Ragweed – How Native Americans uses this pesky plant!

By early August, Connecticut is in full bloom with ragweed. This flowering plant is in the genus Ambrosia in the Aster family. Most ragweed pollen is released between August and October and is one of the most important causes of fall hay fever symptoms. Pollen counts are highest in the morning hours on windy days or shortly after a rainstorm when the plant is drying out. Native Americans found many valued this pesky plant for medicinal uses and took advantage of its topical and internal applications.

About Annual Ragweed
Ragweed can be found just about anywhere this time of year from roadsides to fields, vacant lots and meadows. They are annual and perennial herbs and shrubs. Many species grow anywhere from a few inches high to about three feet high and their flowers contain both male and female flowers. The male flowers are found in the cylindrically shaped spike on the top of the flowering stalk and the female flower is found on the axils of the leaves. The plant produces two types of leaves. Large leaves divided into three to five lobes with serrated edges and long petioles are located on the lower part of the stem. Smaller, lanceolate leaves, covered with hairs on the bottom side can be seen near the base of the flowers.

Common annual ragweed produces diamond shaped seeds after wind- induced pollination. A single plant may produce about a billion grains of pollen per season that is transported on the wind. Ragweed pollen is light and fluffy and can stay airborne for days and travel great distances affecting people hundreds of miles away from where the pollen originated.​

In addition to medicinal uses, Native Americans found several other uses for ragweed. There is evidence that Native Americans planted, cultivated, and harvested ragweed seeds. These seeds have an amazing percentage of crude protein (47%) and fat (38%) making them an important food source during the long winter months. It is said that the seed tastes like wheat. The sturdy stems of ragweed were also used by Native Americans to make rope.​

Medicinal & Other Uses of Annual Ragweed
The Cherokee used annual ragweed as a ceremonial plant as an ingredient in their green corn medicine. The plant was also used as a dermatological aid; the leaves were crushed and rubbed on an insect bite, an infusion of the leaves were also used to treat hives. The Delaware made a poultice out of the plant and applied it to wounds to prevent blood poisoning. The Iroquois and the Dakota compounded a decoction of the leaves and the top part of the plant to treat diarrhea and an infusion of the roots was used as a heart medicine. The Lakota made an infusion of the leaves and used it to treat swelling. The Houma uses a decoction of this root for menstrual trouble.

The Institute for American Indian Studies
Located on 15 woodland acres the IAIS has an outdoor Three Sisters and Healing Plants Gardens as well as a replicated 16th c. Algonkian Village. Inside the museum, authentic artifacts are displayed in permanent, semi-permanent and temporary exhibits from prehistory to the present that allows visitors a walk through time. The Institute for American Indian Studies is located on 38 Curtis Road in Washington Connecticut and can be reached online or by calling 860-868-0518.

The Institute for American Indian Studies preserves and educates through discovery and creativity the diverse traditions, vitality, and knowledge of Native American cultures. Through archaeology, the IAIS is able to build new understandings of the world and history of Native Americans, the focus is on stewardship and preservation. This is achieved through workshops, special events, and education for students of all ages.

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