Native Plants and Nutrition

Year: 2006

Research Center: American Indian Studies Program, The University of Arizona

Investigator: King, Mari, and Wilbert Fish

Institution: Blackfeet Community College

Project Contact:
Marietta King
Blackfeet Community College
P.O. Box 101
East Glacier Park, MT 59434
Phone: 406-226-4635


Ancestral Native North American people maintained a healthy immune system and strong physical structure until a very old age. This study identifies the foods that sustained ancestral members of the Blackfeet Nation of northern Montana, one of several Great Plains Cultural Area Indian Tribes. Wild plant food nutrition and the manner in which the Blackfeet people perceive food and nutrition from a cultural perspective were also investigated.

A team of researchers from Blackfeet Community College conducted the study on the Blackfeet Native American Reservation, Browning, MT, from July 2005 to September 2006. Research methods included interviews of individuals and institutions in the community, as well as a survey of literature found in libraries and Internet resources. Historical information (pre-contact by Europeans) on the health and traditional diet of the Blackfeet were obtained along with plant identification of cultural foods.

Fifty-eight plant foods, roots, stems, leafy greens, and berries were identified as sources of vitamins and minerals that made the Blackfeet a strong race of hunter-gatherers. The hunter-gatherer history of the Blackfeet exemplifies the progression of diet and nutritional changes and the resulting health concerns affecting Native Americans today. Studies indicate that, since the beginning of the introduction of modern, processed foods, along with other assimilative measures promulgated over time, Native Americans, such as the Blackfeet people, are at risk for greater food-related illnesses and death.