I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship to a really awesome conference, Cullowhee Native Plant Conference, that takes place every year in North Carolina on the campus of Western Carolina University.
I learned a bunch about some of the hidden history of the design and implementation of the Blue Ridge Parkway, creating a “Pollinators Paradise,” and gained some more knowledge about Cherokee Ethnobotany from the renowned scholar on the subject, David Cozzo.
I first met David Cozzo last summer near Cherokee, North Carolina while I was taking a Maymester class through the University of Georgia. He took us on a hike in Great Smokey Mountain National Park and told about the Cherokee names and uses of many of the plants we saw. This year at Cullowhee, David talked about some of the principle plants used by the Cherokee. Here is a little of what I learned:
Old Tobacco, Nicotiana rustica: the native tobacco was used primarily in tribal ceremonies and it was used as a snake bite remedy by chewing a wad of tobacco while sucking the poison out of the bite. It was not smoked on a regular basis!
Sourwood, Oxydendron arborea: the straight twigs were used for arrows and the plant could be used for urinary tract remedies.
“Black Drink,” Ilex vomitoria: also known as Yaupon Holly, it is the only caffine-containing plant native to North America. It was used as a tea/drink in large quantities and then vomited up (as the Latin suggests) as a cleansing ritual during certain ceremonies.
Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata: (NOT a native, considered an invasive by many!) can be a diuretic if eaten in large quantities when eaten raw, but when dried or cooked (in jam or pie) you can eat all you want! They are pretty tasty, tart, little red berries with a small pit (like an olive!) They have upwards of 17-times the amount of the antioxidant lycopene as a tomato.
Finally, because rattlesnakes are sacred in the Cherokee culture, to kill a rattlesnake is very bad luck, but go ahead a kill a copperhead when you see one!