Long before Europeans and enslaved Africans came to what is now the United States, Native Americans had a vast store of knowledge on how to use wild plants to treat a variety of human ills.
In Georgia, the Cherokee Indians were particularly adept at using the so-called medicinal plants. They shared their rich lore with the early settlers, who had brought over their own herbal remedies from Europe. Added to the mix were the traditional herbal-medicine practices of enslaved Africans.
With doctors few and far between and hospitals almost nonexistent, setters relied almost exclusively on this accumulated knowledge to treat and cure illnesses. From the wild plants they made teas, poultices, ointments and other preparations to combat a wide range of maladies. Many of the plants also were edible and valuable food sources.
Some plant ingredients later became the basis of some of today’s modern medicines.
To learn about some of the plants and their uses, we recently took a “medicinal plant walk” on the Iron Hill Trail at Red Top Mountain State Park in Bartow County with park naturalist Amber Avery. Along the way, she pointed out nearly 20 plants — a small sample of the total — once widely used to treat disorders.
The first plant we stopped at was the common blue violet growing in a large patch on a grassy hillside. Its flowers and leaves, Avery said, are both edible and rich in vitamins A and C. Various preparations from it have been used to heal wounds, treat colds, coughs, diarrhea, headaches and viral infections and to make a spring tonic.
Further along, she pointed out an airy, sage-green lichen sometimes called old man‘s beard. “Its scientific name is Usnea,” she said. It has been used as an antibiotic, an anti-fungal, an antiviral and a blood purifier.
For a list of other medicinal plants along the trail and notes on their uses, go to Red Top Mountain State Park’s Facebook page and click on “Notes.”
IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon will be full on Friday. Mercury and Venus are low in the east just before dawn. Mars is low in the west around dusk and sets about three hours later. Jupiter rises in the east around midnight; Saturn rises in the east just after midnight.
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