First, a note about my sources. I have my trusty out-of-print Wildflowers of Nebraska and the Great Plains by Farrar which is an unparalleled source for Nebraska flowers. I own three copies, the nicest one stays in the office, the one with the denim book cover rides around in the car with me, and the one with the bunged up cover is in the kitchen. My second favorite sources are two books by Kelly Kindscher, Edible Wild Plants of the Prairie and Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie. These delightful books are full of original sources and chock full of information. Melvin Gilmore’s 1914 thesis, Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region, for (I assume) a master’s degree in Botany from the University of Nebraska is a fun historical perspective on native plants. He did lots of primary research among Indian tribes along the Missouri River. My oddest source is a huge three ring binder I literally had to beg a man to copy for me. Clarence Nollett put together over 450 pages of spectacular information called Range Grasses and Plants of the Native Prairie.  I may very well be the only non-descendant to own the book.  I am unsure, maybe a little skeptical, as to Mr. Nollett’s sources, since he often has information that none of my other books contain.  Finally, I received a copy of Plants of the Lewis and Clark Expedition by Phillips several years ago as a gift, and I look forward to really delving into it for the first time.

July 1-41

Now a plug for the place I bought most of these books. The tiny town of Valentine, Nebraska has the best bookstore in the world, well definitely in Nebraska. The Plains Trading Company stocks everything from Harry Potter to Ben Green’s Horse Trading. He has Cather’s complete works and Snyder Yost and John Grishom and Amy Tan. It has the unique feature which keeps a small town (1100 people) book store in business, something for everyone. He stocks a treasure trove of plant, animal and nature books as well as tons of stuff about Indians and cowboys too.

These photos are re-runs but with more information, as promised.

white-eyed grass

  • White eyed grass
  • Previously known
  • Sisyrinchium campestrae
  • Perennial, Iris family, found in the Southeastern Great Plains
  • The leaves come directly from the ground like domestic iris do.  American Indians made a tea from this plant to treat stomach cramps and hay fever



  • Rose
  • Previously known
  • Rosa arkansana
  • Perennial, Rose family, found throughout the Great Plains
  • Rose hips or fruits were used as an ingredient in pemmican, a mixture of meat, fat and berries the Indians ate in the wintertime. Many tribes used rose petals in salads and as a fragrance for hair oils and perfumes. The young shoots were used as an herb. The bark, roots, petals, hips and stems were used by different tribes to make teas. I have made rose hip jelly, it tasted a little like apple jelly. Various parts of the rose have been used widely by Indians and pioneers to treat diarrhea as well as a variety of eye problems including snow blindness and cataracts. Rose hips contain an enormous amount of vitamin C, much more than your basic orange.

Prairie ragwort

  • Prairie ragwort
  • Previously known, not researched
  • Senecio plattensis
  • Perennial, Sunflower family, found throughout Great Plains
  • Senecio in Latin means old man. The name refers to a tuft of white hairs at the top of the plant’s fruit. Several species of Senecio grow across the Great Plains.  Lewis’ journal vaguely alludes to Senecio along the Missouri. American Indians used some Senecios to treat a variety of uterine issues. According to Mr. Nollett, it is mildly poisonous to livestock, causing liver damage and a disease called stomach staggers. He also notes that it was used to increase perspiration and treat kidney stones.


  • Onion
  • Previously known
  • Allium canadense in Latin, canadense means northern
  • Perennial, Lily family, found throughout the Great Plains
  • Both onions and garlic grow wild in the prairie. They look very similar to each other and also very similar to a plant called Death camas, which is highly toxic. Bear this in mind if you think you see a wild onion. Onions flower though June. American Indians used onions for cooking, in much the same way we do now. Indians used onion to relieve many maladies including coughing, vomiting, sore throats, ear infections, swelling, constipation, colds, headaches and sinus trouble. Explorers ate onions to prevent scurvy. Onions provide a good source of vitamins C and A.

pink poppy mallow


  • Pale Poppy Mallow
  • I knew of the purple variety
  • Callirhoe alcaeoides
  • Perennial, Mallow family, found in undisturbed sites in the Southeastern Great Plains.  A close relative, purple poppymallow is quite showy and grows along road ditches.
  • American Indians cooked the roots like parsnips.  The leaves when cooked are mucilaginous and were used to thicken soups