Atlantic Ninebark – Physocarpus opulifolius

Atlantic Nine Bark leaves
Atlantic Nine Bark leaves

This lovely shrub is native to Eastern North America, and produces clusters of tiny white flowers, followed by bright red fruit. It is noted for its exfoliating bark, which is most notable in winter after the leaves have fallen and the bush is dormant. The bark peels in several layers exposing reddish down through brown bark on the older stems, this is how the common name of Ninebark was given.

The Common Ninebark was used by various Native American Tribes for medicine, food, dye, or even in magic! The Bella Coola Indians used a decoction of the inner bark as an emetic (causing vomiting) by people “dizzy with pain.” They also used it as a laxative, TB remedy, and as a treatment for gonorrhea. The Southern Carrier and the Chippewa also used the inner bark as an emetic); with the Iroquois and Menominee using the bark as a gynecological aid.

As a dye the ninebark would be added to Cedar bark to darken the cedar dye to brown. Other varieties of Ninebark were used to make toys, and their fruits were eaten raw! In magic the Mallow Ninebark was used in bad medicine to cause other people bad luck.

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