From Plant Use by Native Americans Native American peoples had a remarkable amount of knowledge of the world in which they lived. In particular, they knew a great deal about plants. There are in North America 31,566 kinds (species, subspecies, varieties, and so on) of vascular plants: seed plants, including the flowering plants (angiosperms) and conifers (gymnosperms), and spore-bearing plants, including the ferns, club mosses, spike mosses, and horsetails (pteridophytes). North America is defined here as North America north of Mexico, and Hawaii and Greenland. American Indians used 2874 of these species as medicines, 1886 as foods, 230 as dyes, and 492 as fibers (for weaving, baskets, building materials, and so on). They used 1190 species for a broad range of other purposes as well, classified in this book as Other. All told, they found useful purpose for 3923 kinds of vascular plants. Native American Ethnobotany also contains information on 106 kinds of nonvascular plants (algae, fungi, lichens, liverworts, and mosses). The data for nonvascular plants are much less complete than those for vascular plants, however. Native American Ethnobotany includes information on plant use by Native American people. Most of the plants used are native to North America, but some are not. Some are plants that were introduced into North America some perhaps in pre-Columbian times and some certainly thereafter and that became naturalized, growing spontaneously. Other plants are introductions that were kept in cultivation. The information in Native American Ethnobotany documents plant usage no doubt dating back to very early times and passed down through generations as traditional knowledge, as well as innovations in response to much more recent plant introductions ... From Conclusions on UsagesThere is an enormous amount of real human knowledge contained in Native American Ethnobotany. The earliest evidence we have of human beings using plants for medicine comes from the Middle Paleolithic site of Shanidar in northern Iraq, dated about 60,000 years ago. People have been experimenting with nature since then (and perhaps before), learning what could be eaten, what would stop bleeding or relieve pain, what would make good baskets or colors. People first came to the Americas about 15,000 years ago and have been studying the plants of the two continents ever since. Given that the floras of North America and China are remarkably alike, it is possible that the earliest Asian immigrants to North America saw recognizable plants when they got here. Much of this accumulated knowledge of useful plants, slowly wrung from nature over millennia, has in a few centuries been lost, at least lost as a part of normal human life. There are specialists anthropologists, ethnobotanists, phytochemists, pharmacognosists who are aware of some portions of what this book contains. But in past times this was to a large degree the knowledge of ordinary people. Surely there were spe Excerpted from Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman, Colby Eierman All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.