas: laxative, tonic, diuretic, styptic, fevers --inner bark: itching scalp, lice, snake bite, sores, chewed to make poultice for sores & treating hemorrhoids. [Considered to have “mystical powers”—connected with beneficent natural powers and used in ceremonies. Some of European descent attempted to use these “mystical powers” when they produced a “glider/flyer” and attempted to fly by using ash struts covered with canvas – didn’t work] [Emerald ash bore is attacking the White Ash causing many trees to weaken and die] [I] TULIP TREE Liriodendron tulipifera UTILITY – wood: light, soft & easily worked and used in furniture, structure elements & wood pulp -- tree trunk: dugout canoes -- bark: fiber used to make rope, cord and binding material MEDICINAL—root bark: tea for fever; pounded for poultice -- bark: dysentery, rheumatism, cough [Tallest hardwood (deciduous) tree in the US] [J] PERSIMMON [opposite side of trail] Diospyrus virginiana UTILITY—wood for handles, loom shuttles, center of old trees is black & was used for piano keys FOOD --ripe fruit MEDICINAL—inner bark: tea for dysentery, gargle for sore throat & mouth sores -- unripe fruit: very astringent – boil & use liquid for sore throat, diarrhea -- seed: ground and used for kidney stones -- root: boiled and used for dysentery [Member of Ebony family- very old trees develop a black center] [K] AMERICAN HOLLY Ilex opaca UTILITY—wood: canes, scroll work, furniture, stained and used as Ebony inlay substitute, hedges MEDICINAL – *berry: chewed for colic, indigestion, emetic -- leaf: boiled/tea for measles, colds, flu, pneumonia – external for sores and itching [Holly trees are “dioecious” meaning that male and female flowers are on different trees – only trees with the female flowers will have the red berries] [*Note: Berries considered poisonous] [L] WILD GRAPE [both sides of trail] Vitis species UTILITY—Vine: for binding, structural elements FOOD—Fruit: (tart) when fresh but sweet when dry. Leaf: as cooked green, wrap to bake meat Vine: as source of clean/pure/sweet water in spring MEDICINAL-- Leaf : tea for diarrhea, stomachache, fevers, analgesic, headache, other Poultice (wilted leaves) for rheumatism, headache, fever Seeds – Oligomeric procyanidins: microcirculatory disorders (seeds triangular shaped) [Historically for making jelly, cold drink, wine, cooked green] [caution: a poisonous plant (vine) called “moonseed” looks like wild grape, however, the seed looks like a half moon- the fruit forms in clusters] [M] FERN BANK/PRE-ILLINOIAN SOIL/NATIVE CANE RIVER CANE (NATIVE CANE/BAMBOO) Arundinaria gigantea FOOD-- Spring shoots: vegetable Seeds: as a cereal or flour* UTILITY-- Cane for making tools, weapons, baskets, mats, fish traps, whistles/flutes, pins, needles, punch, structural elements, for torches (1,000 yr. old torches found in Mammoth and Salts Caves in KY.) *[Caution: a pink or purplish fungus (ergot) may be present on seeds – avoid – very dangerous FERNS Two species of fern: Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) and Spleenwort (Asplenium resiliens) PRE-ILLINOIAN SOIL The orange sandy soil with some pebbles is a remnant of the Pre-Illinoian glacier that covered this area about 1.8 million years ago. This band of soil covers the central-south western part of the park and continues west across Pontius Road. Remnants of a sand/gravel pit exists on Pontius Road south of the entrance to Story Woods. Sand had been mined there and on the bluffs above Sayler Park for many years. [N] ELDER, ELDER BERRY Sambucus canadensis UTILITY-- Hollow stems used as “blow guns”. Stems, roots, and berries used for dye. FOOD—Flowers: in pancakes and fritters as a “nibble”. Berries cooked. MEDICINAL*-- Leaves: as a poultice for bruises and to stop bleeding Fruit : as a syrup for colds. Inner bark as a tea – diuretic, strong laxative, emetic and as poultice for cuts, headache, swelling. [*Caution: Bark, root, leaves, and unripe fruit considered toxic] [O] DOGBANE, INDIAN HEMP Apocynum cannabium. UTILITY-- Fiber used for cordage, nets, bow strings, bindings, woven items, yarn, and fabric. Currently native women on the west coast use dogbane fibers for their [Itatamat] “counting the days” which is like a diary. When a woman is married she begins to record events in her life by placing knots, shells, beads, and other items on a cord of dogbane that is rolled into a ball. When the ball becomes too large she begins another. [Plant parts are poisonous so any reported “medicinal use” may be dangerous] [P] SUGAR MAPLE Acer saccharum UTILITY-- Furniture, tool handles, cutting blocks, bowling pins, gun stocks FOOD—Sap: for “maple sugar”, sweetener, drink, vinegar, bark dried pounded to make flour. MEDICINAL—Sap: as eye wash, inner bark for cough, expectorant [Trees 30-40 years old bear minimal seeds; those older than 60 yr.= maximum seed production. Some trees live to 500 years. May have male and female flowers on same tree but on different branches.] [Q] AMERICAN BASSWOOD Tilia americana UTILITY—fiber: bark: cord, rope, bags, blankets, mats, fish nets, footwear, snowshoes. -- wood: soft, light weight, easily worked – a favorite of wood carvers (jewel wood). FOOD – buds: eaten raw or cooked – dry flowers: mild tea. Sweet sap next to bark MEDICINAL -- Native Americans used parts of the tree for medicinal purposes bark: dysentery, poultice, worms leaf: eyewash, poultice “sap”: coughs Roots: worms [R] ELM, RED ELM, SLIPPERY ELM Ulmus rugra & species UTILITY-- inner bark: and bark from twigs used for rope, bindings, bags, cord, roof elements, sandals, matting FOOD-- inner bark: tea, dried/ground to flour MEDICINAL-- mucilaginous inner bark: laxative, skin conditioner, poultice ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ PLEASE NOTE: The information provided here is associated with reviews related to Native American (Indian) uses of the listed plants. There may be no data associated with how the plant was prepared, how much of the plant is safe to use, or what side effects may be associated with use of the plant. Thus, it is NOT recommended that any of these plants be considered as a “folk” medicine. It is important to know how a plant must be prepared before it is used as a food, thus, some of the Native American “food” uses may be interesting but should not be utilized. M.Maley 9/6/09
"This photo is one of the displays I use to demonstrate useful plants -- in this case, Cattail."