Monday, September 18, 2023

Native American Plant Myths - Catgut or Devil's Shoestring (Tephrosia)

Extracted from:  Myths of the Cherokee. Nineteenth Annual Report of the Bureau  of American Ethnology. Washington Government Printing Office 1902  Oral History recorded by James Mooney (1861-1921) was an American ethnographer who lived for several years among the Cherokee.


The catgut or devil's shoestring (Tephrosia) is called distai'yi, "they are tough," in allusion to its stringy roots, from which Cherokee women prepare a decoction with which to wash their hair in order to impart to it the strength and toughness of the plant, while a preparation of the leaves is used by ballplayers to wash themselves in order to toughen their limbs. To enable them to spring quickly to their feet if thrown to the ground, the players bathe their limbs also with a decoction of the small rush (Juncus tenuis), which, they say, always recovers its erect position, no matter how often trampled down. 

The white seeds of the viper's bugloss (Echium vulgare) were formerly used in many important ceremonies the purpose was to look into the future, but have now been superseded by the ordinary glass beads of the traders. 

The culver root (Leptandra) is used in love conjurations, the omen being taken from the motion of the root when held in the hand. The campion (Silene stellata), locally known as "rattlesnake's master," is called ganidaw√Ę'ski, "it disjoints itself," because the dried stalk is said to break off by joints, beginning at the top. 

As among the white mountaineers, the juice is held to be a sovereign remedy for snake bites, and it is even believed that the deadliest snake will flee from one who carries a small portion of the root in his mouth.