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Nature How People Use Wild Plants


How People Use Wild Plants

How many ways can you think of that you used plants today? What did you have for breakfast?  Did you eat any bread, cereal, jelly, orange juice or oatmeal?  You wouldn't have milk without grass for the cow to eat.  Look around the room. Can you find five things that are made of wood?


People have always depended on plants for food and shelter. In old times, people depended on plants for almost everything they did. The earliest people in the Ozarks, the Indians, used plants for lots of things. 

Although there are lots of plants that are good medicine and good to eat, never pick or eat a plant by yourself unless you're sure what it is. There are many plants in the forest that are poisonous and can make you VERY sick or VERY itchy. The best way to learn about plants is to look at them with a teacher or parent who knows about what plants are safe to eat. 

Mayapple Podophyllum peltatum
(Poe-doh-FIE-lum pell-TATE-um)

This plant is found in woods all over North America. It is easy to find because it grows in big groups. In late spring it will bloom with a single white flower in the middle of its leaf. Used by Native Americans for treating cancer, deafness and liver disorders. It was used by early settlers for treatment of liver, bladder, headache and worms. Today part of the root is used to treat cancer. 

Mullein Verbascum Thapsus (ver-BASK-um thap-SUS) 

You will often see this plant along the roadsides or in fields. When it is two years old, the mullein plant shoots up a long stalk of yellow flowers. This flower stalk can be over eight feet tall. The oil from these flowers was used traditionally to treat earache and coughs. The mullein plant has big, soft leaves that can be used as toilet paper in an emergency! 

Goldenseal Hydrastis canadensis
(High-DRAST-us can-uh-DENSE-us) 

The goldenseal got its name because of its roots are a bright yellow color. These roots are a powerful medicine for treating infections. Native Americans used the herb as a yellow dye for clothing and for treating respiratory allergies and inflammatory conditions. Because this plant is such good medicine, too many people have picked it out of the forests, and now it is a rare plant. 

Pale purple coneflower Echinacea pallida
(Eck-in-A-shuh pall-ID-uh) 
The long, drooping pink petals of the pale purple coneflower make this flower look sort of like a pink daisy. This plant likes to grow by the edge of the forests, and can be seen in summer along roadsides. Native Americans used the root of this plant for allergies, cleaning wounds and for treating snakebites. Today this plant is used for treating colds and sniffles. 

Ginseng Panaxquinquefolium L.(PAN-ax qwin-KUH-fole-ee-um) 

American ginseng occurs only in damp rich woods like those found here in the Ozarks. People have over- harvested it from the forests and now there is very little left. Many Native American people used this plant in many ways. The Creek Indians used it for shortness of breath. The Penobscots used it to increase fertility in women. The Meskakis used it as a love potion. The Cherokees used the root for headache and cramps. The Menominees used it as a strengthener of mental powers. Today, the root is widely used for increasing energy and metabolism as well as stabilizing blood sugar and blood pressure. 



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Why all these funny sounding names? To find out, see Scientific Names
  Written for the Atlas by Jessica Crandall.