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Search Results for: Ethnobotany | Search the catalog for: Ethnobotany

Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Guizotia abyssinica, Seeds, Ethnobotany

I bought some shiny dark seeds at an Ethiopian grocery store. The proprietor said they were good for sore throat. The name of the seed sounded something like 'nuk.' Can you tell me what plant they are from? And is it safe to use them?


By guessing at different possible spellings, I came across a plant whose Amharic name sounds like 'nuk' or 'noug.' I also showed your sample seeds to an Eritrean colleague, and confirmed that they were familiar to him for their high oil content, but also for steeping in hot water to make a kind of tonic. I can't recommend consuming them medicinally; you would need to speak to a medical professional. But I can tell you that the plant source is Guizotia abyssinica. It is in the daisy family (Asteraceae), and has a yellow flower that might remind you a little of a yellow daisy. There is research being done at University of British Columbia's Botany department on this plant and its potential as a crop to increase food security and alleviate poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Purdue University researchers are looking into cultivating this plant (also called Nigerseed) in the Midwestern United States.

Wikipedia has additional information about this plant.

Date 2018-04-11
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Plant Answer Line Question

Keywords: Abies, Edible wild plants, Pseudotsuga menziesii, Ethnobotany

There seems to be a new fad of local foragers making tea from the needles of Douglas fir and Grand fir. I am guessing there are Native American origins to this practice. How safe is it, especially in an urban environment? Are there supposed to be benefits to drinking this kind of infusion?


There is a deep tradition of ethnobotanical uses of various parts of both Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and Grand fir (Abies grandis). Nancy Turner's book, Thompson Ethnobotany: Knowledge and Usage of Plants by the Thompson Indians of British Columbia (Royal British Columbia Museum, 1990) says that "a beverage tea was made by boiling Douglas-fir twigs with their needles. This tea was said to have tonic and diuretic properties."

Turner says there is a great deal of confusion surrounding both the English common names and Thompson Indian names for various fir species. This makes it difficult to know which species were intended for which uses. An infusion made from the boughs of a species that might be Grand fir (Abies grandis) "could be drunk for any illness." In Ethnobotany of Western Washington (University of Washington Press, 1973), author Erna Gunther notes both distinctions and confusions between Abies grandis and Pseudotsuga menziesii: according to the Green River informant she consulted, tribe members boiled Grand fir needles as a tea to treat colds, but a Swinomish informant believed Grand fir and Douglas fir to be the same species.

Douglas fir and Grand fir are not mentioned in Toxic Plants of North America (George Burrows and Ronald Tyrl, Wiley-Blackwell, 2013), but a plant's absence from a list of toxic plants does not mean that it is risk-free. Common sense says it would be best not to gather needles from urban trees that are not your own, since there is no way of knowing whether those trees might have been sprayed with pesticides, or exposed to air pollutants.

According to Stephen Facciola's Cornucopia II: A Source Book of Edible Plants (Kampong Publications, 1998), tea made from young foliage and twigs of Pseudotsuga menziesii is both refreshing and high in vitamin C. He says that the young branch tips of various species of Abies, including A. grandis, are used as a tea substitute.

I could not find reliable information about the recommended quantities of needles to water, ideal length of boiling time, or chemical properties of needles used for tea. Elise Krohn, author of Wild Rose and Western Red Cedar: The Gifts of the Northwest Plants (self-published in 2007) has information on her Wild Foods and Medicines blog about "making evergreen tree tip tea." My advice would be to proceed with caution and consult a medical professional in case a coniferous tisane might have potential interactions with other substances. (Even a popular beverage like Earl Grey tea can be problematic due to the Citrus-derived bergamottin which interacts with some medications).

Date 2018-04-11
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Garden Tip

Keywords: Anemone, Plants and history, Ethnobotany, Cyclamen

Cyclamen start blooming in the fall. Diana Wells, in her book 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names (Algonquin Books, 1997) reports that Cyclamen's common name is "sowbread" because they were supposedly used to feed pigs. The name cyclamen comes from the Greek "kyklo" meaning circle and probably referring to the seed stalks that curl up to a tight coil as they ripen.

Wells writes about another autumn flower, Japanese anemones. Plant hunter Robert Fortune sent seeds of the plant to England in 1844. He noted these white flowering perennials were often growing on graves in China and remarked Anemone "[a] most appropriate ornament for the last resting places of the dead."

A few other fun books on the lore and history of plants are Cornucopia the Lore of Fruits and Vegetables by Annie Lise Roberts (Knickerbocker, 1998) with colorful photos and recipes and the classic Who named the Daisy, Who named the Rose by Mary Durant (Dodd, Mead & Co., 1976) that gives a folk history of American wildflowers.

Date: 2007-04-03
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May 31 2018 13:14:08