What Did Cherokee People Eat?

Published on March 18, 2014 by Amy

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The Cherokees were a very large nation of Native Americans who originally lived in the American Southeast. After the settlers arrived, the majority of the Cherokees were sent to Oklahoma, where many continue to live today. Some still reside in the Carolinas. The Cherokees were a very advanced cultural, political and social nation, with hunting, fishing and agriculture that provided a wide variety of foods for their semi-nomadic populations.

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The Cherokee tribes had a large farmland to raise abundant crops of corn, beans, squash and sunflowers, as well as tobacco, for all residents. Each of the individual families also had their own separate gardens. After the men cleared the fields, the women tended the land and harvested the vegetables when they were ripe. They also searched for berries, nuts and fruit. Three types of corn were planted, for roasting, boiling and smoking. Cherokee dishes mainly consisted of cornbread, soup and stew cooked on stone hearths.


In the division of labor, the men hunted both small game, such as squirrels, rabbits and turkeys, and very large animals, such as elk and bear. Deer was an essential part of the Cherokee diet. They also ate a great deal of fish and turtle meat. Cherokee men were very skillful hunters and used a variety of techniques, such as blowguns with darts for smaller animals, and very strong bows and arrows for larger prey. Hooks and spears were used to capture fish in local rivers. Sometimes hunters even poisoned parts of the water and captured fish that rose to the top.

Medicinal Drink

Because the Cherokee nation was so large, different foods and drinks were more common with some tribes than others. In the Carolinas, the Bignonia Crucigera, or cross vine, was cut, added to China brier and sassafras roots, and boiled as a medicinal drink. It was also supposed to purify the blood.


It was ecologically sound to grow corn and beans together, since the beans released nitrogen and the corn needed a great deal of nitrogen. In addition, the bean vines used the corn stalks as support. From a nutritional standpoint, beans have a lot of the essential amino acid lysine. Beans and corn together provided a complete protein meal.

Wild Foods

When the Cherokee prepared wild greens, they had to parboil them for quite awhile and then fry them in nut oil or bear grease. The Ligusticum canadense plant, which grows in the shade and smells like celery, was boiled and then used as a salad. Polygonatum biflorum, which also grows in the shade, has a stalk that is similar to asparagus. It was eaten alone or with a bean salad. The roots of a species of Smilax pseudochina were chopped, prepared and made into a sweet jelly.

Source: ehow

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