Hickory wood is our next magical tree we will look at. I've talked about Hickory before, two years ago: Hickory Dickory. I mostly focused on the edibility and a little of the lore, so check it out for more information about eating hickory nuts, making nut milk and making the bark syrup, yum! I want to focus now on this dense, hard wood and it's many uses.
Hickory wood is hard. But it is not only hard, it combines attributes of strength, toughness, hardness and stiffness. These properties make it useful in unique ways because no other wood possessed these characteristics like Hickory does.
Hickory, or Carya glabra, has 12 native varieties in North America. It is common, but not very abundant species of hickory in the oak-hickory forest association in the Eastern U.S. and Canada. The earliest record of human interaction of Carya species comes from archeological excavations from the Early Archaic (8900-8700 yr BP) at Modoc Rock Shelter, Illinois. Humans been hanging out with hickory for a long time.
There are many records of First Nation's usage of Carya species made by the first European explorers. Strachey (1612) reported a Native American myth of the afterlife which involved hickory. It said that hominy corn and "pokahichary" (hickory nut milk) was served by a diety to spirits traveling after death to the rising sun. It is important especially in that our word "hickory" is derived from the word "pokahichary" of their language.
The use of hickory nut oil is mentioned by Bossu (1771, p. 348), who also observed that the Indians cooked pancakes in nut oil (p. 230). William Bartram (1792) reported "ancient cultivated fields" of hickory west of Augusta, Georgia:
"Though these are natives of the forest, yet they thrive better, and are more fruitful, in cultivated plantations, and the fruit is in great estimation with the present generation of Indians, particularly juglans exaltata, commonly called shell barked hiccory. The Creeks store up the last in their towns. I have seen above an hundred bushels of these nuts belonging to one family. They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes" (p. 38).(1)
It is used for tool handles, bows, wheel spokes,carts, drumsticks, lacrosse stick handles, golf club shafts (sometimes still called hickory stick), the bottom of skis, walking sticks and for punishing switches. Paddles are also often made from hickory. It is dense and has some give. This property of hickory wood has left a trace in some Native American languages: in Ojibwe, hickory is called "mitigwaabaak", a compound of mitigwaab "bow" and the final -aakw "hardwood tree".
Baseball bats were once also made of hickory, but today, as we read about in Part I, they are more commonly made of ash. Yet hickory is replacing ash as the wood for Scottish shinty sticks ( camans). Hickory was even extensively used for the construction of early airplanes!
Hickory is not just known for it's usefulness in object making, but also as a fuel source. It is an excellent firewood, because of its high energy content. Hickory wood is also a used type for smoking cured meats. In the Southern United States, hickory is popular for cooking barbecue, as hickory grows abundantly in our region, and adds a distinctive flavor to the meat. Hickory is also sometimes used for wood flooring due to its durability in resisting wear and character. Hickory wood is, however, not noted for rot resistance, so care must be taken if using it on outdoor building projects by having good over hangs or finishing the wood well.
Because of this propensity to decay when exposed to sun and water, it was never used in ship building, but, because of its dense nature, it was employed in cask building as hoops. It was also used to make fishing rods, furniture, musket stocks and rake teeth. The Cherokee used it to make many things, from finishing baskets to corn beaters, blowgun darts, and arrow shafts. The wood ashes of hickory were used as to skin corn and make hominy. The ashes combined with salt and black pepper were also used to cure pork.
I use hickory bark bast for stitching up tulip poplar bark baskets. It makes a fine cordage and stitching materials, as well as a thin strip of wood to go around the tops of the basket. The bark also makes a fine yellow dye when fixed with alum, while the twigs and leaves give a browner shade.
Recipe for Shagbark hickory syrup
Great Recipe for Hickory cakes from Mountain Man Traditional Healing
As I mentioned in my previous post about Hickory, much of the lore surrounding Hickory trees relates to their uses in weather prediction. Examine your Hickory nut shells; the thicker the shell, the harder the winter to come. It is said here in North Carolina that if the leaves of a hickory are a pretty yellow in autumn, the next harvest will be a rich, golden one. In Missouri, to find out if your love has been true, burn a hickory fire. If it burns clear and steady, they have been true. If not, well, what you do is up to you.
Some use the hickory buds to alert them as when the last of the spring frosts have past. Because hickory is slow to bud, they generally appear after the danger of frost in spring. They said in Ohio, "plant your corn when the hickory buds are as big as a crow's beak". They would wait until the buds were about an inch long and then plant their corn to ensure the earliest, yet most reliable corn harvest.
Carolina wives were said to prevent their husbands from straying by driving a hickory stub into their doorposts: so long as the slow rotting hickory peg is whole, their husbands shall be true. In Alabama, cleaning your teeth with a hickory twig was supposed to keep your teeth from falling out. They also prescribed the ashes of the wood mixed in water for a fever.
What can I make with it?
Bark: Lashing for baskets, weaving material for chair seats, cordage, fiber.
Wood: Tool handles, bows, arrows, mauls, mallets, bats, walking sticks, hockey or lacrosse sticks and furniture. I've carved fine spoons from the green wood and they turned out lovely, so any small utensil would be suitable. The wood chips make a preserving smoke and add a pleasant flavor to meats.
Magical: This wood is slow to grow, signifying an alignment with the virtues of patience and perseverance. It also produces a pleasant smoke and can be used as an incense in rites of steadfastness, perseverance and staying the course as well as to increase courage and improve resolve. Wands of this wood would be suitable for all purposes of strong will and sand to a fine shine and toughness, as well as spoons destined for these magical uses.
Animal and Plant Lore. Fanny D. Bergen. 1899.
Heath, Francis George. Tree Lore. London: C.H. Kelly, 1912. Print.
Johnson, Jerry Mack. Old-time Country Wisdom & Lore: 1000s of Traditional Skills for Simple Living. Minneapolis, MN: Voyageur, 2011. Print.
Valentine, Rudolph 2001. Nishnaabemwin Grammar, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p.485).
Watts, Donald. Dictionary Of Plant Lore. Amsterdam: Academic Press, 2007. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost).
Sorry for the delay in the Folkloric Wood Series, but lots of classes being taught and projects underway. We'll continue with our regular program as soon as possible.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by none of then New World Witchery's Cory Hutcheson. What a sweet, kind person. I really had fun talking with him. So if you're curious to learn more about your wacky author, check it out. Or if you want to hear a bit more about the plant lore, rewilding and earth skills scene in Appalachia... Click the link below to hear the episode and check out the rest of their amazing site. Thanks New World Witchery!
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