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    Native American Plants

Plants used by Native Americans in the Oasis Valley

Disclaimer: This is for educational reference only. Do not try to use these plants based on this information.
Report for the Beatty Museum by Dr. John Thompson in August of 2007.
Plants of Death Valley & Armagosa Valley Used by Native Americans

  • California buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum Seeds an important food source. Flower tea used to ease the aches and pains of advanced pregnancy, also used to treat sick headaches such as hangovers.

  • Indian ricegrass, Oryzopsis hymenoides Seeds an important food source. Grows in valley, foothill and mountain native grasslands.

  • Screwbean Mesquite, Prosopis pubescens Twisted pods gathered when dry and toasted then pounded into fine textured flour baked into cakes. Hard, water resistant wood provides firewood, building materials, bowls, planting sticks, awls, pestles, and cradle boards. Roots separated into fibers and twisted into cordage. Leaf tea treated sore eyes and stomach disorders. Black pitch from trunk used as medicinal tea, hair dye, and pottery paint. Ash Meadows is the only screwbean site in Armagosa and Death Valleys.

  • Honey mesquite, Prosopis glanulosa, var torreyan Sugar rich pod of 8-10 seeds gathered when dry and toasted then pounded into fine textured flour baked into cakes and rolls. Hard, water resistant wood provides firewood, building materials, bowls, planting sticks, awls, pestles, and cradle boards. Roots separated into fibers and twisted into cordage. Leaf tea treated sore eyes and stomach disorders. Black pitch from trunk used as medicinal tea, hair dye, and pottery paint. Mesquite Springs and Mesquite Flats were major sources.

  • Pinyon, Pinus monophylla Pinion trees grow above 7000 feet in the Panamints, Grapevines, and adjacent ranges on north and east aspects. Each adult harvests about 200 lbs of pine nuts. Ground, pine nut soup is a winter food staple.

  • Gray desert snowberry, Symphoricarpos longiflorus Symphoricarpos longiflorus Native Americans common name was Buckberry that they found on trees in groves on foothills and mountains. Berries are pressed into a sugarless sauce that is tart and full of seeds, or sun dried for winter.

  • Wolfberry, Lycium cooperi, Lycium andersonii Berries collected and eaten b y Native Americans who in lean times raided woodrat nests for slabs of dried berries.

  • Desert Sumac, Rhus trilobata Fresh or dried fruits (lemonadeberry) used to flavor water and as a mordant in dyes. Fresh young shoots used in basketry and dried for arrow shafts. Dried and powdered leaves produce salve for mouth sores and nasal spray.

  • Wild hyacinth, Dichelostemma capitatum Other common names bluedick or covena. Early settlers called it ‘grass nuts’ because of its edible bulbs .

  • Weekstem mariposa lily, Calochortus flexuosus Edible bulbs. Lilies are protected by law. Do not pick flowers or dig bulbs.

  • Kennedy mariposa lily, Calochortus kennedyi Edible bulbs. Lilies are protected by law. Do not pick flowers or dig bulbs

  • Desert lily, Hesperocallis undulata Also known as ajo lily. Ajo means garlic in Spanish, a probable reference to the flavor of its edible bulbs. Lilies are protected by law. Do not pick flowers or dig bulbs.

  • Desert fan palm, Washingtonia filifera Preserved fruits. Ground seeds into meal. Leaves used to thatch dwellings. Leaf fibers woven into ropes and baskets. Typically found in steep canyons near small trickling streams.

  • Princes plume, Stanleya pinnata Native Americans boiled first leaves twice to remove bitterness and toxic selenium before eating as spinach. Additional common names are squaw, cabbage desert plume, Indian cabbage, and "sentinel of the plains".

  • Brittlebush, Encelia farinosa Stems contain a resinous fluid and were dried and burned as incense. Spanish common name: incienso.

  • Wooly plaintain, Platago ovata Used medicinally for various gastrointestinal ailments.

  • Prickly poppy, Argemone munita Plant used for eye drops, purgatives, and antiseptics. Fresh stems exude highly toxic yellow sap.

  • Coyote melon, Cucurbita palmate Cucurbitacin compounds make the gourds very bitter. Juice used as an insect repellent and is toxic in large quantities.

  • Desert tobacco, Nicotiana obtusifolia Contains the toxic alkaloids nicotine and anabasine. Smoked by Native Americans on ceremonial occasions and to relieve lung congestion. Leaves used externally to treat headache and congestion.

  • Apricot mallow, Sphaeralcea ambigua Tea made from pounded root used to treat diarrhea and skin infections

  • Seep Willow, Baccharis salicifolia Used to reduce swelling and treat wounds and bruises.

  • Cliff Rose, Purshia Mexicana, var, Stanisburian Another common name is quinine bush for its medicinal properties.

  • Rubber rabbitbrush, Chrysothamnus nauseosus Medicinal tea made from leaves and yellow dye made from flowering branches. Stem sap is almost 3% rubber.

  • Creosote bush, Larrea tridentata Resins in the leaves are toxic in large doses but in small doses are used for stiff limbs, sores, snake bites, menstrual cramps, and other ills.

  • Western mugwort, Artemesia ludoviciana Camphor in leaves used as poultices for stomach ache, tea for gastrointestinal disorders, hot vapor bath for colds. Camphor has astringent properties but might trigger seizures. Grows along dry stream beds or shaded slopes often in the shelter of shrubs.

  • Sacred thornapple, Southwestern thornapple, Sacred datura, Datura wrightii Datura contains solanaceous alkaloids including atropine, hyoscamine (isomeric with atropine), and hyoscine (scopolamine) which cause intense thirst, visual disturbances from 6 hours to 3 weeks, flushed skin, central nervous system hyperirritability, delirium, rapid heartbeat, elevated temperature, violent hallucinations, convulsions and coma leading to death. Hallucinogenic dose very close to fatal dose. Children have died from sucking the nectar. Native Americans applied the leaves or buds as poultices to heal sores and boils and ease pain; and crushed seeds or mashed roots to a damp paste that was applied to war arrow points and allowed to dry.

  • Snakeweed, Gutierrezia sarothrae Tea from leaves for treating stomach disorders, rheumatism, malaria, and poultices for snakebite. Additional common names ‘resin weed’ and ‘turpentine weed’ refer to the odor of narrow, green leaves. Common name ‘matchweed’ recognizes that resinous stems catch fire easily.

  • Greasewood, Sarcobatus bailey Source of fuel in salt desert scrub zone. Very salt tolerant and usually found on flat valley floors.

  • Flowers and Shrubs of the Mojave Desert, by Janice Emily Bowers, 1999, ISBN: 1-877856-79-7
    Poison Arrows by David E. Jones, 2007, ISBN 13:978-0-292-71428-1
    Nevada Vegetation Classes by Group and Numeric Code, www.epa.gov