Misty Cook | Gresham, Wisconsin
I started out going to college and then worked for my tribe as the education director. When I had my daughter, I just could not go back to work. I remember thinking, ‘Wow! I need to take care of this baby’” And that was the perfect opportunity to work with my cousin Dave Besaw.
Dave was the medicine man for our tribe. He had rheumatoid arthritis so I would help him by carrying his stuff to his presentations. At one presentation he put me on the spot and said, ‘Misty, what do you know?’ I thought, ‘Wow, I don’t really know anything.’ I realized I wanted to understand our traditional medicines so I started paying attention to what Dave was doing.
When Dave did his presentation on our reservation, walking around and showing all the medicines, I took notes. I got a notebook and just wrote down everything he said. Often we’d go out together to look for medicines. Dave was my next-door neighbor growing up, so looking for natural medicine on the reservation was kind of like what we did when I was growing up.
I asked him about the dosages of all the medicines and how they’re used. He’d give me all the information and I’d put it on the list. I just kept adding to this list. We collected the Blood Root Flower for its red stem that helps staunch bleeding, we gathered and dried red raspberry leaves for a tea to lower blood sugar levels and many others. I learned enough about how to preserve and prepare what we gathered to become his assistant.
Dave passed away in 2011. On our last trip, we had gone to find the medicine called prince’s pine, because one of his friends had seen it. So we went and looked for it, and couldn’t find it, but we had a really fun day. We brought some subs along and had a little lunch. That was on a Monday and he passed away on that Friday. It was really awesome that we had one last trip together.
After he passed away, that first year was kind of rough. I still did medicines, but I needed a little break. Then after about a year, I started writing a little bit more. He had already given me a lot of the information. I just needed to put it together. I started interviewing some of the elders in our tribe and they talked about the medicines and the foods and their knowledge filled in some of the blanks. So slowly I turned all this information into a book that documents fifty-eight herbal medicines traditional to the Stockbridge-Munsee.
The book is called Medicine Generations and it goes all the way back to my great great great great Granny Gardener. She passed down the medicines to my grandma Mary Burr and her sister Ella Besaw who is Dave’s mom and then I was able to learn it from Dave. Now my kids have grown up with it, so I already feel like it’s passed on.
The most widely used medicine of my tribe is the wild bergamont, and we call it Number 6. We make it into a tea and most of our medicines are one tablespoon of the medicine per one cup of boiling water. We just steep the one tablespoon in one cup of water, let it sit for about ten minutes and that’s your medicine. It’s good for colds and flus. It’s good for allergies. We gather that one in July and August—when the purple flower is perfectly grown.
Golden thread is a medicine that grows in swampy areas. It can grow on little mossy knolls in swamps. That one’s in the book. It has a really shiny leaf and is small. When you pull back the earth where it grows, all the little roots are yellow. That’s how it got its name, golden thread. It is used for mouth sores. It’s a mouthwash. Dave always called it a swish and spit medicine.
When I was going to school, and in my career, I would have never thought that this was the direction I would have gone. It’s so amazing to be able to do what I’m really meant to do. I can tell because I get super excited about all the medicines. I get these awesome calls from people and they’ll say, ‘can you come and speak and do this presentation?’ We try to say yes to every request, and now with the pandemic, we’ve tried to do some video presentations.
My next goal is to do a cookbook. I have done a lot of research on the foods. When we did the interviews with the elders, they talked about the foods and the medicines like they’re the same thing. Food is medicine to us and now I plan to do a cookbook of recipes of the Stockbridge Munsee tribal people.