The traditional Native American diet consisted of a healthy 
80 percent of fruits and vegetables and 20 percent meat. 

To know what you can grow in a traditional Native American theme garden, you only need to read about what the ancients grew, what they ate, and how they cooked it. The list of crops used in Native American cuisine is quite large. Chances are good that you already grow and cook with some of these plants. It would be worthwhile to learn a little bit about recipes, and then grow unique and interesting crops that can be used in them.

Native cultures did not need to grow everything they needed in gardens, because much of what they ate was naturally growing in the wild.

Depending upon where they lived, they had pine nuts, maple syrup, cranberries, blueberries and many other fruits and nuts growing to sustain them. 

What they harvested from their gardens in the fall was stored, often in holes dug in the ground, to help them survive the long winter months.

Many of these plants, fruits and nuts would be a valuable part of your Native American Garden Theme.

A good portion of the healthy foods now present in the modern American diet first came from Native Americans: potatoes, beans, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, peppers, nuts, melons, sweet potatoes, avocados, papayas, sunflower seeds, artichokes, cacao, and many varieties of berries. 

Native American food and cuisine is also recognized by its use of indigenous domesticated and wild food.

Native American cuisine includes all cuisines and food practices of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Contemporary Native peoples retain a varied culture of traditional foods, along with the addition of some post-contact foods that have become customary and even iconic of present-day Native American social gatherings (for example, frybread). 

Foods like cornbread, turkey, cranberry, blueberry, hominy and mush have been adopted into the cuisine of the broader United States population from Native American cultures.

The Jerusalem artichoke is a perennial sunflower that has edible tubers. Native Americans ate them mashed like potatoes. It was also used as a thickening agent in soups and stews. They were grown along dry river bottoms, and in fertile loam soils, so that the tubers were easy to dig up once mature. They are still grown today in the northern third of the United States.

Wild Rice

Wild rice was an important part of the American Indian diet. It was grown in Wisconsin, Minnesota and parts of the Great Lakes. Wild rice needs three to eight feet of water to grow in. It depends on consistency in the weather and water levels in order to survive. With extreme climate change an ever-present threat, rice crops will be at risk.

Native American women would go into the water several weeks before the rice was ready to be harvested. They would tie the rice into small sheaves, which kept the rice kernels from falling into the water once they ripened. 

As was done in the past, the rice is collected in canoes. While several people paddle the canoe, one person sits at the stern and uses long wooden poles to knock the rice grains into the canoe, and then the plants are allowed to spring back into place. Some grains are always intentionally left behind on the plants to re-seed for the following year.

There are over 500 currently recognized Native American tribes in the US alone, and Native American cuisine can vary significantly by region and culture. North American Native cuisine differs from Southwestern and Mexican cuisine in its simplicity and directness of flavor. The use of ramps, wild ginger, miners' lettuce, and juniper berry can impart subtle flavours to various dishes.

Eastern Native American Cuisine

The essential staple foods of the Indigenous peoples of the Eastern Woodlands have traditionally been corn (known as maize), beans, and squash, known as "The Three Sisters" because they were planted inter-dependently: the beans grew up the tall stalks of the corn, while the squash spread out at the base of the three plants and provided protection and support for the root systems.

Maple syrup is another essential food staple of the Eastern Woodlands peoples. Tree sap is collected from sugar maple trees during the beginning of springtime when the nights are still cold. Birch bark containers are used in the process of making maple syrup, maple cakes, maple sugar, and maple taffy. When the sap is boiled to a certain temperature, the different variations of maple food products are created. When the sap starts to thicken, it can be poured onto the snow to make taffy.

The Wabanaki tribal nations and other eastern woodlands peoples have made nut milk and infant formula made from nuts and cornmeal.

Since the first colonists of New England had to adapt their foods to the local crops and resources, the Native influences of Southern New England Algonquian cuisine form a significant part of New England cuisine with dishes such as cornbread, succotash and Johnnycakes, and ingredients such as corn, cranberries and local species of clam are still enjoyed in the region today.

To Learn About The Three Sisters Companion Plant Gardening Method, visit this page

The Food and The Crops : Big List Of Vegetables, Fruits, Herbs and Culinary Ingredients

These crops and uses cover all regions and groups of Native American peoples. 
It's interesting to see that so many of the plants in my gardens that are grown as ornamentals, were also used as part of the Native American diet and traditional medicine. I found the absence of certain fruits on the list interesting. Like grapes. Perhaps they were not cultivated here by indigenous peoples at that time.

A valuable guideline to foods that are obviously non-toxic, and those that are still grown or foraged today.
I'll be looking at my ornamental gardens plants a lot differently now. My salad bowl and medicine cabinet just got bigger.

Acorn - Used to make flour and fertilizers for plants

Achira -edible tuber

Achiote or annatto seed, seasoning

Acuyo, seasoning

Agarita - berries

Agave nectar - sweetener

Allspice or pimento, seasoning


American chestnut tree


American lotus - seeds & root, leaves for decorating cake

Amole - stalks

Aspen - inner bark and sap (both used as sweetener)


Barbados cherry or acerola


Bear grass - stalks


Beech nuts

Birch bark

Birch syrup - sweetener



Blow wife seeds


Bodark seeds. Also called Osage Orange, Hedge Apple, Monkeybrain.

Box elder - inner bark (used as sweetener)

Buckeye (same rules apply as acorn)

Butia, palm fruits from South America

Buffalo gourd (wild ancestor of all Squash/ Pumpkin)

Bur cucumber


Cactus (various species) - fruits and young pads- (nopales)

California poppy Seeds- eastern

Camas root

Canella winterana, or white cinnamon (used as a seasoning before the discovery of cinnamon)

Cashew - nuts

Cassava - primarily South America

Cattails - rootstocks

Century plant (mescal or agave) - crowns and shoots

Chia seed

Chicle, gum

All peppers



Cholla - use the fruits of a Cactus

Coca - South and Central America


Cow parsnip root



Culantro, used as a seasoning before cilantro




Datil - fruit and flowers

Devil's claw


Dropseed grasses - seeds

Dwarf plantain

Eastern redbud - flowers are used as a spice, fruit


Emory oak - acorns

Epazote, seasoning

Feijoa, fruit from South America

Ferns (various edible species, such as fiddleheads)

Gaylussacias, black huckleberry. Grows near wild blueberries, t.astes similar, but unrelated

Goji also called wolf berry



Groundcherry -multiple species 





Hawthorn - fruit

Hazelnut also filbert

Hierba luisa

Hueinacaztli or ear-flower

Hickory - nuts






Indian cucumber

Indian potato - also hopniss, openowag, cinnamon vine, groundnut.

Edible roots, bulbs and beans. Dried flowers used as spices.

Jack in the pulpit- root


Jerusalem artichoke


Juniper berries


Kentucky coffeetree


Lamb's-quarters - leaves and seeds

Lemon verbena

Lichen (certain species)

Lilypad root

Locust - blossoms and pods



Maize - throughout the Americas, probably domesticated in or near Mexico, including the blue variety


Manzanita - also an ornamental tree

Maple syrup and sugar, used as the primary sweetener and seasoning in Northern America

Mesquite - bean pods, flour/meal

Mexican oregano


Mint, various species - American mint is best known in eastern woodlands region

Mooseberry - called the highbush cranberry in Eastern US. Actually type of Viburnum.


Nopales - Pads of many cacti are edible



Oregon grape (not a real grape)


Surinam cherry








Pigweed - seeds

Pine (including western white pine and Pinus ponderosa) -  inner bark (used as sweetener), sap as chewing gum ingredient, use tips for jelly, cuttings for tea, and the nuts

Pineapples - South America

Pinyon - nuts

Piñonero - nuts



Popcorn flower, herb

Solomon's seal

Sotol - crowns

Soursop or guanábana

Spanish bayonet - fruit

Spanish lime or mamoncillo

Common spicebush - used as a seasoning

Spikenard - berries and roots for tea. Some tribes ate roots. NOTE- This is a select species, of which there are many in the Americas and not all species are edible, though Natives had wide medicinal and practical uses.

Squash - throughout the Americas

Stevia - sweetener


Sumac - berries

Sunflower seeds

Sweet anise

Sweet potato - South America (misleading name: not a potato)

Sweetsop or sugar-apple


Teaberry or wintergreen




Texas persimmons, also sugar plum


Tulip poplar - syrup made from bark

Tule - rhizomes

Tumbleweed - seeds

Tumbo or taxo

Vanilla - seasoning

Vetch - pods

Wapato root

White evening primrose - fruit

White walnuts or butternuts

Wild carrot - salt and pepper

Wild celery

Wild cherries

Wild grapes - fruit

Wild honey - sweetener

Wild onion

Wild pea - pods

Wild roses

Wild sweet potato (it's not a potato)

Wood sorrel leaves

Yacón nectar

Yaupon holly leaves

Yerba buena

Yerba mate

Yucca - blossoms, fruit, and stalks

Zamia nuts


Sangre de drago



Screwbean - fruit

Sedge - tubers

Sea grape or uva de playa

Serviceberry - also juneberry, saskatoon

Shepherd's purse - leaves


Prickly pears (cactus)

Prairie turnips


Purslane - leaves


Ramps - Wild onion



rock cress

Rose pepper


Saguaro - fruits and seeds

Medicinal Herbs and Remedies Grown In A Native American Garden

Important: This following is a list of plants for a garden theme, not a medical recommendation or advice to use them.
Do not take these herbs without studying herbalism, checking with your doctor or Native American healer, or licensed traditional medical practitioner first, to ascertain the safety. Especially if you are presently taking modern-day chemical medicines for your health. Included on this page will be the books and references I refer to when researching and deciding on particular medicinal herbs for my own use. All medicines, traditional and chemical, have potentially harmful side effects.

Native Americans are renowned and respected for their medicinal plants and healing knowledge. It is said they first started using plants and herbs for healing after watching animals eat certain plants when they were sick. In order to protect these plants from over-harvesting, the medicine man picked only every third plant he found.

Indigenous peoples believed that some illnesses were life lessons that the person needed to learn, and that they shouldn’t interfere. Many modern remedies and medicines are based on the Native American knowledge of the different plants and herbs they used for thousands of years.

These plants and herbs were used frequently.

The Cherokee use this plant for treating an upset stomach. They used blackberry tea for curing diarrhea and soothing swollen joints. An all-natural cough syrup to heal sore throats can be made from blackberry root mixed with honey or maple syrup. To soothe bleeding gums, they used to chew the leaves. This plant is also good for strengthening the whole immune system.

This plant was an important plant for healers because of its many unusual medicinal uses. It treats bone weakness, muscle weakness and tension, loose teeth, memory loss, and rheumatism. It can also be used as a sedative. It has an overall rejuvenating effect on the body. The leaves and the root bark can also be used as an antibiotic. If made into a poultice, it helps reduce swelling and treats pain. 

 Used for multiple medicinal remedies. One of the only plants that the healers used in treating eye problems. A decoction from sumac was used as a gargle to relieve sore throats, or taken as a remedy for diarrhea. The leaves and berries were combined in tea to reduce fever or made into a poultice to soothe poison ivy.

Native American tribes considered this plant sacred. They used it mostly as a pain reliever for alleviating sore joints. This herb improves memory, relieves muscle pain and spasm, and helps the circulatory and the nervous systems. It also improves the immune system and treats indigestion.

Cherokee made a mint tea to soothe digestion problems, and to relieve an upset stomach. They also made a salve from the leaves to relieve itchy skin and rashes.

Yarrow (Achillea)
Used in Ancient Greece to stop excess bleeding. It is said that Achilles used it to heal his wounds. Native people applied this on open wounds and on cuts, as a poultice made from the leaves to help clot the blood. They also combined fresh yarrow juice with water to help an upset stomach and for intestinal disorders. I grow a variety as ornamental plants that the butterflies love.

Red Clover
Used by healers for treating inflammation and respiratory conditions. Recent studies show that red clover helps to prevent heart disease by improving circulation and lowering cholesterol.

Black Gum
Bark and twigs used as a mild tea to relieve chest pains.

One of the most important survival plants that the indigenous population used for food and also as a preventative medicine. Because it’s an easily digestible food, it’s helpful for recovering from illness. It can be used in multiple dishes.

This root was used as a tea as a blood purifier or for relieving joint pain. Some healers made a salve from leaves and bark mixed with hog lard, which was applied to minor sores, scalds, and burns.

Hummingbird Blossom (Buck Brush)
Recent studies have shown that hummingbird blossom is effective in treating high blood pressure and lymphatic blockages.
The Native Americans used this plant for treating mouth and throat conditions, as well as cysts, fibroid tumors, and inflammation. It can be made into a poultice to treat burns, sores, and wounds. Roots were used as a diuretic to stimulate kidney function. The early settlers used this plant as a substitute for black tea.

A tobacco-like plant, it was mainly used to treat respiratory disorders. The Native Americans made concoctions from the roots to reduce swelling in the joints, feet, or hands.

Wild Roses
The Native Americans used wild rose as a preventive and a cure for a mild common cold. The tea stimulates the bladder and kidneys and is a mild diuretic. An infusion or tea of the petals was used to soothe a sore throat.

This plant has been used as a natural remedy by the Native Americans for treating asthma, but it has multiple healing purposes, including rheumatoid arthritis, mumps, and hepatitis. It also helps with upper respiratory tract infections, such as pneumonia.

Saw Palmetto
The Seminoles used the plant for food, but medicine men used it as a natural remedy for abdominal pain. It also helps digestion, reduces inflammation, and stimulates appetite.

Licorice Root
This root is famously used for flavoring candies, foods, and beverages. But it has also been used by healers to treat stomach problems, bronchitis, food poisoning, and chronic fatigue.

A sacred plant for many indigenous tribes, as it was thought to have effective purifying energies, and to cleanse the body of negative energies. As a remedy, it was used for treating medical conditions like abdominal cramps, spasms, cuts, bruises, colds, and flu.

Wild Ginger
Healers used this plant for treating earaches and ear infections. They made a mild tea from the rootstock for stimulating the digestive system and relieving bloating. It also helps with bronchial infections and nausea. Today we use ginger ale to ease nausea and minor stomach problems.

Prickly Pear Cactus
I grow quite a few for their gorgeous blooms. Native Americans used it as both a food and medicine. They made a poultice from mature pads as an antiseptic and for treating wounds, burns, and boils. Tea was made to treat urinary tract infections and to help the immune system. Research shows that the prickly pear cactus helps to lower cholesterol and prevents diabetes and diet-related heart disease.

Slippery Elm
The Native Americans used the inner bark to fashion bow strings, rope, thread, and clothing. Tea was made from the bark and leaves to soothe toothaches, respiratory irritations, skin conditions, stomach ache, sore throats, and spider bites.

Healers used this plant as a remedy for insomnia, anxiety, depression, headache, and fatigue. The essential oil has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties. Infusions can be used to soothe insect bites as well as burns.

Devil's Claw
Native Americans used this to heal various conditions, from fever to skin conditions, improving digestion, and treating arthritis. The tea can reduce the effects of diabetes, while a concoction made from the plant’s roots reduces swelling and helps with joint disease, arthritis, gout, back pain, headache, and sores.

Uva Ursi
Bearberry or Beargrape. The Native Americans used this plant mainly for treating bladder and urinary tract infections.


Mary's Recommended Reading List

Several of these books are my home library references for study of 
herbal plants and medicines that are grown in a healing garden. They are 
available on Amazon, where you can read the book's full description.

Article sources:

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