Waȟpé Tȟáŋka Čík’ala: Little Burdock Plant

Here’s a small but mature dock plant growing alongside Íŋyaŋ Wakáǧapi Wakpá (the Cannon Ball River). While it didn’t get very big, you can tell it’s a mature plant because of the seed pods. In more optimal growing environments, it can get as tall as a person, with giant leaves (hence the name, waȟpé tȟáŋka, or “big leaf”).

Burdock, scientific name Arcitum minus, is a Eurasian plant. Though not native to North America, it grows abundantly as a weed in the prairies and Great Lakes (and possibly elsewhere, too).  Many people try hard to get rid of burdock, but it has an intense root system, and it usually wins. Personally, I think Burdock is worth welcoming into your life, and getting to know as a medicinal plant.

In Asia (and in more niche markets within North America, people cultivate burdock for the roots. The roots are are an important part of Japanese cuisine; I was first introduced to them as “gobo” (Japanese for “burdock”), a pickled vegetable with a pleasant flavor. It took me longer to connect this delicious food with the garden weed than it should have! I have since gotten to know a little about its medicinal properties, too.

The roots are also a powerful blood purifier. A relative of mine with Lyme Disease takes a Burdock tincture regularly to help with this, and people with many other health conditions can also benefit from the medicine of Burdock. You can make them into tea, tincture, powder, food, pickles, and probably much more. The pictures I took of a Burdock tincture I helped press in herbal school last fall turned out too blurry to use, but this website provides some great info on Burdock, including much clearer pictures of a jar of Burdock tincture.

I know someone who uses a poultice of the leaves as a burn remedy, but I do not have personal experience with that.

White Waštémna?!

Yesterday, I went out to harvest this plant that has so many names in Lakota and English — waȟpé waštémna, heȟáka tȟapȟéžuta, wild bergamot, beebalm, elk medicine, Monarda fistulosa.

I was surprised to find, in addition to the many magenta flowerheads that were popping out of the hillside to announce their presence, a small number of white blooms.

I reached out to my mentor about this, and she, over in Minnesota, had taken a similar picture of white waštémna flowers only an hour before!

While it’s a less common color and definitely a variant, the white flowers do occur sometimes. I couldn’t speak to any differences in their properties on a biochemical level, but they smell and taste the same as the fuscia ones.

This is an extremely powerful medicinal plant, and a very important medicine for herbalists in the Dakotas and perhaps beyond. I’ll write another post just dedicated to Waštémna as a medicinal plant.

Sand Cherry — Aúŋyeyapi / Tȟaȟpíyoǧiŋ

I spotted a rare Sandcherry bush on Standing Rock:

Their scientific name as Prunus pumila, showing that they are a close relative to čhaŋpȟá (chokecherries) and kȟáŋta (wild plums). Some sources list it as Prunus besseyi, although that may refer to a western relative of this plant; you can find a little more on that here. The alternate English name for the Sandcherry is the Ground cherry, although that name often refers to a delicious South American indigenous fruit that resembles a tomatillo.

In other places in Lakota/Dakota country, these are more common. They may even be more abundant on other areas of Standing Rock, but in the places where I most frequently go, I’ve never seen more than a couple of these shrubs at a time.

And yes, this little plant is less than 6 inches tall, but it’s still technically a bush or shrub. On the rocky outcroppings at higher elevation where I usually find them, I’ve only seen them growing a few inches off the ground, like this photo I took. But other sources say they can get up to 6 feet tall.

To me, they taste like chokecherries. Since I’ve never collected enough to do much with them besides eat them straight off the shrub, I can’t say too much about how to work with them. I’ve had some great Sandcherry jam from the wonderful gift shop at the Cheyenne River Youth Project in Eagle Butte, SD (definitely worth a visit if you’re passing through). Linda Black Elk’s notes report the juice being used as a pigment for face paint, and the fruit being dried and used in wasná.

Finally, I think the name is worth discussing. Since this isn’t one that I commonly see on Standing Rock, it’s not in my vocabulary, so I had to look it up. The New Lakota Dictionary calls it “aúŋyeyapi.” And while I can’t be 100% sure about the derivation, it sure looks like it’s related to the word for contamination:

My best guess is that because they grow so low to the ground, they may be at risk for contamination from animal urine or feces? If anybody knows more on this, please comment on this blog and let me know.

The other name that Linda Black Elk gives is tȟaȟpíyoǧiŋ. (It is not in the aforementioned dictionary, which is not as comprehensive or thorough when it comes to plant words, as it is about other vocabulary.)

Do you have more abundant Sandcherries in your community? If so, what name do you call them, and how do you work with them?

Wasžúšteča Wanáȟča: Strawberry Flower

When you see the first strawberry flowers of the year, you know the berries aren’t too far behind! This picture is from early spring.

Wild Strawberries, Fragaria spp., wažúšteča, are one of my favorites. They are indigenous to boreal forests around the same latitude all over the northern hemisphere. In addition to indigenous North American wild strawberries, I have also worked with wild strawberry plants from England and Germany. There are also indigenous strawberries in the Southern Hemisphere. (This link will take you to a fascinating story about an indigenous Chilean strawberry.)

From these humble flowers, so simple they look like a child’s drawing of a flower, the best strawberries will eventually emerge. I’ll leave the descriptions of the resulting berry for another post, but I will say that these wild strawberries are the world’s best strawberries. As Robin Wall Kimmerer observes in the wild-strawberry chapter of her book Braiding Sweetgrass, the wait sometimes makes it all the more worthwhile.

Ground Plum/ Ptétȟawote

A few people have asked me about this plant recently. It’s called a ground plum in English. Ptétȟawote, or Astragalus crassicarpus.

I believe that the fruit is technically edible, though it was pretty bitter and woody when I tried a ripe one about 4 summers ago at the site of Sacred Stone Camp. The fruit has a cucumber-like texture, but isn’t sweet. I wouldn’t recommend eating it. We seem to be having a bumper crop this year.

I don’t know much about traditional uses of this plant, but the name translates to “buffalo food.”

Juneberries in June

All the fruits got a late start this year, due to the freezing spring. Here’s a Juneberry bush (wipážukȟa hú) that I photographed today, June 19. Still awhile off from being ripe.

When I see how far off the richly descriptive English and Lakota plant names are from the seasons they connect to, the reality of climate change becomes obvious. I have previously written about how the chokecherry ripening cycle is over a month off from the month that is named at the time that they ripen.

I’m not sure how the crazy weather will impact the harvest, but this is one of my favorites, so I hope we’ll have a good one this year!

Pȟežíȟota Tȟáŋka: Mosquito Sage

It’s mosquito season here, and the spring floodwaters have given them the ideal habitat for a really prolific year… Not such great news for us warm-blooded mammals. And appropriately enough, the Čhapȟúŋka Oyáte really went after me while I was harvesting this plant.

Pȟežíȟota Tȟáŋka, or Artemisia tridentata, is locally called sagebrush, in contrast to Pȟežíȟota (ceremonial sage). This one grows in a brushy short perennial bush, unlike ceremonial sage, which annually grows up from a single stem (but has a perennial root system). It grows on the dryer parts of the reservation.

Artemisia tridentata grows all around the Great Basin of North America, but the one we have here is a less fragrant variant. The individual leaves lack the district three “teeth” (tri+dentata) that I’ve seen on A. tridentata plants in British Columbia and Nevada, and doesn’t have as strong of a smell — but botanically, they are the same species.

Locally, another name for this one is mosquito sage. The reason, in case it isn’t obvious, is that you can burn this to keep mosquitoes at bay. It dries fairly quickly on a car dashboard — but the rain chased the mosquitoes away before I got a chance to see if this year’s plant is especially effective against this year’s mosquitoes. I’ll update this blog once I get a chance to use it.

Hupȟéstola — Edible Yucca Flowers!

Did you know that the flowers of Hupȟéstola (Yucca glauca) are edible? They taste kind of like broccoli, but a bit more mild, and with a slight nectar sweetness.

I’ve heard of people cooking with them, but I usually just eat them when I’m out on the prairie. I have never managed to refrain from eating them long enough to bring them home and experiment in the kitchen, so you’ll have to consult other sources for information on that.