The wild plants and fungi all across America have been known to have multiple uses for hundreds of years, long before the country became what it is today. To understand the value of different mushrooms that can be found in the United States you might be wondering, how would Native Indians use puffball mushrooms?
Different Native American Indian groups have been known to use puffball mushrooms in different ways. Some would eat them for food or use them as medicine, while others would use them for different purposes or avoid them altogether. Many Native American tribes have even attributed religious or magical properties to the mushrooms, or used them for decoration.
This article will tell you everything you need to know about how different Native American tribes have made use of the puffball mushroom so that you can find out some of the fascinating history associated with this common fungus.
What Different Uses Would Native Americans Have for Puffball Mushrooms?
Many studies and historical texts have referenced the different usages of puffball mushrooms among the Native tribes of North America. While we now mainly view these mushrooms as a source of food, Native Americans have found many other ways to make use of such a widely available fungus.
Native Americans have been known to use puffball mushrooms as:
- A haemostat to stop bleeding
- An ingredient in a poultice to reduce inflammation
- A healing agent
- A headache cure
- Insect repellent
- An incense
Are All Puffball Mushrooms Edible?
Puffball mushrooms are mostly edible and are known to provide nutritional benefits, but they should generally be consumed while they are still young. It is important that you carefully identify whether or not a mushroom is an edible puffball because some lookalikes can be poisonous – or even deadly.
Many different Native American tribes have used the puffball mushroom as a source of food over the years, including the Ahnishinaubeg, the Central Miwok, the Iroquois, the Kiowa, the Menomini, the Ojibwe, the Omaha, the Tewa and the Zuni.
How Would Native Americans Eat Puffball Mushrooms?
Though the urbanisation of America and the claiming of federal land has reduced access to foraging and wild food for indigenous people in the country today, puffball mushrooms are still one of the safest fungi to collect for food.
The Omaha people would roast young puffballs and the Zuni would gather large quantities of them while they were still fresh, and dry them to be eaten throughout the winter. The Iroquois used them as a meat alternative, often in soups. Some Native Americans would fry puffball mushrooms in oil or enjoy them raw.
The traditional puffball soup is made by peeling and dicing them, before boiling them with salt and some meat.
What Medicinal Uses Would Native Americans Have for Puffball Mushrooms?
There are many different things growing in North America that have surprising medicinal properties. Native Americans have historically used puffball mushrooms for many different medical purposes.
The most common medical use for puffball mushrooms is as a coagulant, to help to stop the flow of bleeding. Almost all Native American tribes identified the value of this particular mushroom as a styptic and would apply it to their wounds.
Usually, the soft middle of the mushroom would be ground down into a powder which could then be dusted over a wound to stop the bleeding. Sometimes the pores could be utilised as a dusting powder, and some medicine men or women would combine them with spiderwebs and bark to make a dressing.
Puffballs were also used to stuff wounds or halt nosebleeds. This practice is not limited to the Native Americans – surgeons in Europe would use puffball powder for the same reason for much of the nineteenth century.
Some tribes, like the Kiowa and the Arikara, would moisten dry spores to create a poultice which they could apply to different sores and scratches, or areas of inflammation. These sorts of poultices were also used by the Navajo to relieve the pain of burns of itching. Slices of young puffballs could also be applied to swellings and sores.
Other Medicinal Purposes
The spores produced by mature puffballs were used to cure ear problems, like earaches and earwax build-up. Sometimes large puffballs could be used as a sort of sponge to help remove foreign objects from a person’s eye.
The Potawatomi people even used a specific kind of puffball as a headache cure, naming it “the headache berry”.
Do Puffballs Have Practical Uses for Native Americans?
Besides their use as food and for medicinal purposes, puffball mushrooms have a practical use as well: as a fire-starter. Most Native American tribes would puffball mushrooms as kindling when starting a fire. In fact, the Blackfoot people would even paint a circle of puffballs at the base of their tipis, as a symbol that would ensure fires would burn well inside.
What Religious or Spiritual Properties Would Native Americans See in Puffballs?
Puffballs often grow in a circular pattern that is now known as a “fairy ring”, but the Blackfoot people would call them ka-ka-toos or “fallen stars”. Some Native American legends say that puffball mushrooms are actually stars that have fallen to earth during supernatural events.
Often, puffball mushrooms could be burned as incense by Native Americans to ward off ghosts or unwanted spirits. They were also used to create rattles for medicine men and women. The mushrooms can be dried out and filled with gravel, and then tied to a stick.
Many of the decorative uses of puffball mushrooms among Native American tribes have religious connotations as well. Sometimes, they can be viewed as magical charms or dried out and worn as necklaces or bandoliers.
In Summary: How Would Native Indians Use Puffball Mushrooms?
Historically, Native American Indians have used puffball mushrooms in many different ways. Not only can they provide a source of food, but they have medicinal, practical, and spiritual properties as well.
Native Americans have long understood the haemostatic properties of these mushrooms and used them to stop bleeding. They have burned them as incense to ward off ghosts, and they have used them as kindling to start fires.
The indigenous people of North America know the value of the things that grow across the continent, even the humble puffball mushroom.
Hi, I’m John Stephens, chief editor and writer for Totalgardener.com. I’ve been gardening and raising animals for over 15 years starting with a small backyard plot in Northern Virginia where I grew corn, potatoes, squash, and using a high mulch technique called the Ruth Stout Method. I also raised ducks and small mammals for meat and eggs in a movable pen similar to the ones used by Joel Salatin. I later moved to Colorado where I experimented with growing greens using aquaponics inside. I eventually added a microgreens setup and home sprouting operation. I’m excited to share everything I’ve learned plus more from the other local gardening and animal raising experts I know.