The Powhatan Tribe & Their Use of Plants

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The Powhatan tribe occupied Eastern Virginia in and around the 1600s. It’s the same land that English settlers attempted to call their own. Due to conflicts with each other over land and food, the Powhatan tribe forced the English settlers into “the Starving Period.”

Both parties are my ancestors, so I take deep satisfaction in embracing the intriguing facts of this era, including the amazing medicinal remedies mastered by the Powhatans. They used 89 local remedies. Their use was vast, including various treatments for the lungs, eyes, skin, menstrual cramps and pain.

Aletris farinosa, often called the unicorn root, was utilized as a tea for menstrual cramps. It can be found in eastern parts of the U.S. and Canada. Aside from easing the pain of menstrual cramps, it helps to prevent miscarriage, ease digestive issues, and relieve muscle pain. The plant itself is tall and thin and displays beautiful white flowers that resemble a unicorn.

Prunus serotina, also known as black cherry, is a beautiful tree that is widespread in North and South America. The Powhatan tribe steeped the bark or berries to treat lung issues, such as whooping cough. The rest of the plant is toxic, so it’s important to be careful to only consume the berries and/or steep the bark.

Sphagnum peat, now a favorite source of beauty for gardeners, was once used to treat wounds by the Powhatan tribe. Sphagnum prevents bacterial growth and lowers the pH levels in wounds. It creates a sterile environment under bandages.

Much can be learned from indigenous wisdom on medicine from the Earth’s natural gifts. Many herbs, plants and flowers are medicinal, but many are also toxic. We have to fully research anything we use and how much is safe to use. We can all take a page out of the books of our ancestors, especially those who are native to the land, and learn how to make the most out of what’s growing right in our own backyards.

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