Sarcobatus vermiculatus
family: Goosefoot (Chenopodiaceae)
vé'ȯhkévánó'ėstse, "bitter sage"
Greasewood is shrub up to 3 m tall, hairless. Young plants are sometimes pubescent. Leaves are needle-like, pointed, 15 to 35 mm long, 2 to 3 mm wide. Male flowers form spikelets 8 to 25 mm long and 3 to 4 mm wide. Female flowers have tiny membraneous fans 8 to 12 mm wide. It blossoms from June to July. Fruits are rippen in September and October. Wood is yellow and very hard. Greasewood grows on dry, alcalic, and saline soils. It ranges on the west of the USA to western regions of Dakotas, northwest Nebraska, and the Great Divide of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and New Mexico; also, it appears on the headwater of Arkansas River and in Texas.
Cheyennes used greasewood in the Sun Dance Ceremony (hestȯsanestȯtse or hoxéhevȯhomó'hestȯtse). A man symbol upon which men dancing in the ceremony stood was made of greasewood wands. The dancers hung Sun Dance whistles on forked greasewood sticks. The participants of the ceremony wrapped buffalo hair around the end of small greasewood sticks which were used as tampers for ceremonial pipes (Hart 1981: 17).
Cheyennes believed, when someone has bad blood in the veins, a sharpened stick of this shrub would draw out the blood. It was a sort of acupuncture. Only initiated specialists could perform such ceremony. They pierced different parts of the patient’s body. Wood helped to treat sprained or bruised horses’ legs too. At first, a ceremony was performed. This ceremony was same for all injured and sick horses. Then, the priests punched holes into the horse’s shoulder with a sharpened greasewood stick. They blew into the holes up to swell the shoulder. If the horse got up and shook itself, the treatment was successful (Hart 1981: 17).
The hard wood of this shrub has manysided use. Cheyennes looked for straight shoots and made arrow shafts of them. Thicker shoots were used for twirling sticks of the fire-making set (Hart 1981: 17; Grinnell 1923 I: 53).
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