Wild Plant Foods

Gathering wild foods was an important part of the seasonal round, both to supplement hunting and fishing, and to expand the diet of those tribes that raised corn, beans, and squash.

All through summer and fall, the women and children gathered wild fruit, berries, and nuts. The women fastened birchbark buckets (makuks) to bands around their waists and filled them with wild foods they gathered. At the beginning of each season, everyone was so hungry for fresh fruits or berries that much of the crop was eaten immediately, but they gathered enough to cook, make into preserves or jams, or dry to be eaten as a seasoning with dried meats.

The Woodland area had an abundance of wild food, including cranberries, gooseberries, juneberries, blueberries, black and red raspberries, grapes, cherries, and chokecherries. Nuts were also important, including acorns from the pin oak and the white oak, hickory nuts, hazelnuts, beechnuts, and butternuts. A variety of vegetables were also gathered and eaten, including wild potatoes, wild onions, milkweed, and the root of the yellow water lily.

Gathering Medicines

In August, when the plants were fully developed, special attention was given to gathering herbs for medicine. Since most varieties were in blossom at that time, it was easier to identify them, although they could be gathered at any other time. Roots were usually dug in the spring and fall, and tree bark was collected during the summer. The person gathering the medicine would offer tobacco to the four directions as well as up and down. He put a little tobacco in the ground where he was about to dig. He then spoke in a low voice, promising that no more would be taken than was necessary and that it was intended only for benign purposes. The plants were tied separately and dried.

Personal Smoking and Kinnickinnic

Smoking a pipe as part of a ceremony or spiritual offering seems to have been about as common as smoking it for personal satisfaction. For personal use, tobacco was consumed primarily in pipes and was smoked by both men and women, but never by children. Kinnickinnic -- various other herbal substances, usually red willow -- was mixed with strong native tobacco in varying amounts to suit the individual smoker. Personal pipes were small with a short stem.

Kinnickinnic (an Ojibwe word) literally means "what is mixed," and refers to plant materials that Indian people mixed with tobacco for smoking. Use of Kinnickinnic was widespread in North America but the ingredients varied regionally. In the Woodlands, the favorite ingredients were the inner bark of certain willows, dogwoods, or sumac leaves. The final mixture usually only contained about one-third tobacco.

To prepare Kinnickinnic, a man cut red osier dogwood stems and carried them back home where he scraped off the outer bark with a pocket knife. With the back of the knife blade, he then scraped curlicues of inner bark from the stem, and allowed them to fall in a cloth placed over his lap. He then made a drying rack by splitting one of the peeled stems halfway down and opening the end to form a Y. The opened portion was then woven with criss-crosses of other split stems to form a grid, and on this, he placed the curlicues of inner bark. He forced the rack into the ground diagonally just above a low fire, so the bark was about a foot above the flames and could dry in the heat without being burned. In about 20 minutes, the bark was toasted and crisp, and could be pulverized to the consistency of a rough-cut tobacco by rubbing it between the palms.