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The History of Iroquoian Agriculture
Gana>gaht | Oneratohko | April

(Tree of Life: A Resource Manual & Food Guide, Six Nations Long-Term Care/Home & Community Care)

Through scientific research, agriculture by the Iroquois dates back to AD 1000. Food was plentiful by trapping, fishing, hunting, and gathering and planting. From the Creation Story, the Iroquois were given the corn, beans and squash. They are referred to as the Three Sisters but it is important to recognize that all plant life is relatives and living beings.

The Iroquois people have definitive roles and responsibilities for men and women which function cooperatively for the benefit of the whole community and nations.

The philosophy of the Iroquois people was to grow our own foods but with modern changes this way of life is called farming. The old ways of growing our foods referred to by our elders are almost extinct. Today we depend upon modern society composed of fast food restaurants and grocery stores.

Historically the Iroquois people have been through many hardships but have always maintained their identity as Iroquoian people.

A realization that our given lifestyle was proper, needs to be re-introduced to individuals, families, clans, nations and communities. People need to strive for health and wellness of the mind, body and spirit. Our people continue to be on a long path towards healing and wellness. Letís walk together in the steps of our ancestors who knew the proper way Ė the traditional way.

Seed Saving Information

Saving your own seeds is a satisfying experience. It gives a feeling of self sufficiency and continuity to gather seeds from the vegetables and fruits and store them away for the winter and bring them out again in the spring to be planted.

Knowing how to save the seeds, means you can be independent of modern resources. Seed saving is easy but it takes knowledge to do it well.

Drying and Storage

Seeds are living entities. Even though they are in a dormant stage, they need the proper care to maintain the life within. After gathering, seeds can be dried in a warm, dry place with good air circulation or in a food dehydrator. The temperature should never go above 95F or damage to the seeds will occur. It is essential that the seed be thoroughly dried before storage. When the seed is suitable dried, it will break instead of bend. Store your seeds in air tight jars or containers. Make sure the conditions are cool, dry as possible and rodent proof.

Drying Corn

    When properly dried and stored, the foods can last for 20-30 years. Three ways to dry the corn:
  • Leave the corn on the cob, braid the husks and hang to dry.
  • Shell the corn kernels and dry in the oven (low heat) or naturally constantly stirring until the corn dries evenly. The corn needs to be completely cool before storage.
  • Buy frozen corn and dry in the oven. Place on cookie sheet and spread evenly. Place in oven on low heat. Frozen corn is preferred to use over canned corn because it has less liquid and is fresher. You can do this to any vegetable that is frozen. Make sure the food is completely cool before putting into storage containers.
This is not limited to only corn, but tomatoes, squash, onions, apples, pears, green peppers, celery, etc.

Traditional Diet (Consisting of 2 Natural Food Groups)

Traditional Gathering of Our Plant Foods

  • Food should not be played with our abused.
  • Be thankful for what has been provided.
  • Take only what you need; leave some for others.
  • Plants can have dual responsibilities. Offer tobacco to plants used for medicine.
  • Allow some plants to go to seed so it will return next year.
  • Women should never handle food or medicine during her moon.
  • Maintain a good mind.
  • Be free of alcohol and drugs.

Tips When Using Herbal Medicines

    Haudenosaunee Society has precautions to take to protect the medicines. Some are listed below:
  • Protect the medicine from alcohol.
  • Women on their monthly time leave the medicine alone Ė somebody else can make it for them and they should only drink from their own cup.
  • When handling (dressing) or seeing a deceased person, one can use Wild Ginger or White Pine to wash with.
  • They can resume taking the medicine on the fifth day after the death.
  • Warm your medicine to at least room temperature before drinking Ė DO NOT USE A MICROWAVE WHEN WARMING MEDICINES.
  • Medicines can be missed to include one from each category or for what you want it to help you with. You donít need to make separate post of it.
  • Add your herbs to cold water and time the boiling from when the water starts to boil, usually ten to twenty minutes. Allow the medicines to cool down then drain off the tea. You can freeze the herbs for later use; boil it for 30-40 minutes for the second boil.
  • Put used herbs back in the bush or you can bury it. You can sprinkle a bit of tobacco on it with your thanks for its help.
  • Make your medicine as soon as you notice a sore throat and/or sniffles. Make it and drink it right away. Itís easy to stop if you do it right away.
  • Itís good to air out the house even in cold weather, to clear the germs out.
  • Gallons of medicine (4 litres) will last four to five days if you drink three to four cups a day.
  • Keep your medicine in a cool place so it doesnít spoil Ė put your jug in a bag so others donít see it, just in case a woman is on her monthly (moon) or if a person has partaken in the mind changers (drugs/alcohol).

Harvesting Herbs

  • In Haudenosaunee society it is proper to offer tobacco to the plant life you are about to take and use to help the sick.
  • Leave the tobacco at the first plant and pick at the third plant.
  • Remember to leave some plants to grow next year.
  • Clean the plant by breaking off rotted parts, watch for bugs and their eggs.
  • Wash the roots.
  • Make small bundles (two to three plants) and hang them up by the roots.
  • Roots: cur them up while they are fresh and put the roots in a cardboard box with a layer of paper towel on the bottom. Stir up the roots two times per day to help them dry quicker.
  • Twigs: same as with roots. Cut them while fresh Ė use snips/pruning shears.
When your medicine is dry, put them in a brown paper bag or in glass jugs and label. Do not put in plastic bags if you are going to keep them longer then six months.

Traditional Foods Can Be Healthy

(National Institutes of Health Ė National Cancer Institute)

Living in Balance

Traditional foods are still a way of life for many American Indians. Keeping the body, mind, and spirit in balance and celebrating the seasons once were an essential way of life. Today, it is still important to be strong and healthy.

How Foods Were Prepared

Foods were prepared the following ways:
  • Vegetables, meats and fish were smoked, dried, broiled, or boiled.
  • Breads were baked.
Why Was This Healthy?
  • Less fat was used to cook foods.
  • No fat was added to foods which were boiled or dried.
  • Foods did not sit in the fat.
  • These foods were low in fat.
  • Diets lower in fat helped lower chances of obesity, cancer, and heart disease.
  • A person ate many different kinds of food.
  • A variety of foods provided many nutrients for good health.