Posts Tagged With: medicinal uses of tulip poplar

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft

by Todd Walker

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft -

Foraging wild food requires practice, knowledge, and experience on your landscape. Notice I used the word your land. What you’ve read in books and watched on YouTube may not apply to your locale. While survival principles may never change, self-reliance is local.

Many of us are self-taught in skills of wilderness living. However, one way to shorten your learning curve is to find an experienced skills practitioner in your area who is actually Doing the Stuff. After receiving instruction, you gain knowledge. Knowledge weighs nothing but is not enough. You make knowledge applicable through time and experience and context. There is no substitute for time in your woods.

I had the recent pleasure of attending my third class at Medicine Bow, A Primitive School of Earthlore in the North Georgia Mountains. If you look up Renaissance Man in the dictionary, Mark Warren’s bio should appear, but won’t. He’s not only a walking encyclopedia of woods-lore, he won the U.S.National Champion in Slalom/Downriver combined and the World Championship Longbow Tournament in 1999. On top of his wealth of outdoor knowledge, he is also a musical composer and published author.

Mark’s knowledge of the Cherokee uses of plants and trees is the foundation for anyone interested in wilderness living and self-reliance. I wrote him an email after the class asking assistance on a question for this article. I wanted to know the degree to which Cherokees depended on domesticated crops verses wild foods.

Mark’s response:

“Everyone knows about Cherokee farming and the 3 sisters (corn, squash, and beans), but the wild growth of forest and field was actually “farmed” too, by pruning or clearing for light. For example, swamp dogwoods were pruned to encourage survival shoots for basketry and arrow shafts. Large areas along flood plains were burned to help create a monopoly of river cane (for the same two crafts). A lot of those “brakes” can still be seen. The same is true of foods. I have a sense of why Amicalola was sacred to the Cherokee. I suspect it was for the prolific sochani that grows there. It’s also called green-headed coneflower. Cherokee women in NC still harvest it in spring and freeze for the year.”

Click here for more information on Sochani (Green-Headed Coneflower).

Think about this astounding bit of research…
“The Cherokees of the 19th century are listed as having around 800 plants in their repertoire (Mooney, 1992). This from a pool of about 2,400 species of plants to work from or about a third!” ~ Source

Every year I add more plants and trees to my food-medicine-craft list. But 800! I’ve got a lot to learn and experience.

“In the school of the woods, there is no graduation day.” 

~ Horace Kephart

Trees of Southern Appalachia

Wild plant foragers get excited this time of the year. Green shoots make their way through the soil for another growing season. Autumn turns to winter and the smorgasbord disappears. But trees, they stand ready to share their resources year-round.

Winter tree identification would not be challenging if trees would stop dropping their leaves. Mark taught winter botany lessons which I had never been exposed to. Sharing all I learned would take several articles. For our purposes today, we will explore 3 of my favorite trees in my woods and how the Cherokee and settlers used them for food, medicine, and craft resources.

Tulip Tree

Tulip Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) it is not a poplar at all. It is actually in the Magnolia ((Magnoliaceae)) family of flowering trees. There are many common names for Liriodendron tulipifera besides Tulip Poplar… Yellow Poplar, Canoe Wood, Yellow Wood, and Tulip Tree. That is one reason it is important to use scientific names of plants and trees… if you can manage to pronounce them. This will remove any confusion over common names.

Related Resource: Trees for Self-Reliance


The Tulip Tree, while not a nutritional powerhouse, is a favorite of mine mainly for craft and outdoor self-reliance. Tulip Tree blooms are a main source of nectar for honey bees which produces a dark, amber honey loaded with antioxidants.

  • The only part of a Tulip Tree that I know is edible is the nectar in the flowering blooms.
  • Edit: Darryl Patton, The Southern Herbalist, sent me a message saying he collects, dries, and pounds the inner bark into flour for baking in his spring classes. Thank you, Darryl.


Tulip Tree’s inner bark and leaves were used medicinally by the Cherokee and settlers in Appalachia for treating…

  • Poultice from leaves for inflammation and sores.
  • Inner bark tea for periodic fevers, diarrhea, pinworms, as a digestive aid and for rheumatic pain.
  • Supposedly, inner bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac.
  • The bark could also serve as a substitute for quinine in treating malaria.
  • Tooth aches.
  • Used as a tonic to induce perspiration to treat fevers.
  • Root bark and seeds useful as a wormer for the body.
  • Cough syrup from bark.


  • Fire Craft ~ Wood for friction fire, inner bark for tinder, hot, quick burning firewood which does not produce long-lasting coals like other hardwoods.
  • Cordage ~ Inner bark fibers can be processed into cordage and rope.
When Primitive Skills and Prepping Have Sex |

Indigenous cordage: Clockwise from 12:00 ~ Dogbane; Tulip Tree; Okra, and Yucca.

  • Containers ~ Outer bark crafted into berry baskets, arrow quivers, and larger pack baskets.
  • Carving ~ The soft hardwood lends itself to easy carving of spoons, bowls, pottery paddles, canoe paddles, and even the canoe itself. One common name of this tree is Canoe Wood.
This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

This design will be carved into the Tulip Tree paddle and used to imprint designs on primitive process pottery.

  • Insulation ~ Shredded inner bark can be stuffed between layers of clothing to create dead air space to retain body heat in a survival situation.
  • Roofing/Siding ~ Outer bark slabs used for shingles and siding on shelters.


Hickories make excellent wildlife resource as squirrels and feral pigs love to eat their nut meat. Pignut (Carya glabra), Mockernut (Carya tomentosa), and Shagbark (Carya ovata) are the three hickories I’m most familiar with in Georgia, Mockernut being the most common.


  • Sap ~ Sap water from hickories can be consumed without treatment.
  • Nuts ~ Contains fats (18g/serving), protein (3.6g/serving), and carbohydrates (5 g/serving) – Serving size = 1 oz.
  • Hickory syrup from crushed and processed nuts.
  • Cooking oil from nuts.
  • Kunuche (ku-nu-che) ~ A traditional Cherokee hickory nut soup.
  • Nuts with exterior husks are useful as charcoal for cooking food.
Scott Jones using hickory nuts as charcoal

Scott Jones (Media Prehistoria) using hickory nuts as charcoal.

  • Hickory Milk ~ “They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes.” – Source


  • Infusion of boiled bark for arthritis pain.
  • Inhaling fumes of young shoots on hot rocks as a treatment for convulsions.
  • Cold remedy
  • Liver aid
  • Gynecological aid
  • Dermatological issues


How to Handcraft a Custom Ax Handle from a Tree -

This ax handle started out as the hickory tree pictured in the background

Hickory was used by the Cherokee’s for…

  • Stickball sticks
  • Crafting bows
  • Handles – (Here’s my tutorial on carving an ax handle from hickory)
  • Firewood
  • Smoking meats
  • Furniture
  • Inner bark of Mockernut and Shellbark Hickory used to finish baskets
  • Ashes from hickory were used by settlers to make quality lye for soap.
  • Inner bark used for cordage. Mark described a method of slicing down a hickory limb to remove the bark and twisting it to make a strong rope. I’ll explore that method in a later post.
  • Green nut husks used as dye – (My bed sheet tarp was dyed with hickory and black walnut dye)
  • Nut oil mixed with bear fat as an insect repellent.


There are 36 pines in North America to choose from. These evergreens are easy to spot for anyone. To narrow down the species, count the needles. The Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobus) is the only species in Eastern North America with 5 needles in the fascicle sheath (the paper-like sheath surrounding the base of the needles).

How Cherokees Used Trees of Southern Appalachia for Food, Medicine, and Craft -

Hemlock is a part of the pine family and grows in southern Appalachia. Like other pines in our region, the inner bark is edible.


  • Pine nuts are edible and tasty.
  • Inner bark was eaten when other foods were scarce. Should be boiled/cooked since it is high in turpenes. Can also be dried and ground into a flour.
  • Pine pollen can be collected and is edible and used like flour.
  • Long strips of inner bark can be boiled to make pine noodles.


  • Pine needle tea has the following medicinal properties: antiseptic, astringent, inflammatory, antioxidant, expectoranthigh in Vitamin C for colds – flu – coughs, congestion, and even scurvy.
  • Shikimic acid, the main ingredient in Tamiflu, is harvested from pine needles in Asia.
  • Pine resin applied to skin conditions.
  • Arthur Haines describes on his YouTube channel how pine pollen provides multiple avenues of protection against radioactive cesium.
  • Warm poultice of pine resin will draw splinters and foreign matter from skin.
  • The inner bark can be fashioned as an antiseptic Band Aid for cuts and scraps
  • Chew softer sap straight off the tree like a gum for sore throats and colds. You could pre-make “gum” with these ingredients: bees-wax, pine sap, and honey.


See more useful fire craft articles on our Bombproof Fire Craft page.

  • Wood for shelters and bows for bedding.
  • Rescue Signals ~ A pre-made signal fire built with green pine boughs on top will generate enough white smoke to be seen for miles.
  • Pine needles were used to make baskets and resin was used as a sealer.
  • Logs were used in home building.
  • White pine and hemlock are both good wood for friction fire.
  • Dried and ground hemlock inner bark used as flour.
  • Dried pine “flour” is useful when rubbed on the body to cover human scent while hunting.

Mark says that Cherokees called trees “The Standing People.” Trees do not walk to new locations like animals in search of food. They are always in the same spot. Learning to identify trees and their resources will put you in a better position of appreciation and stewardship of your natural environment.

To mention all the trees used by the Cherokee would be better addressed in book form. In this article, we’ve highlighted three of my favorite trees in our woodlands. I’ll write future blogs covering more. Here’s a teaser on future posts… Dogwood, Sourwood, Basswood, Black Walnut, Persimmon, Beech, Black Cherry, and the list continues.

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook… and over at our Doing the Stuff Network.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

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Copyright © by Survival Sherpa: In light of the recent theft of all my content by a pirate site, my sharing policy has changed. I do not permit the re-posting of entire articles from my site without express written consent by me. My content on this site may be shared in digital form (200 words or less) for non-commercial use with a link back (without no-follow attribute) to the original article crediting the author. All photos, drawings, and articles are copyrighted by and the property of Survival Sherpa. You are more than welcome to share our photos and articles on social media for educational purposes as long as you link back to the original article/photo with credit to the author.


Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, DIY Preparedness Projects, Doing the Stuff, Herbal Remedies, Lost Skills, Medical, Natural Health, Preparedness, Real Food, Self-reliance, Survival Skills, Wildcrafting | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 46 Comments

Tulip Poplar: A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance

by Todd Walker

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

The window of opportunity to foraging many wild plants is short. Catch them in their growing season and you have a meal or medicine. Once they’re gone, you’ll have to wait several months to enjoy their benefits.

Not so with trees. They don’t wither in late autumn and disappear. Understand their properties as a valuable year-round resource, trees become indispensable to for outdoor self-reliance.

We’ve discussed a few trees found in Georgia offering nutrition, medicinal, and other benefits. Check out the Trees for Self-Reliance tab at the top of this page for further research on useful eastern woodland trees and projects made from them.

One of my favorites is…

Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

The tulip poplar is actually not a in the Poplar family. Early North American settlers thought this tree was related to the European white poplar, which are members of the Willow (Salicaceae) family.

Nope. The Tulip Poplar is actually in the Magnolia (Magnoliaceae) family – flowering plant family.

Other common names include yellow poplar, tulip tree, yellow wood, and canoe wood. Some names I’d never heard before are saddle tree, lyre tree, and old wife’s shirt. I’m guessing the leaves resembled an old wife’s shirt to some early settler?? Come to think of it, they do remind me of a T-shirt.

No matter what you call this tree, tulip poplars are easy to identify in any season and contain rich resources for woodsman, homesteaders, and outdoor adventurers.


One of the tallest and most distinct in the eastern woodland, tulip poplars grow to heights of 120 feet (or more) with straight limb-less trunks until they reach a narrow crown. Large 2 inch orange, green, and yellow cup-shaped flowers appear in mid spring (in middle to north Georgia) resembling tulips flowers. The leaves are quite unusual in appearance, nearly square (4 to 6 inches long) with 4 to 6 paired lobes on long stalks which wave in the slightest breeze.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance - (1)

Drink the honey-like nectar straight from the flower cup if you find any hanging low… cheers!

Even in winter, long after their leaves have turned yellow and littered the forest floor, one can spot these trees easily. In a race to the top of the forest canopy, this fast growing hardwood drops its lower limbs leaving dark scars resembling scattered “black eyes” along the length of the gray trunk.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance - (1)

The trees have eyes!

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance - (1)

This clump of tulip poplars would be very noticeable even without foliage

Before dropping, the bark of dead limbs often peel revealing a whitish colored wood which contrasts well in darker winter landscapes.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

Exposed white wood of a fallen poplar

You can find these trees ranging from Ontario to northern Florida and west through Mississippi. They like well-drained soil in moist valleys and ridges.

Here are 5 ways to use my most popular tree resource in the eastern woodlands…

#1 Resource: Combustion

Whether making primitive fire by friction or using your Bic lighter, locate a tulip poplar and you’ll likely find dry, dead limbs near the base. I often run across clumps of poplar trees with the smallest tree standing dead. Harvest it for the wood and inner bark to assist your fire craft.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

One stick fire

One 2-3 inch x 12 inch dead limb of tulip poplar, bark intact, may be all you have but is all you need to build a sustainable fire. Process the inner bark into fine hair-like fibers to form a tinder bundle. Split the wood down into pencil-lead, pencil, and thumb sizes. If dry, the inner fibers will ignite with sparks from a ferro rod. Use your Bic on marginally dry tinder.

If you need coals for cooking or “burn and scrape” woodcraft projects, choose another wood like oak or hickory. I’ve found tulip poplar doesn’t make coals but burns to ash.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

Primitive Bow Drill Fire Kit: Poplar used to make a hearth board, spindle, and bearing block

Once you and a tree collaborate to make primitive fire, there’s a primal rush that pulses through your being… You’ll never be the same!

#2 Resource: Cordage

You may not plan on being without this vital C of Survivability, but if you are, the inner bark of tulip poplar can be twisted into fine to large rope. Natural cordage isn’t that difficult to reproduce from the landscape. It just takes time, resources, and skill… which is why you should always carry stuff to lash and tie things together.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

1/8 inch diameter reverse twist tulip poplar cordage

#3 Resource: Self-Aid

Self-aid should be your top priority on wilderness outings. Even if you manage to avoid stupid stuff, accidents happen.

Besides being an excellent resource for fire and cordage, tulip poplar’s inner bark and leaves were used medicinally by Cherokee and colonists in Georgia for treating…

  • Poultice from leaves for inflammation and sores
  • Inner bark tea for fevers and upset stomach
  • Supposedly, inner bark was chewed as an aphrodisiac
  • Tooth aches
  • Colonists used a tincture of root and bark to treat malaria
  • Used as a tonic to induce perspiration to treat fevers
  • Root bark and seeds useful as a wormer for the body
  • Cough syrup from bark

#4 Resource: Container

In late spring, the bark of the tulip poplar is ripe for harvesting. Baskets, arrow quivers, and other containers can be crafted from the outer bark. Simply score the bark with a saw or knife to the sap wood, split the bark vertically, and peel the bark off the log in a whole section.

#5 Resource: Building and Woodcraft Material

The Foxfire Museum in North Georgia showcases the pioneer culture of Southern Appalachia with displays of cabins, barns, and out buildings built from long, straight tulip poplar trees. DRG and I have visited the museum on two occasions to admire the self-reliant skills needed to sustain their way of life.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

Reconstructing old cabins with tulip poplar at Foxfire Museum

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

In woodcraft/bushcraft, tulip poplar is a good selection for spoon carving, pottery paddles, and even dugout canoes. History tells us that Native Americans made canoes of this tree. Daniel Boone is said to have made and used a tulip poplar canoe.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

My tulip poplar “burn and scrape” wooden chili spoon

#6 Resource: Edible

One of the highlights of spring foraging is the sweet, honey-like nectar found in the cup of tulip poplar blooms. As mentioned previously, mature trees drop their lower branches which makes finding low-hanging blooms a challenge.

Your best bet at sipping this delicacy is locating a tree in someone’s yard. In my experience, yard trees have lots of lower branches still attached since they aren’t competing with other trees to reach the top of the forest canopy. If you’re fortunate enough to find one in reach, pluck the bloom and drink the nectar straight from the cup. You’ll be in competition with the local squirrels though – so get to them early!

I’ll leave you with an image of an interesting triple tulip poplar near my shelter.

Tulip Poplar- A Rich Resource for Year-Round Wilderness Self-Reliance -

Almost a peace sign

Keep Doing the Stuff of Self-Reliance,


P.S. – You can also keep up with the Stuff we’re Doing on TwitterPinterestGoogle +, YouTube and our Facebook page… and over at the Doing the Stuff Network on PinterestGoogle +, and Facebook.

P.P.S – If you find value in our blog, Dirt Road Girl and I would appreciate your vote on Top Prepper Sites! You can vote daily by clicking here or on the image below. Check out all the other value-adding sites while you’re there…

Thanks for Sharing the Stuff!

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Categories: Bushcraft, Camping, Doing the Stuff, Homesteading, Preparedness, Self-reliance, Survival | Tags: , , , , , , | 25 Comments

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