The Sheridan Food Forest opens a garden with plants historically used by the Northern Cheyenne
The Northern Cheyenne Medicinal Garden at the Sheridan Food Forest consists of about 105 different plants that has spiritual, medicinal, or nutritional significance to the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. A dedication ceremony on Aug. 31 at the Sheridan Food Forest drew around two dozen community members who wanted to learn more about the significance of these plants.
The garden doesn’t look much different from a backyard garden; shades of green are budding out of the dirt. Linwood Tall Bull, a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, explained how some of the plants that are included in the garden have been used in his culture.
“Well, one is black root. Echinacea was the hardest one to grow because it's got Novocain in it and it's used for toothaches and any kind of ailment outside the skin or like in impetigo and stuff like that,” he said.
Tall Bull is an ethnobotanist and teaches at Chief Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana. He continued describing some of the plants and their uses, such as Western Yarrow being used as a cough medicine, to stop bleeding, and to alleviate stings from bugs. Women’s sage, which he said is difficult to grow, is part of the garden, too. He added that, like people, plants are unique and interrelated to man.
“Every plant has a spirit, and every plant has a story,” he said. “My father used to say we're all relatives. We’re related to everything: the dirt, the sky, the sun, the moon, the water, everything.”
It was Tall Bull’s first time at the Sheridan Food Forest, a community garden that was created in 2016. Staffed by volunteers, it provides fresh fruits and vegetables to the community. Alisha Bretzman was involved with the creation of the medicinal garden. It was planted around two weeks ago.
“I heard that traditional knowledge was being lost and the plant lore was being lost and heard from other Cheyenne members that they wanted a garden tour,” she said.
Bretzman has been taking classes taught by Two Bull for around six years. The two came up with the idea of the garden tour several years ago. Bretzman says it includes many different features.
“[There are] plant tags that you could read about the Northern Cheyenne uses and then also the scientific identification features and then recorded stories told by Linwood Two Bull. And [we] kind of created this website with the hope that you could have QR codes on the tags - walk through it and you could sit on a bench and listen to the stories or walk through the garden and listen to the stories,” she said.
Bretzman said some of the plants included in the medicinal garden have become less common in the area due to things like grazing, while others are still commonly found on the Plains. The garden has four entrances highlighting the plants and their uses by the Northern Cheyenne. It’s not very big currently, though it could expand with a grant.
“So with phase two, our hope is that that would include expanding the garden and expanding the work with Linwood to record more stories and to help preserve more of the traditional plant uses and knowledge in plant lore,” she said.
Carol LeResche is a founder, committee member, and volunteer at the Food Forest. She and Bretzman have worked over the past three years to make the medicinal garden a reality.
While it’s been several years in the making, the reward of that work is evident in the brown soil that surrounds plants in various shades of green.
“The Northern Cheyenne [Medicinal] Garden is a no-till garden where you just build soil on top of it, you don't break the soil and disturb the network underneath,” she said. “You just build it from the bottom up. And we started this in April this year - did all the layering, layering, and then watered it and it rotted enough to be ready to plant.”
For Linwood Two Bull, whose family has longtime connections to Sheridan, the establishment of a garden is a sign of respect and connection between two cultures and ways of life.
“Sheridan makes me proud to be who I am as an Indian person, so I want to thank them all, thank everyone,” he said.