How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft


Foraging wild food requires practice, knowledge and experience on your landscape. Note that I used the word your land. Perhaps what you read in books and watched on YouTube does not apply to your locale. Although the principles of survival may never change, self-reliance is local.

Many of us are self-educated in wilderness life skills. But one way to shorten your learning curve is to find in your area an experienced skill practitioner who is actually doing the stuff. You gain knowledge upon receiving instruction. Knowledge does not weigh anything but suffices. You make knowledge via time and experience and context applicable. There is no substitute for time in your woods.

Trees of Southern Appalachia

Unlike most plants, trees stand ready for year-round sharing of their resources.

Identification of winter tree wouldn’t be challenging, if trees stopped dropping the leaves. It would take several articles to share everything I’ve learnt. We’ll explore 3 of my favorite trees in my woods for our purposes today, and how the Cherokee and settlers used them for food, medicine, and craft resources.

Tulip Tree

tulip tree native americanTulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is by no means a poplar. It is in fact a genus of flowering trees in the Magnolia ((Magnoliaceae)). Liriodendron tulipifera has many common names apart from Tulip Poplar … Yellow Poplar, Canoe Wood, Yellow Pine, and Tulip Tree. That is one reason why the use of scientific names of plants and trees is important … if you can manage to pronounce them. This would alleviate any misunderstanding about common names.


While not a nutritious powerhouse, the Tulip Tree is a favorite of mine primarily for art and self-reliance outdoors. Tulip Tree blooms are a major nectar source for honey bees, providing a rich, amber honey filled with antioxidants.

  • The only part of a Tulip Tree that I know is edible is the nectar in the flowering blooms.


Tulip Tree’s inner bark and leaves were used medicinally by the Cherokee and settlers in Appalachia for treating…

  • Poultice from leaves for inflammation and sores.
  • Inner bark tea for periodic fevers, diarrhea, pinworms, as a digestive aid and for rheumatic pain.
  • Supposedly, inner bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac.
  • The bark could also serve as a substitute for quinine in treating malaria.
  • Tooth aches. (Read more: Dental Care after SHTF)
  • Used as a tonic to induce perspiration to treat fevers.
  • Root bark and seeds useful as a wormer for the body.
  • Cough syrup from bark. Here you can find another method for making your own cough syrup.


  • Fire Craft ~ Wood for friction fire, inner bark for tinder, hot, quick burning firewood which does not produce long-lasting coals like other hardwoods.
  • Cordage ~ Inner bark fibers can be processed into cordage and rope.
  • Indigenous cordage:Dogbane; Tulip Tree; Okra, and Yucca

    Clockwise from 12:00 ~ Dogbane; Tulip Tree; Okra, and Yucca.

  • Containers ~ Outer bark crafted into berry baskets, arrow quivers, and larger pack baskets.
  • Carving ~ The soft hardwood lends itself to easy carving of spoons, bowls, pottery paddles, canoe paddles, and even the canoe itself. One common name of this tree is Canoe Wood.

    Tulip Tree paddle

    This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

  • Insulation ~ Shredded inner bark can be stuffed between layers of clothing to create dead air space to retain body heat in a survival situation.
  • Roofing/Siding ~ Outer bark slabs used for shingles and siding on shelters.


Hickory_Native AmericanHickories make excellent wildlife resource as squirrels and feral pigs love to eat their nut meat. Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa), and Shagbark (Carya ovata) are the three hickories I’m most familiar with in Georgia, Mockernut being the most common.


  • Sap ~ Sap water from hickories can be consumed without treatment. Read more: 4 More Trees That Can Be Tapped For Sap And Syrup
  • Nuts ~ Contains fats (18g/serving), protein (3.6g/serving), and carbohydrates (5 g/serving) – Serving size = 1 oz.
  • Hickory syrup from crushed and processed nuts.
  • Cooking oil from nuts.
  • Kunuche (ku-nu-che) ~ A traditional Cherokee hickory nut soup.
  • Nuts with exterior husks are useful as charcoal for cooking food.

    Scott Jones (Media Prehistoria) using hickory nuts as charcoal.

  • Hickory Milk ~ “They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes.” – Source


  • Infusion of boiled bark for arthritis pain.
  • Inhaling fumes of young shoots on hot rocks as a treatment for convulsions.
  • Cold remedy
  • Liver aid
  • Gynecological aid
  • Dermatological issues


Hickory was used by the Cherokee’s for…

  • Stickball sticks
  • Crafting bows
  • Handles
  • Firewood
  • Smoking meats
  • Furniture
  • Inner bark of Mockernut and Shellbark Hickory used to finish baskets
  • Ashes from hickory were used by settlers to make quality lye for soap.
  • Inner bark used for cordage. Mark described a method of slicing down a hickory limb to remove the bark and twisting it to make a strong rope. I’ll explore that method in a later post.
  • Green nut husks used as dye
  • Nut oil mixed with bear fat as an insect repellent.


There are 36 pines to choose from throughout North America. Those evergreens are easy for anyone to find. Count the needles, to narrow down the species. The only tree in Eastern North America with 5 needles in the fascicle sheath (the paper-like sheath covering the base of the needles) is the Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus).

Hemlock is a member of the pine family which grows in Appalachia in the South. The inner bark is edible just like other pines in our region.


  • Pine nuts are edible and tasty.
  • Inner bark was eaten when other foods were scarce. Should be boiled/cooked since it is high in turpenes. Can also be dried and ground into a flour.
  • Pine pollen can be collected and is edible and used like flour.
  • Long strips of inner bark can be boiled to make pine noodles.


  • pine tea native americansPine needle tea has the following medicinal properties: antiseptic, astringent, inflammatory, antioxidant, expectorant, high in vitamin C for colds – flu – coughs, congestion, and even scurvy.
  • Shikimic acid, the main ingredient in Tamiflu, is harvested from pine needles in Asia.
  • Pine resin applied to skin conditions.
  • Arthur Haines describes on his YouTube channel how pine pollen provides multiple avenues of protection against radioactive cesium.
  • Warm poultice of pine resin will draw splinters and foreign matter from skin.
  • The inner bark can be fashioned as an antiseptic Band Aid for cuts and scraps
  • Chew softer sap straight off the tree like a gum for sore throats and colds. You could pre-make “gum” with these ingredients: bees-wax, pine sap, and honey.


  • Pine sap/resin
  • Fire Craft ~ My favorite fire starter. Resin-rich fat lighter produces a chemical burn for fire lighting.
  • Wood for shelters and bows for bedding.
  • Rescue Signals ~ A pre-made signal fire built with green pine boughs on top will generate enough white smoke to be seen for miles.
  • Pine needles were used to make baskets and resin was used as a sealer.
  • Logs were used in home building.
  • White pine and hemlock are both good wood for friction fire.
  • Dried and ground hemlock inner bark used as flour.
  • Dried pine “flour” is useful when rubbed on the body to cover human scent while hunting.

Cherokees called trees “The Standing People.” Trees don’t walk to new locations like animals in search of food. They are all in the same place. Knowing how to recognize trees and their resources will put you in a better position to understand and maintain your natural environment.

In book form, it would be easier to list all the trees used by the Cherokee. We have highlighted three of my favorite trees in our forests in this article.

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