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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Why Should You Care About Nv Wok Ti Tsa La Gi?

That question looks as if my hands got lost on the keyboard, doesn’t it?! But do you know where they’ve actually been? Grubbing around in nature’s general store.

In English, Nv Wok Ti Tsa La Gi means “Cherokee Medicine Plants.” Since I’m determined to stay enrolled in the School of Lifelong Learning, I took a second class through the Smoky Mountain Field School. The first, on the habits and habitats of our native black bears, gave me a healthy regard for our furry neighbors. The second was a fascinating tutorial on the native plants that the first human inhabitants of these mountains used as their pharmacy.

Ila, our instructor, married into a Cherokee family and moved onto the Snowbird reservation, where she learned traditional methods of treating illness and injuries from her husband’s grandmother. “Granny women” are greatly respected in the hills and hollers of Appalachia, and medicine women are more common among the Cherokee than medicine men.

Did you know you can treat high fevers with the inner bark of the dogwood tree? Or that sumac berries can be brewed into a tart thirst-quenching beverage or warmed to sooth a sore throat?

Sassafras is useful for high blood pressure, wintergreen treats inflammation, and yellow root, which flourishes near riverbanks, can be brewed into an antibacterial tea soothing to mouth or stomach ulcers. Use it cautiously, though.

Ila holding yellow root picked by the bank of the Oconaluftee River

“The Cherokee would never give yellow root to a woman expecting a child,” Ila commented, “because it contains berberine, which is harmful during pregnancy. Indians did not use plants known to be abortifacients. Children were always wanted and would be raised by the tribe.”

But do you want to know what native plant the women in our class clamored after? Spicebush!

“Spicebush berries can be ground like pepper and used like allspice,” Ila noted as she pulled some from a nearby tree. "And brewed with the limbs of the spicebush tree, you have an anti-inflammatory tea that keeps your hair from going gray. Most Indians don’t turn gray until they’re in their 80’s!”

Holding a packet of spiceberries and a jar of scuppernong jelly, made by our teacher

Ila reminded us that the plants indigenous to an area are always best for the environment.

“We have an invasive plant problem in the Southern Appalachians,” she pointed out. “We all know that kudzu is ‘the plant that ate the South,’ but you also don’t want to introduce ailanthus (tree of heaven), or multiflora roses into your yard. Some of them emit harmful chemicals that negatively impact native plants, and they’ve even been linked to ozone pollution. Use plants on your land that are native to this region instead.”

Our neighbors Richard and Patty have this sign in their garden

Ever since my class with Ila, I’ve been pondering invasiveness.

Though I’m now a year-round “local,” I’ll never be native to this beautiful region. I don’t want to come in like an invasive plant, taking root and taking over.

Instead, I’m asking God to root out that which is potentially destructive - insidious diseases like racism, perfectionism, legalism – all the isms that negatively impact the spiritual soil around me. The only thing I want to have invasive about me is my faith.

Faith that glorifies the Creator more than his creation.

Faith that hopes greatly and loves generously.

Faith that knows that Earth was never intended to be our native soil.

A faith so long, so wide and so deep it can never be uprooted.

“And I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him. May your roots go down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love; and may you be able to feel and understand, as all God’s children should, how long, how wide, how deep, and how high his love really is; and to experience this love for yourselves, though it is so great that you will never see the end of it or fully know or understand it. And so at last you will be filled up with God himself.” Eph.3:17-19 LB



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