Today is the first day of spring, and boy am I ready for it! I can't wait for the first bloodroot and violets to pop through the ground; it shouldn't be long now. This is a tiny watercolor I did a couple of years ago of bloodroot. The original is about 4x6. These are wonderful little native plants, and scientist are just now beginning to explore all the medicinal possibilities within the chemistry of their roots. The Cherokee used them both medicinally and as extremely lightfast dyes. They yield a rusty red with no mordant necessary and were often used to dye river cane used in their basketry. A friend at NC State is working on researching the use of bloodroot extracts for cancer treatment. Regardless of any uses it may have it is one of the more beautiful spring wildflowers in the Smokies. There are large beds near our home and on sunny spring afternoons you can often find me sitting under the bare trees watching these delicate flower heads nodding in the breeze. My Appalachian Arts students and I will soon begin gathering a few roots from some of the larger beds to dye our wool yarn with. Not only will they learn how to use this dye plant, but also how to identify it, and last but not least, the old Cherokee rule of four.
"Leave the first plant you see because there might be another animal or insect that needs it for food for its young. Leave the second plant you see in case someone is coming along behind you – that person may be in desperate need of that plant, or may have a need greater than your own. Leave the third plant to reproduce additional plants, and the fourth one – you can take that plant for yourself.” Good stewardship is an important lesson to pass on when taking young people out into nature, and is so integral to this area's Cherokee heritage I can't possibly overlook it value to my students.