Cornucopia’s Take: The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is documenting the health of traditional plants in hopes of regaining the tribe’s right to harvest them sustainably for food and medicine. Many native plants have been over-harvested for gourmet restaurants and up-scale markets, resulting in a ban on all harvesting in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Wild plants should always be harvested ethically.
Mending a Native Food Web
North Carolina Health News
by Catherine Clabby
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are using research and new partnerships to expand access to wild foods at the heart of their culture.
On an Appalachian Mountains slope coated with trees and low plants, Tommy Cabe got on his knees to look for shiny black seeds inside a late-season ramp patch.
“Here there are five seedpods but no seeds,” the forest resource specialist for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians pronounced, adding quickly, “Here’s one!”
As Cabe reported every wild onion seed or pod he spotted, Michelle Baumflek, an ethnobotanist at Virginia Tech, logged numbers on a clipboard. With help from a measurement grid that Cabe moved from one research plot to the next in the patch, Baumflek cited precise locations too.
The meticulous work on secluded land may help Eastern Band tribe members regain the right to forage for wild ramps in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, a practice banned since 2007.