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Plant Uses and Cures          


MilkweekThe Lenape enjoyed common milkweed, (Asclepias syriaca) as an asparagus-like vegetable in the early spring.  They knew that the fragrant blossoms and tiny young pods are delicious when cooked, but that the plants become quite toxic with maturity.  The milky latex that exudes from broken plant parts was used as a skin treatment for ringworm and warts.  Some native peoples chewed it as a gum.


CattailThe Lenape had a multitude of uses for the common cattail (Typha latifolia).  This plant produces dense foliage that was used by the Indians to make cordage, insulation, baskets and mats, and as insulation and/or caulking for their structures.  Cattail pollen was used for food and medicine.  If left to mature, edible young flowerheads form into cottony down that could be used for disposable diapers, bedding, and insulation.  During winter, the tuberous roots of the cattail would be dug up for food and also were saved for treatment of diarrhea, gonorrhea, and worms.  The Lenape also applied the roots to the skin for relief of minor burns and wounds.



WillowThe branches of the willow tree are long and pliable and the Lenape likely wove them into cradleboards, house mats, sleeping platforms, and baskets.   They also used parts of the willow to build sweat lodges.  The twigs and bark of most willows were highly valued medicine and the Lenape used it to relieve headaches, fever, arthritis, rheumatism, internal body aches, and external swellings.   We know today that this material contained a primal form of aspirin.



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  (For additional information see The Lenape or Delaware Indians, or The Indians of Lenapehoking.)


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Revised: October 21, 2009 .