Unwrapping Mandan Bride Corn

This is one of the joys of this time of year: shucking the husks off the multicolored corn (wagméza/wagmíza/wamnáheza) that you’ve grown, and finding out what unique, beautiful color combinations lie underneath. When I was shucking corn at a friend’s farm earlier this week, another helper described this experience as being akin to unwrapping holiday presents, and I fully agree.

Here are pictures of my process of unwrapping an ear of Mandan Bride Corn that I grew. This is one of my favorite corn varieties — you can learn more about it here. I think this ear turned out to be especially beautiful.

Drying Sumac Berries

These are some clusters of Smooth Sumac berries (Čhaŋzí, or Rhus glabra) that I picked in Akíčita Háŋska (Fort Yates), drying in a box top. While these berries don’t have a lot of moisture in them to begin with, I dry them before putting them in a jar for the year, to avoid them getting moldy.

I grew up knowing this shrub for the Sumac lemonade (or “Indian lemonade”), a refreshing cold drink you can make from the berries. In this PBS video, Cherokee Nation citizen and chef Nico Albert demonstrates the process of making this drink.

You can harvest the berries in late summer/early fall once they turn red. I wouldn’t advise waiting too long, though — after awhile, the bugs start eating the berries, and the spiders start building their homes there. (I had to evict a few spiders from the berry clusters I picked before I brought them inside to dry.)

Other traditional uses that I know for this plant are that the long, straight branches with soft cores make good pipestems (čhaŋnúŋpsiŋte), and the sap just under the bark makes a bright yellow dye.

Under cultivation, this shrub can be slightly aggressive. My mentor, an elder on Standing Rock, brought back a small stick of this plant from Michigan 10 years ago to plant by the sweatlodge behind his home, hoping it would grow into a source of pipestems for the community. It has — and it has continued to grow beyond what he imagined, growing into a long, thick hedge running the whole length of the lodge, firepit, and shed, shielding the whole area from view. So, plant with caution — but if you’re looking for a fast-growing shrub that makes delicious lemonade, this could be a good choice.

Seeing Blue: Čhaŋȟlóǧaŋ pȟáŋpȟaŋla (Bracted Spiderwort)

Bracted Spiderwort, growing on the prairie in North Dakota. Sorry for the slightly blurry photo.

Čhaŋȟlóǧaŋ pȟáŋpȟaŋla, Bracted Spiderwort, or Tradescantia bracteata is one of the rarer prairie flowers around Standing Rock.

Of course, all of the plants in our fragile prairie ecosystem have taken quite a hit with industrial agriculture, cattle grazing, and other ways that the newcomers have reshaped the land and water systems, but this plant has always been rare.

This tiny little flower, no bigger than a dime, is prized as a blue dye — in fact, as far as I know, it is the only blue dye available, traditionally, on the prairies. This is the blue flower that produces the shade of blue you’ll see in old-time quillwork. Due to its rarity, you don’t see extensive use of the color blue in older quillwork.

There have been some interesting news stories over the past few years about whether premodern people perceived the color blue. In a decidedly Eurasian-centric conversation about the ancient world, scholars point to languages that lacked words for “blue,” and ancient poetry that compares the skies and oceans to other things that definitely aren’t blue. (This is one of the more thorough articles about the phenomenon.)

But I haven’t seen anybody bringing Turtle Island into these conversations. Lakȟól’iyapi and Dakhód’iapi, the Indigenous languages I know best, use the word tȟo (L) or thó (D), meaning “blue,” extensively. Tȟó/thó usually refers to things that we would consider blue today, such as a blue sky, maȟpíya tȟó. But I also sometimes see it to describe things we consider green today, such as pȟeží tȟó, green grass. I’ll have to ask someone with deeper knowledge about this. But the rarity and preciousness of this blue-dye plant made me wonder if Turtle Islanders might have a different take on this ancient-color-perception issue.

Linda Black Elk writes, in her field notes, that “The flowers are used to make blue paint for shoes. Lakota men wrote and sang songs about this beautiful flower, often relating and comparing it to the women they loved.”

This plant has a close cousin, Tradescantia ohiensis (Ohio spiderwort), that grows further east on the prairies.

Another cousin of this plant, Tradescantia pallida, native to the Yucatan peninsula, is a popular houseplant. Its English names include Purple Spiderwort, Purple Heart, Wandering Dude, and Wandering Jew. (I don’t recommend using the last name on the list, and here’s an article on racism in plant taxonomy that explains why — but I include it on this list for people who might not know its other names.) This one, unlike its rare prairie cousin, is easy to propagate from cuttings. I have several of them around the house, and they are said to filter the air more than other houseplants, which is an infinitely useful quality during these times of wildfires. I hear that the people in their indigenous range, in the Yucatan, use them as medicine, although I do not have first-hand knowledge of that.

My rabbit, who keeps giving unauthorized haircuts to this plant, reports that they are also quite edible.

Western Marbleseed

A community of medicine plants on a hillside on Standing Rock, with Western Marbleseed at the center.

Walking the prairies around Standing Rock, I often run into this plant, nestled among taller grasses and other plants. It has many names. Western Marbleseed. False Gromwell. Soft-hair Marbleseed. Šúŋkačhaŋkȟahúiphiye. Onosmodium bejariense.

Its alternating leaves are a sage-gray green. Its stems and leaves are covered with white hairs — and while I wouldn’t quite call them “soft,” as one of the English names describes, they aren’t as tough as thistle spines, as thick as mullein hairs, or painful as nettle hairs. During the height of summer, they produce small groups of round, white flowers with protruding stamens. As the season turns toward fall, the flowers are replaced by seed pods.

The first thing I learned about this plant is that its white, pearlescent seeds, which are each a few millimeters long, are traditionally used in rattles. Judging from their shape and texture, I imagine that they would sound relaly nice in a rattle. That said, they are not very abundant — I’ve been collecting seeds for a few years, just a few here and there where the plants produced enough to spare a few seeds, but it will probably be many more years before I have enough for a rattle. (I’m not sure if this plant was more abundant in earlier times.)

Linda Black Elk also described, in what she learned from elders in her field research, that men decoct the roots and seeds as a remedy for swelling, which is sometimes also used for horses. However, I have no personal experience with these plant uses.

I have heard that this plant can be cultivated. I have seen a few seed companies selling seeds, and the descriptions indicate that it requires cold stratification, but I have not yet tried this myself. It is a wonderfully drought-tolerant plant, though, so perhaps this will be one of my garden experiments for next year!

Pennycress — Apé Mázaska

These are some late-summer pictures of Apé Mázaska / Pennycress / Thlaspi arvense. It is a Brassica-family green that was originally from Europe, but has naturalized all over in the Dakotas.

I mostly harvest the seed heads (which kind of look like a bunch of pennies on a stalk), because the seeds can be used like mustard — ground up as a spice, put into pickling mixes, etc. But Linda Black Elk has been talking about it recently as a delicious spring green, too.

This time of year (May), the greens are popping up across Dakota territory. (The seedheads will emerge later in the summer.) I’m even planting a few seeds in my garden this year, so I have a source of the greens close to home.

Yucca with Flower Stalk

This Hú Pȟéstola / Great Plains Yucca / Yucca glauca is just putting up its flower stalk. Within a couple weeks after the flower stalk emerges, it will be covered with beautiful and edible white flowers.

Although yucca plants are abundant in the Northern Great Plains, their survival hangs in a delicate balance with the survival of Yucca Moths. They are the only insects that pollinate yucca flowers, and yucca flowers are the only food source for these moths. If the moths hatch out too early, or the yucca flowers bloom too late, neither species will produce offspring for the next generation. With climate change causing sometimes-drastic changes to the timing of prairie plants setting flowers, this is a real concern.

In the In Defense of Plants podcast put out a great episode a few years back, “The Sex Lives of Yuccas,” that discusses this phenomenon.

(This picture is from early June in a previous year.)

Making (semi-)Old School Salve

In all the years I’ve been making salve with Indigenous North American plant medicines, I’ve been acutely aware of the fact that I was using European ingredients to turn our medicine plants into salve. The salve recipes I’ve been taught instruct us to infuse the plant into a vegetable oil (such as olive oil), then strain it, and mix in beeswax, then cool until it solidifies. But olive trees are from the Mediterranean. And although there are over 4,000 indigenous bee species in North America, I have never heard of of beeswax being an ingredient in our traditional medicine-making processes here.

When I asked elders and Native herbalists about what people used to use in the old days, I usually heard something like, “Oh, they probably used some kind of animal fat.” This makes sense, and I know a few Indigenous medicine makers who use bear grease in their medicines — but in small proportions.

I really wanted to learn to make salve the way they made it here in the old days. And the more I learn about bioregional herbalism, the more inclined I am to work with locally available ingredients.

After several years trying to track down a good source, I finally found a rancher who would sell me some high-quality bison fat last summer. I froze it, and one of my waníyetu wičhóȟ’aŋ (winter projects) this year was rendering about 20 pounds of bison fat, and jarring up the resulting tallow for medicine making. (This has been a slow process — and a messy, labor-intensive one.)

This spring, I have begun experimenting with making salve with the bison tallow.

My first batch, I infused some of my favorite herbs into the bison tallow overnight in a crockpot. At the end, I used beeswax to solidify it.

The end result was way too hard. And while it smelled faintly of the herbs infused in it, one of the people who tested it for me said it smelled too much like meat. The other said his dogs became way too interested in his feet once he put the salve on.

This is my second test batch: ȟaŋté & pteíčhiyuȟa (Cedar & Curlycup Gumweed) chest rub for a family with COVID. Realizing that the bison tallow by itself was too thick to spread, and too meaty, I did 50% tallow and 50% olive oil this time.

Adding the rendered bison tallow on top of the plant medicines.
Pouring in the olive oil, as the bison tallow starts to melt.
Stirring them together, before leaving them on Low to infuse overnight.

I forgot to take a picture of the final product before I sent it out to the family, but it turned out pretty well. The other people I sent samples to said it was better than the last one. I have since done another 50-50 bison tallow/olive oil salve that turned out well, which has been quite helpful for dry winter hands, especially with the constant COVID hand-washing. I will post pictures when I can.

So I haven’t figured out a perfect, all-indigenous recipe that works yet. But I am at least 50% closer to my goal. I have a product that works for now, and is getting positive feedback from people who are using it. I will keep trying.

How I Prepared for the COVID-19 Vaccine

Čheyáka (Mentha arvensis) growing near a creek (Akíčita Háŋksa / Long Soldier district of Standing Rock). Čheyáka tea can help to reduce fevers.

I have gotten several requests for info about how to prepare yourself for a COVID-19 vaccine — especially for the possibility of a minor negative reaction. This is a little off-topic from what I normally write about, but I have compiled a list of what I did, as well as the many great ideas that my friends shared with me.

First, a few disclaimers:

1. I am not a doctor, and this post should not be taken as medical advice.

2. I have only gotten my first dose of the vaccine, and I seem to be tolerating it fairly well so far. Is that because I’ve been doing what I described below? Did I just get lucky? Or both? I don’t know. Will I experience worse symptoms later? I don’t know.

Normally, I’d wait until I was fully through this experience in order to write about it, but lots of people are getting vaccinated now, so I don’t want to delay posting information that might help somebody. If anything changes, I will update this piece.

3. Every body is different. People’s reactions to the vaccine have varied widely. Some people have no side effects. For other people, the side effects can be pretty awful — but compared to the horrible things the virus or its after-effects can do to a body, I still think the vaccine is a good idea. Even the person I know who had the most severe reaction (someone with multiple serious autoimmune disorders) to the vaccine is still glad they got it — because, given their health conditions, they might not survive getting COVID. 

Another friend who had a rough time with the second dose of the vaccine accurately described their experience as the process as “making antibodies.” That’s a good thing for us to remember — some of the temporary symptoms we experience are the result of our bodies working hard to make antibodies. This is how we build up immunity to the virus.

4. In this post, I’m not going to debate whether COVID-19 is real, or whether the vaccine is safe/a good idea. The idea that COVID-19 is not real is a slap in the face to all of us who who have lost loved ones to this disease. As for vaccine safety, that is a real and legitimate concern. I have done extensive research, and will make a separate post with links to some resources I have found that convinced me this was safe. For now, this article on holistic vaccine support by Dr. Diana Quinn is probably one of the best I’ve found on this topic.

So, how can we prepare ourselves to get the vaccine?

These were the top tips that I found helpful:

1. Drink a LOT more fluids than normal. This one really helped me, and I highly recommend it. Herbal tea, water, coconut water — anything hydrating. (Pop/soda, coffee, and caffeinated tea are dehydrating.)

2. Be prepared for the possibility that you could feel sick and/or tired for a few days. Have the necessary supplies on hand to treat your symptoms, and prepare food for yourself in advance.

3. Plan for some time off work/school, if possible. Especially for the second shot — people seem to need more rest/recovery time after dose #2.

4. Exercise your arm as much as you are able, in the first 12 hours after your shot, to minimize pain at the injection site. Gentle stretching won’t do much, but heavier, weight-bearing exercise seems to help.

I will give more details on this below. But first, I wanted to share a personal story from a friend. Stefanie (Diné) gave me a great write-up of her vaccination experience, how she prepared for it, and what she wished she’d done differently. I am sharing it here with her permission:

First shot Pfizer – what I did – not a whole lot, honestly. I worked my arm after I received the shot the same day. I also talked it over with the person administering the shot and he helped me decide to get the injection in my non-sleeping arm, which in hindsight, was the best advice I was ever given. 

What I wish I had done – prepare for the soreness the next day. The day of the vaccine my arm was fine, but when I woke up the next day it was a brick. Luckily I live with my husband and he was able to reach high up things for me, but it was an effort to move it or do other tasks, like drive. 

Second shot for Pfizer – what I did – I tried to sleep eat and drink water for the week leading up to it to make sure my immune response was in the best shape and my body wasn’t stressed from other factors. I cut out alcohol, I cut down on red meat, I cut down my sugars, I went all out to reduce inflammation. 

I also prepared to be sick. I’ve had family members my age [30s] have some terrible side effects. I did see a community health center presentation that said they were seeing a trend where people younger than 55 had more side effects than those over. So I took the next day off, got some of my favorite sick foods, and pulled out an extra blanket in case I got the chills (a family member and my physical therapist had that reaction). 

Luckily, I did not have any of those reactions. Instead I was just TIRED. I could not stay awake for more than two hours at a time the day after. Two days out I was able to get back to work, but at the end of the day I was completely zonked. What I wish I had done – prep just a little more for the fatigue.

One more thing – before my second shot I communicated a lot with people I interact with to set boundaries and expectations. I told my boss and a few close colleagues that I was going to be completely unavailable for one to maybe two days, so to schedule meetings and work deadlines around that. I also had conversations with my husband about my fears, my concerns, and my expectations of what I may or may not need if I experience side effects. That helped prep the household. And then I had my cheer leading friends, which is always just nice. “

The following tips that friends shared with me may not be possible for everyone. Some of them require financial resources, a certain family/living situation, a flexible job/school arrangement, or an able body that not all of us have. So take what you can, and leave the rest.

Items to have on hand:
-Beverages with electrolytes (like coconut water or Gatorade)
-Herbal Tea (suggestions below!)
-Plenty of water
-Prepared meals (make a big crockpot of food, buy microwave meals, etc)
-Over-the-counter medication for pain, fever, & inflammation (such as Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, a combination of both)  
-Epsom salts for a bath
-Antihistamine allergy medication (if you tend to have strong allergic reactions)
-Ice pack
-Heating pad

Planning Ahead — Some Ideas:
-The process of getting the vaccine may take longer than you think — be prepared to wait. Some people are spending hours in line. If you’re in a cold climate and waiting in your car, make sure you have enough gas in your tank. And you won’t be able to leave right after your shot — if you have allergies, they’ll observe you for 30 minutes afterwards. And if you don’t, they’ll observe you for 15 minutes before you can leave.
-Take one (or several) day(s) off of work or school. People (especially younger people) tend to need more recovery time after the second dose — so if you can, take more time off after that one.
-Childcare: Arrange for someone else to watch your kids the next day, so you can rest.
-Get ahead on your paperwork, job, or homework.
-Make sure you have enough food and supplies for yourself, your kids, and your pets, so you won’t have to go out the next day.
-Put any hard-to-reach items in an easier-to-reach place, in case you have too much arm pain to reach high up after the vaccine. 
-If you live alone, arrange for someone to check in on you.

Ideas for minimizing pain at the injection site:
-Pain in your arm seems to be the most common vaccine side effect, so I would expect some pain. They’ll let you choose which arm to get vaccinated in. Two things to consider: which side is your dominant hand/arm, and whether you sleep on one side.
-One elder told me that icing her arm made it hurt less.
-An acupuncturist suggested a heating pad on the arm could help, too.
-Putting a couple drops of an anti-inflammatory tincture onto my skin around the injection site seemed to help me a bit.
-Some people have suggested working out the muscle, starting right after you get the shot, to keep the pain from getting too bad. I did 10 push-ups right when I get home, and did another set every few hours when it was starting to hurt. Now, 36 hours later, it hurts much less than other vaccines I’ve had. In fact, my arm hurts hurts less than my knee does, from kneeling on a tile floor for 2 minutes that same day. But I can’t say whether any of this is scientifically valid or not.
[Update 3/31/21, after shot #2: Exercising definitely seemed to make a difference for both shots. I did a lot of hard physical work in the garden in the hours following shot #2, and had minimal pain the next day. A friend of mine was having pain after her shot and found that gentle stretching didn’t do much — but then she vacuumed her whole apartment, and her arm felt much better after. So I think doing more vigorous/weight-bearing exercise is what makes the difference.]
-Someone else suggested rubbing your arm at the injection site, and doing exercise to keep it moving.

What about treating my vaccine side effects with plant medicines?

The two most common symptoms seem to be pain/inflammation, and fever. Below, you’ll find a list for each. As usual, you don’t need everything on the list — one or two from each category should be more than enough. Some of these plants do double duty, and are on both lists.

The other symptoms that people have reported, besides pain/inflammation and fever, are so varied that I am not going to try to address them in this post.

Wáǧačhaŋ čhíŋkpa (Cottonwood buds) and Willow bark both contain salicin, a powerful anti-inflammatory compound.

Plant medicines for Pain and Inflammation that can help:
-I have been drinking a spicy Čhoȟwáŋžiča / Willow [Salix species] bark tea blend with cinnamon (both herbs are anti-inflammatory), and a few other spices. Make your own blend, according to your personal needs.
-I have been using a Meadowsweet tincture (taking it internally, and also applying a drop to the injection site).
-I haven’t needed it, but I have a stronger anti-inflammatory Wáǧačhaŋ / Cottonwood bud tincture prepared.
-Other herbs that could work: Prickly Ash (tincture or topical), Arnica (topical), Turmeric (internal), Garlic (internal), Rosemary (internal), Black pepper (internal).

Plant medicines for Reducing Fever that can help:
Čhoȟwáŋžiča / Willow (Salix species) Bark as a tea (any willow species)
Wáǧačhaŋ/Cottonwood (Populus species) inner bark as a tea, or buds as a tincture
Čheyáka / Mint (Mentha arvensis) leaves as a tea
-Waštémna / Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa) flowers or leaves as a tea
Igmú tȟačhéyaka / Catmint (Nepeta cataria) leaves as a tea
Siŋkpȟé tȟawóte / Wiike / Bitterroot / Sweet Flag / Acorus Calamus root as a tea
Waȟčá pȟepȟéla / Boneset / Eupatorium species leaves and flowers as a tea

But wait…aren’t we supposed to avoid anti-inflammatories with this vaccine?

There’s a lot of mixed messaging out there about this. The general recommendation seems to be to avoid taking anti-inflammatories before your shot. There is confusion about whether it’s ok to take them after your shot. This article explains the recommendation for avoiding them before you get the vaccine.

Marc Strong (Sičháŋǧu Lakota), a scientist who has read and interpreted a lot of the available research on this issue, explained to me,
“The CDC is recommending that you not take anti-inflammatory meds before getting the COVID vaccine. There is a concern that your immune response will be slightly suppressed if you do. Though there isn’t a lot of evidence that this happens. Better safe than sorry, I suppose. HOWEVER, the CDC says that if you develop symptoms after the vaccine, it’s fine [to take anti-inflammatories]. Your immune system has already started a response and is making the antibodies already.”


I hope this information is useful. Please feel free to comment or contact me if you see any errors, or have any questions.

Thank you for getting vaccinated, and doing your part to protect our communities and end this pandemic!

Taŋyáŋ úŋ wo — be well!

Indigenous Seed Acknowledgements, Present & Future

I just attended the virtual Slow Seed Summit, a project of Slow Food USA. (They’re a great organization doing important work, with a goal of “good, clean and fair food for all” — please check them out.) It was an excellent, educational event, highlighting the work of many seed stewards who are safeguarding one of our most precious resources on the planet. I especially appreciated all the news, ideas, current projects, and stories that were shared — and how they highlighted the voices of elders, Indigenous people, and African and African-American seedkeepers.

At the end, they had an open session. I decided to speak up about something that has bothered me about the mainstream seed movement for years: acknowledging Indigenous origins of seeds. (I also mentioned this in my recent piece on seed rematriation, published in Red Rising Magazine.) I wanted to share my comment here, in case anyone else is also interested in this issue.

“A request I’d like to put out there, as an Indigenous person and seedkeeper:

Please acknowledge the Indigenous origins of any seeds you are stewarding. When you share these seeds, please share the name of the people/tribe/nation where your seeds originated. Too many organizations that work to preserve heirloom seeds don’t acknowledge those seeds’ Indigenous origins. (For instance, many heirloom seed catalogs give the impression, in their descriptions, that tomatoes are from Europe.)

Also, when sharing these seeds, please refer to the Indigenous people who they are from in the PRESENT tense — even if you don’t think we exist any more, and even if you don’t think that we grow them any more. (ie, say “X Tribe grows these seeds” — not “X Tribe used to grow them”). This leaves open the possibility of our present and future relationship with our seeds.

All the speakers at this conference done an excellent job of this, which is such a refreshing change. However, our larger seed movement often uses language that erases Indigenous people and seed origins.

Thank you for considering this request.”


After I said this, there were a couple comments from attendees about how it can be difficult to correctly credit the origins of certain seeds, in situations where multiple tribes/Indigenous Nations claimed the seeds as their own. This isn’t really what I was talking about. If you run into this problem, it means that you are trying to acknowledge the origins of the seeds you steward — which is exactly what I am hoping everyone will do. The organizations/people I was referring to are not trying; they publish seed catalogues that say their tomatoes originated in Russia, or they say that their corn was developed in Italy, without giving any credit to the Turtle Islanders who first developed these crops.

I don’t have all the answers here, I can’t speak for anyone besides myself, and I am certainly no authority on the right way to do this. But what I wish I had seen, as a young person browsing through seed catalogs, talking to seedkeepers, and learning about crop origins, is an honest accounting for where the seeds originally came from.

What do you do if you’re not sure which tribes/Indigenous people first grew the seeds you currently steward? Keep researching — and in the meantime, make sure you pass on as much information as you currently have about the geographic origins of your crop. (Even if you can only point to the continent of origin, please give credit where credit is due. For example, I wish more people knew that black-eyed peas originated in Africa — too many people think they’re from the Americas.)

What do you do if the seeds you steward have multiple origins? (For instance, a cowpea that originated in Africa, and was developed into a regionally-adapted variety of black-eyed pea somewhere else, or a Native American bean that an immigrant community has grown for centuries?) Personally, I would like to see stories of all the groups of people who have worked with, saved, and passed along a seed honored and acknowledged when we talk about, or share, our seeds.

What do you do if multiple groups claim that the seeds you steward originated with their community? Again, I am not an authority on this — but if it was me, I would pass along both origin stories whenever you share your seeds. Unless you can personally trace the lineage of the exact seeds you steward back to a particular tribal community of origin with 100% certainty, I would not attempt to judge which community might be “correct” when claiming the seeds were originally theirs. I would also be open to the possibility that multiple origin stories for a single seed could be true.

A story to illustrate that last point:

A few years ago, I met a seedkeeper from Anishinaabe territory who had been taking care of a rare corn variety. He told me it was called Bear Island Flint Corn. I’d never heard the name before, but as soon as I saw it, I knew this corn. It was a multicolored corn with a very particular color palette. Some kernels had an unusual, distinctive, familiar pattern of stripes. It looked exactly like the corn I had been stewarding. I must have asked him at least 4 times, “Are you sure this isn’t Mandan Bride corn?” He was very polite, and allowed me to ask a lot of questions about his corn. Not only did it look identical to what I had, but the two types had some other important traits in common: 85-90 days to maturity, and a reputation as a superior, high-protein flour corn. I couldn’t identify any differences between the two corns, besides the geographic origins.

Bear Island Flint Corn has a long historical relationship with Anishinaabe people in Michigan. And Mandan Bride Corn has a long historical relationship with the Mandan people in North Dakota. Are they the same corn? Maybe yes — people have been trading and sharing seeds for a long time. But also, definitely no — even if DNA tests were to show that these 2 corn varieties were totally identical, the exact seeds that my friends carries have deep roots in Anishinaabe communities and the soil of the Great Lakes region, and the exact ones that I carry are just as deeply connected to Mandan people and the northern reaches of the Missouri River. The seeds, and their histories, are not interchangeable.

I realize that this story — two known, definite origins for what may (or may not) possibly be one type of corn — is not exactly the same situation as the conundrum that the seedkeepers at the conference posed. But I share it as an illustration of the fact that multiple seemingly-contradictory seed stories can be true. If I wasn’t sure of my corn’s genealogy, I would share both origin stories whenever I shared my seeds. I would share all the information I had — because when someone is taking responsibility for the life of a seed, and all the generations of descendants that seed carries within itself, I think it’s important for us to pass along everything we know about the seed to any new seed steward, so they can care for it in a good way.

Other Resources from the Slow Seed Summit:

Here are several other resources I found out about from this conference, that I wanted to share:

Slow Food USA’s “Share a Seed” initiative:
I love the idea of this program — to redistribute people’s extra seeds to others who will plant them, so seeds are not wasted.

Slow Food USA’s “Plant a Seed” campaign:
This is a great campaign, where you can purchase a set of 5 seed varieties”endangered and biodiverse seeds that tell a story,” grow and enjoy them in your garden, and join other seed stewards the work of preserving them.

True Love Seeds‘ African Diaspora Seed Collection:
This is the work of my friend and his partner, who started an amazing project of connecting people with the seeds that their ancestors grew. This particular collection is focused on seeds from African and African-American communities.

True Love Seeds’ African Diaspora Seed Bundle & Postcard collection:
This is a pack of 4 seed varieties, 5 seeds each, and accompanying art postcards. Perfect size for a gift, or for beginning seed gardeners.

Forest Gardens of Europe: Someone at the conference shared this link. I was really intrigued to see this. When the Europeans first came to North America, they thought they were seeing a vast, wild wilderness that was untouched — “unspoiled” by any human hands. What they failed to notice was that a lot of the land here was actually a carefully cultivated forest garden. It just didn’t look like a European garden, with rows of crops, so they didn’t have a reference point to understand what they were seeing. Well, apparently, Europe has (or had) its own forest gardens, too. I guess this shouldn’t be surprising, but I found it very interesting.

Oscar Will, a North Dakota seedman from the early 20th century who I hadn’t heard of before (but probably should have):

This Native American Ethnobotany database:
The interface is pretty bare-bones, but there’s an impressive amount of info on here: 44,691 listings of plant uses, for 291 tribes. You can use it to search for the name of a plant (ex: “nettles”), a tribe (ex: “Apache”) or a symptom that you need a plant to treat (ex: “inflammation”).