Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman


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Native American Ethnobotany by Daniel E. Moerman
What Moerman has done is organize a vast amount of information from 206 North American ethnobotanical reports into one 927 page volume. This is a ‘big’ hard cover book of original Native American ethnobotanical knowledge. It covers wild plants that Native Americans used for food, tools, fiber, dyes, medicines, and ceremonials.

Using original sources, Moerman gives summarized accounts of uses for 4,029 plants from 1,200 genera, used in 44,691 ways in 291 different Native American societies. Plants are listed by species in alphabetical order and then by Tribe. This book provides, what I consider to be essential baseline information from which to gain overall perspective, and a place to launch more serious studies of native cultures or plants.

Readers will gain a genuine appreciation of the most important plants used by traditional First Peoples in North America. For instance, there are several top 10 plant lists based on frequency of use by different societies. Because of Moerman’s thoroughness, readers will learn uses for obscure plants, widely used plants, and everything in between. There are comprehensive indexes for plant usage, species names (including synonyms), and common names.

To get greater detail on traditional foodways, that is, how plants were gathered, processed, prepared, eaten, stored, and reconstituted, readers will have to go to the library and look up the original sources. Had Moerman included these original papers as bound reprints, instead of one hefty volume, he could have filled a whole set of bookshelves. There are no photographs or illustrations of plants or people.

Moerman’s comparative overview of Native North American ethnobotany is the best that I have seen. I highly recommend this book as a reference text for serious researchers of Native North American wild foods, as a resource for the reference desks of libraries, and as a part of any Native American tribal library.

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