Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Seeing the Possibilities

Recycle Craft - Candy Wrapper Flowers
Regardless of ancestry, our forebears were not wasteful people. Though necessity, they saw endless possibilities in the cast-off waste items, such as corn husks, wheat stalks, or deer hooves.

The Seneca used the inedible dry corn husks to create dolls, mats, containers, and more. The Europeans used wheat and oat straw for similar purposes. Go the world over and you will find countless other such examples of this inventive re-purposing.

And in looking around the world, you will also find that many of these examples of re-purposing have grown not only into cherished traditional crafts and arts, they have become elements of the culture that created them. Many have created dolls from dried plant materials to be sure, but what is more Haudenosaunee than a faceless cornhusk doll? 

Whether it was generations of farming traditions or grandparents living through hard times like the Depression and post-WWI Germany, the "do-it-yourself" and "waste-nothing" attitudes were deeply ingrained in me while growing up. Being wasteful was just behind poor hospitality and dishonesty as sins in my house. Saving things that could some day be used was expected.

Many people in both my extended and immediate family have artistic and musical talents - with many varied paths of expression though. I'm no exception to my family and have my own talents. While I certainly can draw and paint, it is not my forte or my greatest love. But crafts - and I have tried many, are. I have tried so many different arts that I usually tell people that blowing glass and casting metal are two of the only ones I haven't tried.

I started my own journey as a craftsman and artisan at 8 years old. In those days, I had no money and no access to craft stores even if I did. So in a day when no one recycled, I did. I saw the possibilities in items destined for the garbage can. I saved them and literally had boxes of those "recycled" supplies.

Now many decades later with access to craft stores and the money for supplies, I still see with those same eyes. I can still see the possibilities lying below the surface of what others would call trash. Perhaps you can too. Here are the instructions for creating a whole bouquet of candy wrapper flowers that I came up with on Valentine's Day a few years ago. I hope you enjoy this and start your own eyes looking for those possibilities!


Friday, January 20, 2012

Creator’s Garden Medicine Plants: Da'ja's

Creator's Garden in Winter
If you've visited the Ganondagan State Historic Site, you have most likely have seen or taken a tour of the Bark Longhouse. What you may not have realized is that the garden beds arranged in a circle next to the Longhouse are a themed garden. This garden is called the Creator's Garden. It is a medicine wheel garden and it features plants that have traditionally been used by the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people in healing.

Many of the plants in the garden are labeled so visitors may tour the garden on their own. The labels include the English, Seneca, and botanical name for the plants. (Note: the signage is usually stored for the winter.)

One of the plants you will find in the Creator's Garden is a matched pair (male and female) of the native shrub, the spicebush.  

Da’ ja’s (Spicebush, Lindera benzoin)
Da’ja’s (Seneca name) or spicebush is a medium-sized shrub (16’) that is often found in the shady, forest understory. Its foliage is aromatic with a unique scent that is somewhat like a cross between lemons and sassafras. The spicebush is dioecious (individual plants are either male or female) and so a pair of these plants is necessary to produce berries with a viable seed.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin)
The berries turn scarlet in autumn and have been used as an allspice substitute. The leaves, twigs, and bark can be steeped to make a pleasant tea. Besides uses for tea and seasoning, this plant has also been used medicinally. The Haudenosaunee traditionally used this plant in remedies for colds, venereal disease, fevers, and measles [1].

The spicebush is the favorite host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus) and the Promethea Silkmoth (Callosamia promethea).

The spicebush, native to North America, makes a wonderful specimen plant to add to your own landscaping. While it is typically an understory plant growing in full-shade, it grows quite nicely in the full-sun - as it does in the Creator's Garden. This hardy and pest-free plant requires no pruning or maintenance of any kind once established. Add multiple plants (at least 1 male and 1 female plant) if you are interested in having berries on the female plant.  It is a wonderful alternative to exotic, hard-to-keep, and/or invasive ornamental shrubs.

1. Iroquois Medical Botany by James W. Herrick