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


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