CAPTAIN JONATHAN CARVER, ESQ., 1766-1768
Natural History–Captain Jonathan Carver, Esq.
Reference: J. Carver, Esq. Travels through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767 and 1768. The Third Edition. Reprint by Ross and Haines, Inc., Minneapolis, 1956.
Chapter XIV “Of their Diseases, &c.” [pp. 389-397].
“Of Serpents,” [Rattle Snake, pp. 478-485.] This section ic covered on another page.
Chapter XIX [pp. 494-521], “Trees, Shrubs, Roots, Herbs, Flowers, &c.” covers the Flora. Carver lists a number of important flora at the beginning of each section, but covers only a few of them in his subsequent text. The * used in these lists indicates the plants Carver discussed in the main text which following each of his lists.
There are really just two natural product industries that dominate the exploration and laid claims to much of the northern half of North America. The first was obviously the fur trade. The second was the large old-growth forest settings consisting of white pine.
The uses for animal hides or pelt are obvious. The use of old-growth pines was primarily for the production of very long masts required of the British Man-of-War ships. This dependency on these pines is noted several times in my review of plant natural resource history. In New York, the lands claimed by the Livingstons were the primary source for this product. According to the colonial documents a significant amount of effort and time were devoted to making the best use of trees fitting the needs and requirements for these masts. Livingston made substantial efforts developing instructions on how to prepare the tree for its falling, a two year requirement; this process involved the careful debarking of the tree in quadrants, beginning with the shadiest side first. The resin then produced in large masses at the base had to then be gathered and boiled down into a purer rosin-like form for use in sealing the hulls of the ships.
Second mention of the importance of these masts is made in reference to the John Jacob Astor expedition plans. In 1809, the United States passed the Non-Intercourse act prohibiting any commercial activities with the British. This led to a drastic reduction in their supply of mast-producing resources. Ultimately, in about 4 to 8 years, this led to the drastic reductions in fur trade that were normally taking place in Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest Territory. This even led to the relinquishment of forts the Hudson’s Bay company had set up in the Northwest along the Columbia River by 1817, an event sped up by legal actions in favor of the United States following the loss of the War of 1812.
Carver’s brief notes supplement these two activities suggesting there was a high priority placed in mast-producing pine trees. His notes on the qwuality of wood support the need for knowing what resources existed in the newly explored parts of Canada. With his review of the trees, most of these trees discussed are lumber sources. The Hemlock Tree, which “has leaves somewhat like that of the yew,” was considered useless due to it “wind-shakes or cracks.” The Bass or Whitewood, “the whitest and softest wood,” which when dried “swims on the water like a cork,” was recommended for use by turners to make bowls, trenchers and dishes. Wickopick also known as Suckwick, was another white wood, and used as a sealant for canoes by natives.
J. Carver covered:
- 16 Trees
- 5 Nut Trees
- 6 Fruit Trees
- 25 Shrubs
- 18 Roots and Plants
- 30 Herbs
- 12 Flowers
- 112 Plants TOTAL
Of Trees (p. 494-500) 
- *Oak, several sorts: black, white, red, yellow, grey, swamp, and chesnut [Quercus spp.]
- *Pine Tree, white [Pinus and probably many other Coniferae--Pinaceae seen]
- *Maple, two sorts…hard and soft [Acer spp.]
- *Ash, several sorts, esp. yellow ash [Fraxinus sp.]
- *Hemlock, “species of white wood” [Tsuga spp. esp T. canadense]
- *Bass or White Wood [Tilia spp.., esp. T. glabra]
- Cedar [Juniperus spp.]
- Elm [Ulmus rubra]
- Birch [Betula spp. but esp. B. alba and B. papyrifera]
- Fir [Abies spp.]
- Locust Tree [Robinia pseudacacia]
- Poplar [Populus spp.]
- *Wickopie or Suckwic
- Spruce [Picea sp.]
- Hornbeam [
- *Button Wood Tree
Nut Trees (p. 500-502) 
- *Butter or Oil Nut (Juglans cinerea)
- Walnut (Juglans sp.)
- *Beech Nut [Fagus spp.]
- *Pecan Nut
Fruit Trees (p. 502-505) 
- *The Vine (Vitis spp.)
- *Mulberry Tree (Morus rubra)
- *Crab Apple Tree (Malus sp.)
- *Plum Tree (Prunus sp.)
- *Cherry Tree (Cerasus sp.)
- *Sweet Gum Tree or Liquidambur (Liquidambur styraciiflua)
Shrubs (p. 505-512) (25)
- *Shin Wood
- *Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum spp.)
- *Moose Wood
- *Spoon Wood
- Large Elder
- Dwarf Elder
- *Poisonous Elder
- *Shrub Oak
- Sweet Fern
- *Witch Hazle
- *Myrtle Wax Tree
- *Winter Green
- *Fever Bush
- *Cranberry Bush
- Goosberry Bush
- Currant Bush
- Whirtle Berry
- Black Berry
- *Choak Berry
Roots and Plants (p. 512-516) 
- Ground Nuts
- Wild Potatoes
- Snake Root
- *Gold Thread
- *Solomon’s Seal
- *Devil’s Bit
- *Blood Root
- Wild Parsnips
- Hellebore White and Black
Herbs (p. 516-521) 
- Cinque Foil
- *Rattle Snake Plantain
- *Poor Robin’s Plantain
- *Toad Plantain
- Maiden Hair
- Wild Dock
- *Rock Liverwort
- Noble Liverwort
- Wild Beans
- Ground Ivy
- Water Cresses
- May Weed
- *Gargit or Skoke
- *Skunk Cabbage or Poke
- *Wake Robin
- Wild Pease
- Mouse Ear
- *Wild Indigo
- *Cat Mint
Flowers (p. 521) 
- Heart’s Ease
- Lilies red and yellow
- Pond Lilies
- May Flowers
- Rock Honeysuckles
- Roses red and white
- Wild Hollyhock
- Wild Pinks
- Golden Rod
Of these, Carver writes:
“I shall not enter into a minute description of the flowers above recited, but only just observe, that they resemble those of the same name which grow in Europe, and are as beautiful in colour, as they can be supposed to be in their wild uncultivated state.”
Other entries made as notes from Carver’s book:
- Sweat Lodge
- Pathogenesis and Treatment (Theory of Disease)
- Animal Spirits (see notes regarding the Rattlesnake)
Acer spp. Maple (Acer spp.)
Makes mention of Natives preparing maple syrup. Recommends the wood for cabinets, tables, gunstocks, etc.; it is easily split by ax.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 496-7]
Ash (Fraxinus sp.)
Carver writes: “There are several sorts of this tree in these parts, but that to which I shall confine my description, is the yellow ash, which is found only near the head branches of the Mississippi.” It was made by French traders into periaguays, which are harvested by burning their forests and then logging them. The wood is like ash; the ross or outside bark is up to eight inches thick with six inch furrows. The rind (inner bark) beneath this ross is yellow in color and stains. Of the sap in the spring, Carver writes: “if in the spring you peel off the bark, and touch the sap, which then rises between that and the body of the tree, it will leave so deep a tincture that it will require three or four days to wear it off. Many useful qualities belonging to this tree I doubt not will be discovered in time, besides its proving a valuable acquisition to the dyer.”
IDENTIFICATION NOTE: The regular Ash genus is Fraxinus. The White Ash, a rattlesnake bite remedy, is either Chionanthus virginica L. or americana L.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 496-7]
Bass or White Wood (Tilia spp.)
Only this tree’s use by turners to make bowls, trenchers and dishes is noted by Carver.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 499]
Wickopick or Suckwick (Tilia americana L.)
“[A]ppears to be a species of the white wood, and is distinguished from it by a peculiar quality in the bark, which when pounded and moistened with a little water, instantly becomes a matter of the consistence and nature of size [painter's glue]. With this the Indians pay their canoes, and it greatly exceeds pitch or any other material usually appropriated to that purpose; for besides its adhesive quality, it is so oily a nature, that the water cannot penetrate through it, and its repelling power abates not for a considerable time.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 499]
IDENTIFICATION NOTE: The exact identification of this herb is uncertain.
- Wickup, 1999a Tilia americana L. [Canada to Georgia], American Linden, White-wood, Black Lime tree, Bast tree.
There are several other common herb names noted in Lyons Plant Names. Scientific and Popular… which resemble “Wickopick,” only a few of which refer to trees or shrubs:
- Wick, 592a Crataegus oxyacantha L., hawthorn[European, naturalized in the U.S.]
- Wicke, 1592a Pieris mariana (L.) Benth. & Hook., sorrel tree, stagger bush, fetter-bush.
- Wickup, 689a Dirca palustris L., leatherwood, moosewood.
- Wicky, 1103 c and d Kalmia hirsuta [Va. to Fla.] Hairy Laurel, and K. latifolia L. [Canada and E. U.S.], Mountain Laurel, Spurge Laurel.
- Wicky, 1875a Sorbus americana Marsh. [Canada and E. U.S.] American Mountain Ash.
- Wick 60a Agropyrum repens (L.) Beauv., wheat grass
- Wickakee, 403a Castilleja coccinea (L.) Spreng., paintbrush
- Wickup, 456a Chamaenerion angustifolium (L.) Scop., willow-herb, Indian wicopy, flowering willow.
- Wickup, 755b Epilobium palustre L. [North America, Europe and Asia.] Willow-herb
- Wincopipe/Wink-a-peep, 116a Anagallis arvensis L., scarlet pimpernel, red chickweed, burnet.
Button Wood (Sycamore) Platanus occidentalis L.
Use for wood given: for cabinet makers. States they were named by the burls that come out from the trunk, which appeared like such.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 499-500]
- Buttonwood tree 1612a Platanus occidentalis L. [Ontario to Florida, w. to Texas and Minn.] Button Ball, Sycamore, American Plant Tree, Water Beech. Most likely candidate.
- Buttonwood shrub 428a Cephalanthus occidentalis L. [Canada to Florida and California] Also known as Crane-Willow, Box, Crouper-bush, Little Snowball, Mountain Globeflower, Pond or Swamp Dogwood, Riverbush.
- Buttonwood 557a [Conocarpus erectus L. West Indies to FLorida] Zaragoza Mangrove.
- White Buttonwood 1130a Laguncularia racemosa (L.) Gaertn. White Mangrove. Fam: Combretaceae. [Tropical American coastlines]
Elder (Sambucus canadensis)
The Poisonous Elder found growing in and nearby wetlands. “This shrub is endowed with a very extraordinary quality, that renders it poisonous to some constituions, which it effects if the person only approaches within a few yards of it, whilst others may even chew the leaves or the rind without receiving the least detriment from them: the poison however is not mortal, though it operates very violently on the infected person, whose body and had swell to an amazing size, and so covered with eruptions, that their height resemble the confluent small-pox. As it grows also in many of the provinces, the inhabitants cure its venom by drinking saffron tea, and anointing the external parts with a mixture composed of cream and marshmallows.”
Note: There is a balancing of the four elements, season or colors being performed with the Native American treatment as told by Carver. The Sambucus berry is red to black, and the eruption of the skin is red, perhaps forming black heads. The medicine used to treat this condition by natives consists of the yellow saffron (to balance the red), and the whitish cream and marshmallow plant (Althaea sp.).
Grape Vine (Vitis sp.)
Three kinds are noted by Carver: “…the first sort hardly deserves the name of a grape, the second much resembles the Byrgundy Grape, and if exposed to the sun a good wine might be made from them. The third sort resembles Zant currant, which are frequently used in cakes, &c. in England.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 499-500]
The first may be the native Vitis sp., which bears a grape quite small but strongly flavored and seedy.
The second appears to be the Imported European variety. The third, which resembles a dried currant, may be Menispermum canadense, which has berries which flatten, become disklike and appear like blueish raisins or currants when dried.
Alternatively, the first and third identifications just made might be reversed. The berries of Menispermum are not very flavorful, and lean towards having a bitter flavor; its seeds are mildly toxic, though not deadly.
- Phytolacca americana/P. decandra, is also known as Cancer Jalap, Pigeon Berry, American Nightshade, Virginia Poke, Pocan, Scoke, Coakum, Redweed, and by the French as Raisin d’Amerique. The root and fruit are official medicines. P. octandra L. is of the West Indies and Mexico.
Grape species 2108 Vitis spp.
- V. aestivalis Michx. [E. U.S.] Summer Grape, Small Grape. A common, small, but strong-tasting strongly wild variety.
- V. cordifolia Michx. [[E. U.S. West to Neb.] Fox Grape, Chicken Grape, Frost Grape, Winter Grape, Possum Grape.
- V. labrusca L. [New England to Georgia, w. to Minn.] Northern Fox Grape, Northern Plum Grape, Wild Grape. A common, small, but strong-tasting strongly wild variety. Used as the grafting agent for Delaware Grape, Concord, Isabella, and Catawba var.
- V. rotundifolia Michx. [Maryland, w. to Texas and Mex.; E. Asia.] Southern Fox Grape, Bullace Grape, Muscadine Grape. Less hardy that other American grapes, but resists phylloxera and therefore useful for grafting.
- V. vinifera L. [Southern Europe var.] The official grape used to make the U.S.P. Grape Wine or Vinum Album.
- V. vulpina L. [Canada, south to Maryland and Ark.] Also called Riverside, Sweet-scented and Bull Grape.
NOTE: The Zante Grape or Black Corinth, prepared into a seedless variety (V. minuta Risso or V. apyrena Auct.) is called “currants” and comes from the Corinthian grapes of commerce.
Other “grape” plants:
- False Grape 1514a Parthenocissus quinquefolia (L.) Planch. [Canada, E. U.S. and Mexico.] American Ivy, Wild Woodbine, Five-Fingered Ivy, Woody Climber, etc.
- Hedge Grape 320b Bryonia dioica L. [European]
- Oregon Grape/Rocky Mountain Grape 251d Berberis aquifolium Pursh., B. repens Lindl., and B. nervosa Pursh. B. repens is more often of the Rocky Mountains. B. nervosa is NW-Oregonian.
- Sea Grape 1767a Salsola kali L. [Europe, Asia, North America] Glasswort, Saltwort, Sea-thrift.
- Seaside Grape, 506g Citrus decumania Murr. [Eastern Asia, cult. in sub-tropics.] Grapefruit, Pomelo, Forbidden fruit.
- Grape tree 526b Coccolobis uvifera (L.) Sarg. [West Indies, Florida] Sea-Grape, Lobe-berry, Mangrove. [Tannin-rich.]
Mulberry Tree (Morus rubra)
Carver notes Morus rubra (Red or Black Mulberry) and Morus alba (White Mulberry); the latter was imported from Eurasia for use in Silk manufacturing.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 503]
Cat Mint (Nepeta cataria)
“Cat Mint has a woody root, divided into several branches, and it sends forth a stalk about three feet high; the leaves are like those of the nettle or betony, and they have a strong smell of mint, with a biting acrid taste; the flowers grow on the tops of the branches, and are of a a faint purple or whitish colour. It is called cat mint, because it is said that cats have an antipathy to it, and will not let it grow. It has nearly the virtues of common mint.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 521]
Cherry Trees (Prunus spp.)
Three sorts are described by Carver: black, red and sand cherry.
The red and sand cherry are shrubs, the last being a ground cover, probably the Beach Plum.
The Black Cherry bears it fruit in clusters, but “are not good to eat” according to Carver due to their sourness. Carver recommends them as a brandy flavorant and colorant for claret. The Red Cherry can also be bitter and drying in the mouth, like allum according to Carver. They are very astringent and cause “a disagreeable roughness in the throat.” The wood of Black Cherry is used for cabinet making.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 504-5]
Crab Apple Tree (Malus spp.)
Carver prefers the flavor of this over the European Apples, noting the fruit to be “much larger and better flavoured.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 503]
Choak Berry (Possibly Aronia arbutifolia (L.) Ell., or another sp.)
A shrub, which bears a jet black berry “about the size of a sloe.” Of its use, “The juice of this fruit, though not of a disagreeable flavour, is extremely tart, and leaves a roughness in the mouth and throat when eaten, that has gained it the name of choke berry.”
NOTE: By the mid nineteenth century, Aronia spp. became popular Eclectic medicines.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 512]
Cranberry Bush (Vaccinium sp.)
A small vine found growing in marshes and bogs. Carver infers the berry’s edibility in his brief writing on this plant. He recommends one try to make it a garden plant.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 512]
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
“A sort of plantain that springs out of the ground in six of seven rough leaves, the veins of which are red; the root of it is like a small carrot both in color and appearance; when broken, the inside of it is of a deeper colour than the outside, and distills several drops of juice that look like blood. This is a strong emetic, but a very dangerous one.”
Note: Carver’s description of the root is wrong. Rather than bearing a taproot much like carrot (Daucus carota), Sanguinaria bears a somewhat jointed rhizome that is mostly black upon picking, exuding a red latex when broken or its rootlets torn.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 516]
Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium)
“Ginsang is a root that was once supposed to grow only in Korea, from whence it was usually exported to Japan, and by that means found its way to Europe; but it has been lately discovered to be also a native of North America, where it grows to as great perfection and is equally valuable. Its root is like a small carrot, but not so taper at the end; it is sometimes divided into two of more branches, in all other respects it resembles sarsaparilla in its growth. The taste of the root is bitterish. In the eastern parts of Asia it bears a great price, being there considered a panacea, and is the last refuge of the inhabitants in all disorders. When chewed it certainly is a great strengthener of the stomach.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 514]
“Devils Bit is another wild plant, which grows in the fields, and receives its name from a print that seems to be made by teeth in the roots. The Indians say that this was once a universal remedy for every disorder that human nature is incident to; but some of the evil spirits envying mankind the possession of so efficacious a medicine gave the root a bite, which deprived it of a great part of its virtue.”
NOTE: This is an especially important rendering of Carver’s feelings in regard to Native American symbolism and the European-perceived healing powers of medicinal plants. As a universal remedy, this plant may have been felt by Natives to possess the healing powers of Manitou or Gici Manitou. The bite of the root, perhaps likened by Christians to the bite of the Apple in the Garden of Eden, was retold by explorers as an act involving the devil, which was their name given to the various Manitou spirits. Thus the common name of this plant. The Native American myth of this bitten plant was simple that it was possessed of the powers afforded it by nature, which were lessened by the bite of its most powerful medicine–the rootstock–perhaps by a past medicine man.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 514-5]
Lyons notes the following possibilities for Devil’s-Bit:
- 68a Aletris farinosa L. [Ontario and E. U.S.], Unicorn Root, False Star Grass, Blazing Star, Ague-grass.
- 455a Chamaelirium luteum (L.) A. Gray [Ontario and E. U.S.], Helonias, False Unicorn Root.
- 1124a,b Lacinaria scariosa (L.) Hill and L. spicata (L.) Kze. [Maine to Florida, west to Lousiana and Manitoba], both also named Large Button Snakeroot, Rattlesnake’s Master, Gay Feather, Throatwort, Colic Root. A third species noted by Lyons, L. squarrosa (L.) Hill is also rattlesnake’s master and colic root, but not Devil’s Bit.
- 1794c Scabiosa atropurpurea L. [Naturalised in the U.S. from Europe, therefore ruled out as option.]
- Devil’s Bite 2089b Veratrum viride Ait. [OF British America, south to Georgia and Minnesota] White Hellebore, Earth-Gall, Bear-corn, Swamp Hellebore, Itch-weed, Tickle-weed, etc.
Gargit or Skoke (Phytolacca sp.)
Gargit or Skoke is a large kind of weed, the leaves of which are about six inches long, and two inches and a half broad; they resemble those in spinage in their colour and texture, but not in shape. The root is very large, from which spring different stalks that run ewight or ten feet high, and are full of red berries; these hang in clusters in the month of September, and are generally called pigeon berries, as those birds then feed on them. When the leaves first spring from the ground, after being boiled, they are a nutritious and wholesome vegetable, but when they are grown nearly to their full size, they acquire a poisonous quality. The roots applied to the hands or feet of a person afflicted with a fever, prove a very powerful absorbent.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 518-9]
Lyons notes on Pokeweed (Phytolacca spp.):
Phytolacca americana/P. decandra, is also known as Cancer Jalap, Pigeon Berry, American Nightshade, Virginia Poke, Pocan, Scoke, Coakum, Redweed, and by the French as Raisin d’Amerique. The root and fruit are official medicines. P. octandra L. is of the West Indies and Mexico.
Gold Thread (Coptis trifolia (L.) Salisb.)
“This is a plant of the small vine type, which grows in swampy places, and lies on the ground. The roots spread themselves just under the surface of the morass, and are easily drawn up by handfuls. They resemble a large entangled skain of thread of a fine bright gold colour; and I am persuaded would yield a beautiful and permanent yellow dye. It is also greatly esteemed both by the Indians and colonists as a remedy for any soreness in the mouth, but the taste of it is extremely bitter.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 514-5]
Juggler–see notes in separate section on on “Pathogensis and Treatment”
Snakebite remedies–see Rattle Snake Plantain.
From Lyons are noted the following possibilities exist for the various “Plantain” herbs:
English Plantain (Plantago spp.)
1611 Plantago spp. Most are of European origin. P. ovata Forsk. is from North Africa. P. psillium L. is from the Mediterranean Basin. The two European species most heavily naturalized in North America are P. major L. Common Plantain or Broadleaf Plantain, and P. lanceolata L. Narrow-leaf or English Plantain. P. media L. is Hoary Plantain or Lamb’s Tongue. The Plantago along coastlines is P. maritima.
- 72a Alisma plantago-aquatica L. Also known as Water Plantain and Maddog-Weed.
Indian Plantain (Mesadenia spp.)
- 1315a Mesdenia atriplicifolia (L.) Raf. Pale Indian Plantain or Wild Caraway. [Ontario to Florida, w. to Kansas and Minnesota.]
- 1315b M. reniformis (Nuhl.) Raf. [NJ to Minnesota and southward] Great Indian Plantain, Wild Collard.
Indian Sweet-scented Plantain
- 1942 Synosma suaveolens (L.) Raf. Wild Caraway. [E. U.S.]
Mud Plantain (Heteranthera spp. (4 in U.S.))
- 993b Heteranthera reniformis R. & P.
- 993c H. limosa (Sw.) Willd.
Poor Robin’s Plantain
- 1005i, Hieracium venenosum L. [Canada to Ga., w. to Neb. and Manitoba.]
- 1005a, Hieracium aurantiacum L. [Europe, nat. in U.S.]
Robert’s/Robin’s/Poor Robin’s Plantain
- 768c Erigeron pulchellus Michx. [Ontario to so. Florida and w. to Minn.] Also known as Blue Spring Daisy, Rose-Betty, Poor Robin’s Plantain, and Robert’s Plantain.
- 1538a Known as Peramium pubescens (Willd.) MacM. according to Lyons. Contemporary name: Goodyera pubescens R. Br. Also called Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Adder’s Violet, Sported Plantain, Net-Leaf Plantain, etc.
- 1538b The smaller species is G. repens R.Br., also known as Creeping or Lesser Rattlesnake Plantain, White Plantain, Squirrel Ear, and Smaller Net-Leaf Plantain.
See Goodyera repens. Or,
- 144b Antennaria plantaginifolia (L.) Richards [Canada and E. U.S.] Also called Cudweed, Mouse Ear, Dog’s Toes, ladies’ Tobacco, Indian Tobacco, Pin Cushion, Everlasting, Plantain Leaf Everlasting, and Poverty Weed.
See Toad Plantain, Rattle Snake Plantain, and Poor Robin’s Plantain.
Rattle Snake Plantain (Chimaphila usp.? C. umbellata? Goodyera pubescens?)
“This useful herb is of a plantain kind, and its leaves, which spread themselves on the ground, are about one inch and a half wide, and five inches long; from the center of these arises a small stalk nearly six inches long, which bears a little white flower; the root is about the size of a goose quill, and much bent and divided into several branches. The leaves of this herb are more efficacious than any other part of it for the bite of the reptile from which it receives its name; and being chewed and applied immediately to the wound, and some of the juice swallowed, seldom fails of averting every dangerous symptom. So convinced are the Indians of the power of this infallible antidote, that for a trifling bribe of spirituous liquor, they will at any time permit a rattle snake to drive his fangs into their flesh. It is to be remarked that during those months in which the bite of these creatures is most venomous, that this remedy for it is in its greatest perfection, and most luxuriant in its growth.”
NOTE: The discovery of the herbal remedy for a snakebite in the vicinity of the snake is important in this healing faith. The richly flowering nature of the plant right at the peak of the snake season was read as a symbol from Great Spirit that it was meant to be used for such purposes.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 517-8]
Poor Robin’s Plantain
“Poor Robin’s Plantain is of the same species as the last, but more dimunitive in every respect; it receives its name from its size, and the poor land on which it grows. It is a good medicinal herb, and often administered with success in fevers and internal weaknesses.”
Carver may be referring to Pipsissewa, a white veined Chimaphila (C. umbellata) which roughly resembles Goodyera pubescens. Or, he may be referring to the non-white veined Chimaphila sp. relative to C. umbellata. All of these plants mentioned bear dark green waxy leaves and white flowers, but the flower of Goodyera is long and shaped like the rattle of a rattler.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 518]
Lyons described Poor Robin’s Plantain as Hieracium venenosum L. [Distribution: Canada to Ga., w. to Neb. and Manitoba.]
Rock Liverwort (poss. Lungwort Lichen (Hepatica pulmonaria– sp.)
“Rock Liverwort is a sort of liverwort that grows on rocks, and is of the nature of kelp or moss. It is esteemed as an excellant remedy against declines.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 518]
Sanicle (Sanicula marilandica L., alt. or adulterant-substitute S. canadensis L.)
“Sanicle has a root which is thick towards the upper part, and full of small fibres below; the leaves of it are broad, roundish, hard, smooth, and of a fine shining green; a stalk rises from these to the hight of a foot, which is quite smooth and free from knots, and on the top of it are several small flowers of a reddish white, shaped like a wild rose. A tea made of the root is vulnerary and balsamic.”
NOTE: The Sanicle later became an important American medicine; ca. 1840, it came to be used by Metis trappers and Neothomsonians. By the 1850s, the Eclectics were making a great deal of this plant as a western herbal medicine, and came to write about it in the 1860s.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 517]
IDENTIFICATION NOTE: Also known as Snake-root, Black Snake-root, American Sanicle, Black Sanicle, and Pool-root. The distribution of S. marilandica L. extends from Canada to Georgia. S. canadensis L. or Short-Styled Snakeroot, also called Black Snake-root, is an adulterant for this plant; as noted by Lyon: “used indiscriminantly with the foregoing as are probably other species.” (p. 333) S. europaea L. is the European Sanicle.
Skunk Cabbage or Poke (Symplocarpos foetidus Nutt.)
Skunk Cabbage or Poke is an herb that grows in moist and swampy places. The leaves of it are about a foot long, and six inches broad, nearly oval, but rather pointed. The roots are composed of great numbers of fibres, a lotion of which is made use of by the people in the colonies for the cure of the itch. There issues a strong musky smell from this herb, something like the animal of the same name before described, and on that account it is so termed.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 519]
- 1883 Lyons gives Spathyema foetida (L.) Raf. Currently named Symplocarpos foetidus Nutt. [Canada and E. U.S.] Official name in U.S.P. is Dracontium.Also known as Pock-weed, Polecat-weed, Meadow Cabbage, Fetid Hellebore, and Stinking Poke.
- 1389 Navarettia squarrosa (Esch.) Hook. & Arn. of California is also called Skunk-weed.
Western Skunk Cabbage not mentioned.
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum spp.)
“Solomon’s Seal is a plant that grows on the sides of rivers, and in rich meadow land. It rises in the whole to about three feet high, the stalks being two feet, when the leaves begin to spread themselves and reach a foot further. A part in every root has an impression on it the size of a si-pence, which appears as if it was made by a seal, and from these it receives its name. It is greatly valued on account of its being a fine purifier of blood.”
NOTE: Carver’s mention of the seal borne by its root is mentioned in a previous European herbal, perhaps John Gerard, John Parkinson, or Msr. William Pomet.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 515]
Polygonatum spp. include:
- P. biflorum (Walt.) Ell. [Ontario and E. U.S.] Hairy or Twin-flowered Solomon’s Seal, Sealwort, and Conquered John.
- P. commutatum (R. & S.) Dietr. [Canada to Georgia, w. to Louisiana and Utah] Also known as Great or Giant Solomon’s Seal, Sealwort, and Dropberry.
- P. officinale (L.) All. [Of Europe and Asia.]
“Toad Plantain resembles the common plantain, only it grows much ranker, and is thus denominated because toads love to harbor in it.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 518]
Notes: This sentence sounds like an on-the-spot made up line.
Wake Robin (probably Arisaema triphyllum)
“Wake Robin is an herb that grows in swampy lands; its root resembles a small turnip, and if tasted will greatly inflame the tongue, and immediately convert it from its natural shape into a round hard substance; in which state it will continue for some time, and during this no other part of the mouth will be affected. But when fried, it loses its astringent quality, and beomes beneficial to mankind, for if grated into cold water, and taken internally, it is very good for all complaints of the bowels.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 520]
- 2036 Trillium spp.
- T. cernuum L. [Canada, south to Georgia and Missouri]
- T. erectum L. [Canada, south to Tenn. and Mo.]
- T. grandiflorum (Michx.) Salisb. [Canada and E. U.S.]
- 181b Arisaema spp.
- Arisaema dracontium (L.) Schott. Also known as Green Dragon or Dragon’s Root.
- Arisaema triphyllum (L.) Torr. Also known as Indian Turnip, Jack in the Pulpit, Wild Meadow Turnip, Wild Pepper, Priest’s Pintle.
- 189a Arum maculatum L. [Europe] Spotted Arum. Also called Starch Root, Great or Small Dragon, Mandrake.
- 1528b Peltandra virginica (L.) Kunth Arrow Arum, Virginia Wake-Robin, Tuckahoe.
Identification notes: Te starchy rootstock is an important identifier. Although Wake Robin is most commonly used for Trilliums spp., Carver is most likely referring to one of the members of the Arum family, as indicated by the symptoms noted following its consumption. (Typical of Calcium oxalate [Arum/Araceae] poisoning.) Arisaema triphyllum (L.) Torr. is the plant described by Carver.
Wild Indigo (Baptisia tinctoria (L.) R. Br.)
“Wild Indigo is an herb of the same species as that from whence indigo is made in the southern colonies. It grows in one stalk to the height of five or six inches from the ground, when it divides into many branches, from which issue a great number of small hard bluish leaves that spread a great breadth, and among these it bears a yellow flower; the juice of it has a very disagreeable scent.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 520]
Moosewood (Dirca palustris)
A four-foot high shrub of branches, bearing a bark “which is so strong and pliable a texture, that being peeled off at any season, and twisted, makes equally as good cordage as hemp.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 508]
Two kinds are noted by Carver: “a large sort of a purple cast on one side,” and “the second, totally green, and much smaller.” Both are flavorful, and “esteemed by Indians.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 503-4]
Prickly Ash (Xanthoxylum americanum)
A Shrub, ten to fifteen feet in height, and with a leaf like an ash, and branches bearing thorns. The berry is a scarlet red, “which when ripe, has a fiery taste like pepper.” Of its medical value, Carver wrote: “The bark of this tree, particularly the bark of the roots, is highly esteemed by the natives for its medicinal qualities. I have already mentioned one instance of its efficacy, and there is doubt but that decoction of it will expeditiously and radically remove all impurities of the blood.” In Chapter XIV, “Of their Diseases, &c.” Carver described its use for treating gonorrhea. A trader afflicted by this disease was treated with “a decoction of the bark of the roots of the prickly Ash, a tree scarcely grown in England, but which grows in great plenty throughout North America…in a few days he was greatly recovered, and having recevied directions how to prepare it, in a fortnight after his departure from this place…he was radically cured.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 506-7, 393]
Sassafras (Sassafras albidum)
Noted as a tree or tall-growing shrub. “The Sassafras is a wood well kown (sic) for its medicinal properties…The leaves, which yield an agreeable fragrance, are large, and nearly separated into three divisions. It bears a reddish brown berry of the size and shape of Pimento, and which is sometimes used in the colonies as a substitute for that spice. The bark or roots of this tree is infinitely superior to the wood for its use in medicine, and I am surprized it is so seldom to be met with, as its efficacy is so much greater.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 506-7]
According to Carver, this is a shrub which rises like a vine along the surface of the forest floor, only to re-root itself every six or eight feet. It is called shin wood because it strikes the shins of travellers who pass through those woods.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 507]
Possibly Taxus minor L. [Canada, south to Virginia and Iowa.]
Myrtle Wax Tree
Carver noted the smell of its leaves like that of the Common Myrtle. The kernels of its fruit can be boiled in water to extract the wax, used for making candles. Carver described this wax as “more valuable than bess wax, being of a more brittle nature, but mixed with it makes a good candle, which as it burns sends forth an agreeable scent.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 510]
Carver notes the wood and acorns, but says nothing of their values.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 507]
Spoonwood (Kalmia angustifolia L.)
A laurel plant, with a wood that resembles boxwood.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 508]
K. angustifolia L. [Canada, so. to Georgia], also known as sheep laurel, lambkill, kill-kid, dwarf laurel, sheep poison, and Wicky. Similar plant is K. glauca Ait. [British America south to New Jersey, and in Michigan, Colorado, California] called Swamp Laurel, and Pale Laurel; and, K. hirssuta Walt. [Va. to Fla.] known as Hairy Laurel and Wicky.
Sweet Gum Tree (Liquidambur styraciflua)
Other names given by Carver: Liquid Amber and Copalm.
He writes: The Sweet Gum Tree or Liquid Amber (Copalm) is not only extremely common, but it affords a balm, the virtues of which are infinite…This balm is reckoned by the Indians to be an excellent febrifuge, and it cures wounds in two or three days.” Other uses mentioned include that of the wood.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 505]
“[T]he root of this plant, which is the most estimable part of it, is about the size of a goose quill, and runs in different directions, twined and crooked to a great length in the ground; from the principal stem of it springs many smaller fibers, all of which are tough and flexible. From the root immediately shoots a stalk about a foot and a half long, which at the top branches into three stems; each of these has three leaves much of the shape and size of a walnut leaf; and from the fork of each of the three stems grows a bunch of blueish white flowers, resembling those of the spikenard. The bark of the roots, which alone should be used in medicine, is of a bitterish flavour, but aromatic. It is deservedly esteemed for its medicinal virtues, being a gentle sudorific, and very powerful in attentuating the blood when impeded by gross humours.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 513-4]
Other name given by Carver: Petty-Morrell. Carver likened it to the “Asiatic Spikenard” (Aralia sp.), “so much valued by the ancients. He continues: “it grows near the sides of brooks in rocky places, and its stem, which is about the size of a goose quill, springs up like that of angelica, reaching about a foot and a half from the ground. It bears bunches of berries in all respects like those of the elder, only rather larger. These are of such a balsamic nature, that when infused in spirits, they make a most palatable and reviving cordial.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 513]
Willow (Salix sp.)
Several species were noted, the most remarkable to Carver being those along the Mississippi. The fibery nature of roots and rootlets was noted by Carver, where they have been exposed along streams and rivers after the soil is washed away. He notes their use as part of Natives’ apparel.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 506]
Witch Hazle (Hamamaelis sp.)
The flowering shrubs were considered indicators that the frost spells are over for the season. Of its witchery: “It has been said, that it is possessed of the power or attracting gold or silver, and that twigs of it are made use of to discover where the veins of these metals lie hid; but I am apprehensive that this is only a fallacious story, and not to be depended upon; however that supposition has given it the name Witch Hazle.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 510]
Winter Green (Gaultheria procumbens)
Described as “an ever-green of the species of the myrtle,” Carver described the heath-growing colonies of this plant, their flower and leaf structure, and its red berries, “which are smooth and round.” The berries are at the “highest perfection” during the winter, and are eaten by the Natives. They are considered “balsamic, and invigorating to the stomach.” Sprigs and berries were steeped by the colonists to prepare diet drinks “for cleansing the blood from scorbutic disorders.”
Note: The phytognomics for scorbutic therapy is possibly the red berry, which is the color of scorbutic skin.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 511]
Carver describes a “reddish berry of a spicy flavor,” on a shrub bearing the leaf “like that of a lilach.” The stalks are very brittle, pointing more to the Lindera benzoin as the plant referred to by Carver. Of its uses: “It is an ancient Indian remedy for all inflammatory complaints, and likewise much esteemed on the same account by the inhabitant of the interior parts of the colonies.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 511]
NOTE: The following plants match Carver’s description and bear the name Fever Bush [Lyons]:
- Ilex verticillata (L.) A. Gray, of the North and Mid Atlantic Region.
- Lindera benzoin Blume. Spicebush, of the Mid and North Atlantic Region.
Butter or Oil Nut (Juglans cinerea L.)
Carver states that none of the previous authors have noted this tree. He desribed the nut as a food and oil source “much longer and larger that a walnut, and contains a greater quantity of kernel, which is very oily, and of a rich agreeable flavor.” He continues: “I am persuaded that a much purer oil than that of olives might be extracted from this nut.” The inner bark of this tree served as a dying agent, producing a deep purple due to the tannins.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 500-1]
IDENTIFICATION NOTE (Lyons): J. cinerea L. grows from Canada to Georgia, w. to Ark, and N.Dak. James Thacher mentioned it in his journal during the Revolution. Benjamin Smith Barton covered it in his early text on American medicines in 1798-1802. It is later found in the USP Juglans. The closely related J. nigra L. extends from Ontario through the E. U.S., and yields a valuable wood and oil.
Beech Nut (Fagus americana Sweet)
Nut Tree. Edible. Medicinal. Carver considers the Beech nut from the American tree as good “as good as chesnuts.” He recommends scavaging for the “Vast quantities of them” found scattered throughout the woods. Carver also refers to a remedy made with the leaves of this tree, gathered from the tree during the winter when they he they appear “white”: “A decoction made of them is a certain and expeditious cure for wounds which arise from burning or scalding, as well as a restorative for those members that are nipped by the frost.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 501]
Hickory Nut (var. Hicoria spp.)
Several different kinds, told by their wood color, were noted briefly by Carver. The wood he recommended for ax handles due to it toughness, and as a fuel for the hot fires needed in sugar distilleries.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 502]
Pecan Nut (Hicoria pecan (Marsh.) Britton)
Found growing near the Illinois River, this is considered similar to the Walnut in food value. The H. pecan in Lyons is noted to grow from Kentucky and Indiana to Texas and Iowa.
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 501]
Carver called this tree “quite useless, and only an incumbrance to the ground.” He notes its wood to be of coarse grain and “full of wind-shakes or cracks.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 498-9]
Note: About this same time, hemlock was one of the most important sources for tannins. The British were familiar with this in New York, but probably had not as of yet developed a large market for this use of the hemlock bark. By the 1800s, hemlock bark was better understood regarding its use for tannins, but still only third in important to other tannin-rcih trees like the various oaks (Quercus spp., esp. black, pine and red oaks, and perhaps the less tannin-rich white oak-Q. alba) and chestnut (Castanea spp.).
Pine Tree (Pinus spp.)
“…yields an excellent turpentine, though not in such quantities as those in the northern parts of Europe.”
[J. Carver, 1766-8, p. 496]