Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium
University of Wisconsin - Stevens Point

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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  Prairie Folklore

by Wayne Pauly from Dane County Parks ACTION Adult Conservation Team Newsletter (All folklore stories)


New Jersey Tea

Ceanothus americanus 

In southern Wisconsin, prairie fires repeatedly burned the black oaks, which gave rise to scrub oaks with dense gnarled roots.  Pioneer farmers chopped out thousands of these 50+ year-old oak bushes and called them “grubs” after the Old German “grubben” meaning “to dig”.

In other prairie states, Eastern farmers marveled that their new farms had no tree stumps, and the meadows had “more bird eggs than stones”.  However, farmers plowing the prairie sod for the first time were startled when their plow stopped suddenly at a thick gnarled New Jersey Tea root.  He called it rupture root.  His wife probably never heard this field name; she called it red root because of the useful dye, and gathered the fresh white flowers for use as a mild toilet soap--a welcome relief from their home brewed lye soap./p>

New Jersey Tea is America’s most famous substitute for oriental tea and rapidly rose in use during the patriotic days of the American Revolution.  Leaves were prepared by dipping in boiling water and being dried in the shade before used to make tea.

 

Vascular Plants

Plants of Wisconsin

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