Common and native to the eastern half of the United States this brier likes roadsides, clearings and woods. It prefers shady to partially shady locations, so it grows best at woods edge. This vine flowers in May with inconspicuous small, 6-petaled whitish green flowers. Its most notable feature is the sharp green spines the vines sport.
Ka-nu-ga (or) ka-nu-tsu (the Cherokee word for brier) was used in many ways by the Native Peoples of the east coast. The vines were used to weave into baskets, and the leaves could be used to wrap tobacco or other herbs for smoking.
In the early medicinal uses the Native Peoples used the stem prickles by rubbing them along the skin as a counter irritant to treat localized pains, muscle cramps and muscles twitching.
The stems and leaves were utilized in tea form to treat rheumatism and stomach problems. And the wilted leaves could be used as a poultice for boils, and in decoction for washes on ulcers.
One of its cousins, another plant called greenbrier, was used by the Iroquois Indians in dark magic. They would utilize it to “bring about bad luck, accidents or death!”
There is an area of Appalachia named for this vine. Greenbrier is a valley in the northern Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. The Cherokee were the first inhabitants of the Greenbrier area, and may have had a seasonal settlement at Porters Flat, near Greenbrier’s southern tip.