For Museums, State/National Parks, Heritage Sites, Powwows, Cultural Centers & Schools
Sap Water, Corn Brew, Nut Milk and Other Eastern Native Beverages ------------------ Some early European observers declared fresh water the most usual drink of Indigenous Peoples residing in the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions,… however given later ethnologies, traditional knowledge, and a broader pool of accounts to consult, these few outside observations are quite misleading. It wasn't unusual for Europeans who came from places of polluted or depleted resources to comment much on those same resources "in abundance" or "safe to consume" in the New World... such as they did about the abundance of edible shellfish on the Atlantic coast. Clean water was no different, and Europeans noted with enthusiasm how the Indigenous Peoples consumed fresh water not always from springs or always heated,... or processed/infused with grain or fruit alcohol as was common in the Western World.
Fresh cool water and even plain warmed water was indeed a usual drink, however, blinded by Old World "water problems" and wanting to promote these new lands/resources to European investors and monarchies, these observers probably didn't give due credit to the amount of flavored waters, teas, and juices consumed by Native folks of the Eastern Woodlands,… But we can and should! Arthur C. Parker, an anthropologist of Seneca descent, writes in the early 20th century that they "were not fond of drinking water and preferred various beverages prepared from herbs and corn.” Likewise Anishinaabe (Ojibwe) informants of the same time period state they did not commonly drink plain water particularly when traveling, being more likely to boil their water with vegetable substances, or specific twigs and leaves for tea, and maple sugar for sweetener. ----------------- Sap
Maple syrup/sugar was often added to water alone to make a refreshing drink year round,… but during the sugaring season, fresh maple sap was consumed straight from the trees. Maple sap tastes like water because it mostly is, however if cooked a little, the sugars condensed and the sap could be made into a sweeter drink. Some Native Peoples of the New England area also drank the pleasant tasting sap of the wild grape vine. -------------------- Tea
Indeed teas were prevalent everyday beverages among Indigenous communities of the East… Brewing specific bark, twigs, leaves or roots added not just flavoring but medicinal qualities. Drinking tea was done for both pleasure and maintaining health, not unlike the modern practice. The Peoples of New England made teas of raspberry leaves and root bark, chokecherry bark, spruce and wild cherry twigs, elderberry blossoms and more. Teas of Native origin have particularly had a resurgence among Indigenous communities, as food and more as medicine (the distinction between the two often nonexistent). ---------------------- Juice Water
However there was more than bark and leaves on plants to take advantage of… the fruits themselves were consumed not just as food but as drink. Among the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), blackberry infused water was made from dried blackberries was said to frighten away the cold. "Do not even bears eat berries all summer and defy the blasts of winter?" Not just a drink, both fruit infused waters and fresh juices provided sacred subsidence during certain ceremonies and rites. And fresh juice was a reminder of the changing seasons – many greatly anticipating the time of year when the strawberry drink is served (and still is made and served) ---------------- Corn
The juice of corn and squash were noted to be used for beverages among agricultural communities like the Wedat (Huron). Liquids in which foods were previously cooked were commonly consumed as beverages. The Haudenosaunee saved the water they boiled cornbread in for beverages, and brewed a hot drink known as parched corn coffee. To make it, cob corn parched directly on hot coals were scraped into water and boiled for a time. When on a journey, the 18th Lenape (Delaware) “take corn crushed to a meal or roasted in hot ashes, then crushed, with which they mix a little sugar ; of this, in the heat of the summer, a refreshing and at the same time, nourishing drink may be prepared, if a little is stirred in water.” Corn flavored drinks and corn broths were very common, if not the most common flavored water to be enjoyed among the agricultural Woodland Native Peoples. ----------------- Nut Milk
The Haudenosaunee along with their southern linguistic cousins, the Cherokee, drank the water from boiling nut meats. The Cherokee were noted historically in consuming their nut broth, specifically made of hickory nuts, at a cool temperature - akin what is now known commonly as the creamy soup broth “kanuchi.” Others too made hickory nut “milk” by beating the nutmeats in warm water until the liquid became “white and creamish.” ----------------------- Note: This post does not cover the Black Drink, or the scarcity of evidence (and misleading accounts) regarding Native alcohols in the East.
-Densmore, Frances, How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine and Crafts. 1974.
-Nearing, Helen and Scott, The Maple Sugar Book. 2000.
-Parker, Arthur C., Parker on the Iroquois. 1968.
-Russell, Howard S., Indian New England Before the Mayflower. 1980.
-Speck, Frank G., Midwinter Rites of the Cayuga Longhouse. 1995.
Originally published (with Yahoo!Voices) in 2011, Revised in 2020. To cite this article:
Diemer-Eaton, Jessica. (Revised 2020). Sap Water, Corn Brew, Nut Milk and Other Eastern Native Beverages. Retrieved from http://www.woodlandindianedu.com/beverages.html
Absolutely No Copying Photos or Images on This Site. Do Not Reproduce and Sell Any Images On This Website. Do Not Copy and Post WIEP Photos or Illustrations On Any Blogs or Websites Without Permissions. The Photos That Appear on This Site are Our Property or Used Specifically With Special Permissions ONLY for Our Site; Permissions of the Photographers of the Photos, and/or the Event's Permissions at Which They Were Taken, and/or Those Who Appear in the Photos. We Have No Authority to Extend Their Permissions To Others.