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HomenewsHow Did Native Americans Make Such 'a Vast Food Network'?

How Did Native Americans Make Such ‘a Vast Food Network’?

In accounts of the first Thanksgiving, which occurred more than 400 years ago, Native Americans are frequently depicted as excellent hunters and gatherers who also cultivated grain and squash.

Jared Rosenbaum, an expert on native plants, says this viewpoint fails to understand the sophistication of indigenous land management.

Before the introduction of Europeans, he added, Native Americans managed and sculpted entire ecosystems to maximize food supply and diversity.

The Pohatcong Township resident claims in his new book, “Wild Plant Culture,” that when the first Europeans came to the New World, they instantly observed the land’s enormous wealth. However, they were unaware that these food-rich landscapes were the consequence of the human intervention.

“Early descriptions describe vast, park-like forests filled with nut and fruit trees, as well as an explosion of wild fish and wildlife,” Rosenbaum wrote in his recently published book.

Evidence from paleoecology and anthropology suggests that indigenous peoples controlled a massive food network throughout the Americas using fire, plant introductions, and other ecological management strategies.

Today, similar practices may be known as permaculture, agroforestry, orcharding, and game management, according to Rosenbaum. However, European colonists were oblivious to Native Americans’ gradual alteration of the landscape, in part because the diversity of native wild plants was preserved.

“Biodiversity equals food diversity,” remarked Rosenbaum.

Indigenous people maintained the landscape in a manner that did not eliminate any species.

European settlers, on the other hand, had an “adversarial relationship” with nature, transforming the land into agricultural fields where only a few select crops were farmed.

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Even edible native species were considered weeds to be removed, despite their nutritional value.

European-introduced diseases, such as smallpox, were also a major factor in the obscurity of Native American land management skills, according to Rosenbaum.

By the time European immigration became popular in the 1600s, as much as 90 percent of Indigenous people had perished, erasing thousands of years of land management techniques.

The month of November is Native American Heritage Month, and Rosenbaum hopes the publication of “Wild Plant Culture” will inspire native plant restoration efforts in New Jersey and abroad. “A Guide to Restoring Edible and Medicinal Native Plant Communities” is the subtitle of the book.

Rosenbaum, a biologist, and co-owner of a native plant nursery thinks that people will develop a deeper contact with the natural environment by learning about edible and medicinal native plants and actively restoring them.

He stated, “There are so many incredible unknown wild food plants.” “Many of these wild edibles are incredibly flavorful and nutrient-dense.”

“Wild Plant Culture” is not a foraging guide. Rosenbaum stated that there are now insufficient natural habitats in New Jersey and many other locations for large groups of people to harvest native plants for food.

However, he envisions a future in which we learn from the Native Americans and restore native plants in forests, yards, and urban parks so that people can once again enjoy their flavors and medicinal powers.

He stated, “We are quite adept at gardening with native plants for butterflies, birds, and other wildlife.”

“However, we are excluding a very crucial animal: ourselves. We may strengthen our relationship with native plants by valuing them as food and medicine and in exchange contributing to our stewardship of nature.
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What are Rosenbaum’s favorite native food plants?

He compares the early spring shoots of Solomon’s seal, a local perennial, to asparagus.

He stated, “They are excellent, soft, and sweet.” The common milkweed has stems resembling asparagus, unopened flower buds resembling broccoli, and seed pods resembling okra.

Rosenbaum defines ground nuts as tubers that, when fried in a pan, taste like a cross between potatoes and chickpeas.

He stated, “They’re like these forgotten foods.” If you could be transported back to the time of the Native Americans, there would be planted and maintained plots.

Wild blueberries and huckleberries, persimmons, black cap raspberries, wild strawberries, and elderberries are further favorites.

Rosenbaum explained that his idea involves “falling in love with these plants and being reciprocal, giving back.” Many locations are suitable for these plants, although they require assistance.

More than two hundred native plant species are profiled in “Wild Plant Culture,” along with their cultural applications and environmental needs.


It provides a roadmap for restoring habitats to support plant diversity and can assist readers, regardless of location, appreciate the potential of every landscape to house a rich wild plant community that welcomes humans as harvesters and stewards.


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