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Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants

Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants

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Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine: The Curious Stories of 43 Amazing North American Native Plants

5/5 (1 peringkat)
395 pages
2 hours
Sep 20, 2016


International Herb Association's  2017 Thomas DeBaggio Book Award Winner
2016 Silver Nautilus Book Award Winner

History, literature, and botany meet in this charming tour of how humans have relied on plants to nourish, shelter, heal, clothe, and even entertain us. Did you know that during World War II, the US Navy paid kids to collect milkweed’s fluffy white floss, which was then used as filling for life preservers? And Native Americans in the deserts of the Southwest traditionally crafted tattoo needles from prickly pear cactus spines. These are just two of the dozens of tidbits that Tammi Hartung highlights in the tales of 43 native North American flowers, herbs, and trees that have rescued and delighted us for centuries.
Sep 20, 2016

Tentang penulis

Tammi Hartung is the author of Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine, Homegrown Herbs, and The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener. She has been growing and working with herbs for more than 40 years and is a frequent teacher and lecturer. She and her husband cultivate more than 1800 varieties of herbs, heirloom food plants, and perennial seed crops on their organic farm in Colorado.  

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Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine - Tammi Hartung


I’m in gratitude to all the plants that have found their way into my life through the years, helping me to live a lifestyle that feels comfortable and right. They have been my teachers and my friends. They have fed and clothed me, healed me, helped me care for my home and family, brought music and beauty into my life. They have shared their gifts with me without restraint.

I wish to thank all the amazing people who have offered their own experiences with plants through their stories. The time they gave me to share how plants are part of their lives was inspiring and left me smiling after each interview was completed.

Carleen, my editor at Storey, has once again helped me on this writing journey. I cannot possibly find enough ways to thank her for her gentle and direct expertise and guidance. Everyone at Storey has helped in so many ways, always making me feel welcome with my inquiries, and giving me the feeling that I’m part of their circle — a bit like family.

My own family — Chris, M’lissa, and Lizz — have loved and supported me through the process of writing this book. I have so many family members and a huge community of friends who have given me helping hands to make sure I accomplished this task. My love and thanks to each of them.

For Chris




The Wonder Of Plants

Meet Our Plant Allies





California Bay

California Poppy






Gooseberry & Currants




Horse Chestnut/Buckeye




Mexican Cacao/Chocolate Tree



North American Mint


Panic Grass




Prickly Pear & Cholla

Raspberry & Blackberry

Saw Palmetto






Wild Rice

Wild Rose

Wild Yam


Witch Hazel





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Share Your Experience!


For most of us, herbs are condiments you sprinkle on a casserole or dish you are preparing. Enthusiasts may grow a patch out in the garden, knowing how much better these taste fresh (especially compared to those little cylinders that can sit for quiet decades on our shelves in a state of suspended vegetation). The more you dip into the world of herbs, however, the more you realize that there is nothing, and I mean nothing, in the history of humankind that isn’t profoundly intertwined with these humble-seeming plants. The bulk of our best-known culinary herbs — oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme — are nothing more than the aromatic wildflowers of the Mediterranean coasts, a testament to the lasting power of the Roman Empire. Many originate in the Tropics; pepper comes from the Malabar Coast, nutmeg and cinnamon from the Spice Islands. The history of their discovery and use is the very driving force of world trade and exploration of the last millennium.

Europeans have colonized and occupied the Americas for more than half a millennium, but the native plants of our purported homeland and their many uses are still unfamiliar to most of us. I have spent a half-century studying plants and horticulture, yet I was still surprised by what I learned from reading Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine. For example, I generally regarded alders as rather nondescript, useless trees. I was amazed to discover that the humble alder’s bark has so many uses, that the tree increases soil fertility, and that it yields such fine wood for building. One can make a delicious jelly from hawthorn fruit — who knew? And now I know which elderberries are edible and which are poisonous. I am sure that you, too, will find and savor hundreds of such tidbits throughout the book.

However, what came to me even more powerfully as I read was just how rich and vast our cultural connections are with our native flora, the plants we find in our very own backyard. As a person of Greek ancestry, I can hardly deny the value of traditional, native Mediterranean herbs and wildflowers. But reading this book made me realize how deeply ethnocentric I have been in this realm. Despite being born and raised in the United States, and even after decades of studying its native flora, I have never really delved into the history of how our human culture overlaps with our native plants. The First Peoples on the North American continent, however, have spent millennia exploring the practical uses of plants, and many of their discoveries are celebrated in this book. It is a bitter pill to swallow when you realize that, when it comes to the uses of our native plants, most of us are strangers in our own land. Cattail Moonshine & Milkweed Medicine is a tonic that we all need to take in steady doses to remedy this state of affairs!

Tammi Hartung is uniquely suited to write such a book. Unlike so many authors who stitch together gardening books from hearsay and other books, she has walked the talk. The wonderful edifice she has constructed with words and pictures in this book is built on a solid foundation of love and knowledge. She and her husband, Chris, have grown countless plants in their greenhouses, in nursery rows, and in their many gardens. Their love of the green world applies to every kind of plant — trees, herbaceous perennials, annuals, and herbs. I delight in visiting Desert Canyon Farm, their wonderful home and gardens in this scenic and still pastoral corner of Colorado, perched on a hill that commands a majestic view of this special spot along the Arkansas River. I have spent hours walking the fields of wildflowers and admiring the various plots and gardens, which feature an enormous range of ornamental and useful plants. I’ve brought many a visitor, and even busloads of members of the Denver Botanic Gardens, on formal tours to study and learn from Tammi and Chris’s nursery.

So venture forth through this irresistible volume, knowing that you’re exploring territory Tammi has combed thoroughly, for decades. It is the rich history of the untrammeled, magical flora of North America! Take her hand and realize that this land has a vast store of plants that offer up not only fabulous flowers to decorate national parks, mountains, deserts, prairies, and rich forests, but also plants that have nourished, sheltered, and healed generations of Native Americans. Once you have read the many stories contained in this volume, you, too, will view our rich landscape with fresh eyes and deeper appreciation.

— Panayoti Kelaidis


If there were no plants, we would not be here.

We breathe in what they breathe out.

That is how we learn from them.

— Keetoowah, Cherokee teacher

I use plants in every part of my life. Of course I eat them daily, as we all do, but I also fill my medicine cabinet with herbal remedies and surround myself with household goods like baskets woven from dozens of different plants. I wear clothing made only from natural fibers such as cotton or linen. I use products made from plants like lavender and peppermint to clean my house, and we heat our home by burning wood from local trees. I have created my whole lifestyle around using plants.

As a young woman, I realized I wanted a professional career as an herbalist and an organic grower. It’s now been more than 37 years since I began to pursue the goal of earning my living with plants. As an herbalist, I teach about plants, I’m a clinician of medicinal herbs, and I’m an author sharing what I know about plants with others who hold this interest. I have managed an extract laboratory and worked as an herbal products formulator for companies around the world. When I was 18 years old, I planted my first herb garden, which led me in a roundabout way to a job as a plant propagator in a large nursery in Denver. For the past 21 years, my husband and I have owned a certified organic farm in southern Colorado, where we raise about five hundred varieties of herbs and heritage food plants, along with perennial seed crops, many of which are native plants to North America.

Throughout my life I have always strived to know how the plants I’ve worked with and grown have been used by people, both in the past and in today’s world. Journeys never end; they just get longer and more interesting. That has been absolutely true of my personal journey with plants.

This book is a way for me to share my knowledge of and experiences with 43 different native North American plants that we as part of the human community have been using to enrich our lives since the beginning days of our existence. I chose this particular group of plants because they have often greatly influenced how we shaped our daily lives both in practical and even survival ways, but also in ways that have given us great pleasure or comfort. Many times we have become so accustomed to using plant-based products that we’ve almost forgotten that there are actual plants involved and that we could not enjoy or use a specific item or food without them. Some of the ways we’ve chosen to use plants is simply fascinating! As part of writing this book, I’ve been gifted with stories from other individuals who have shaped their lives around and earned their living from plants. I’m honored to include some of their stories in the following pages.

My hope is that you will have a grand time reading this book. I hope it will be fun to discover so many interesting ways plants have played a role in our past. I want you to find renewed knowledge of how many amazing ways we continue to incorporate useful native plants into our daily lives, and I hope you will become inspired, as I am, by the endless possibilities of how we will use plants in our future.

With green thoughts,

The Wonder of Plants

And Botany I rank with the most valuable sciences, whether we consider its subjects furnishing the principle subsistence of life to man and beast, delicious varieties for tables, refreshments from our orchards, the adornments of our flower borders, shade and perfume of our groves, materials for our buildings, or medicaments for our bodies.

— Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper. October 7, 1814

Plants play a bigger role in our lives than we might realize. They’re not just the vegetables we grow or the ornamental shrubs in our landscapes. We build things from plants. We use them as medicines when we are ill. We weave them into clothing and rugs and blankets to keep warm. They become instruments for us to play music on or sporting equipment for us to play games with. We have countless uses for plants, but unfortunately, the ways in which they enrich our lives sometimes go uncelebrated.

Plants with a Past

Our North American predecessors had good reason to celebrate the plants in their lives. Since ancient times people have needed plants not only for their very survival but also to enrich their lives and make the act of living a bit more comfortable. Early hunter-gatherers collected plants as they moved from place to place. Indeed, often the route of their travels was determined by which plants grew in a certain location or when the appropriate harvesting time was near. For example, in the fall they harvested acorns to grind into flour and cook into little cakes; they also used the bark of the oak tree as medicine. They used grasses, like panic grass, and tree needles such as pine needles to weave into containers for carrying and storing things. Their lives were rich in sacred ceremonies, and they handcrafted ceremonial staffs, rattles, and drums from plants and animal bones and hides. They simply couldn’t have survived without using the plants that were growing around them.

Over time indigenous people became less nomadic and began to spend longer portions of each year in one place. This allowed them to experiment with growing seasonal crops. Eventually many of them established permanent homes in one location, and they began to lead more agrarian lifestyles. This made it possible to cultivate plants for food and to raise crops that were needed to care for their livestock. They grew crops like flax for fiber, which would be woven into linen cloth for clothing. Plants such as agave were cultivated to be brewed into beverages like tequila. They still relied heavily on wild-harvested plants such as currants and blueberries, as they couldn’t grow everything they needed to meet all of their necessities and wants.

Enter the Europeans

As more time passed, nonnative people began to arrive in North America. Spanish explorers, pilgrims, and colonists landed on the eastern and southern shores. These folks came with only the belongings and few supplies that could be carried on board sailing ships. They brought a few seeds, but they would need to rely mainly on native plants already growing in North America to meet most of their initial needs for food and other living requirements. Many of the Native people were generous in helping them learn about the plants growing on this continent — which plants could be used for food and healing, and where to find them.

As early colonists and explorers began to build their homes and make wagons or carts to transport goods, they came to know which trees would work well for these purposes. They realized that some plants had waxy coatings or resins, which could be made into candles or used as pitch to waterproof their boats and the roofs of their homes. The Native people introduced them to important food crops like sunflowers and persimmons. They taught the newcomers how to make syrup from maple tree sap. As these folks established

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