Crow (South Central Montana)


The Place

South Central Montana is home to the Crow Reservation. The reservation is located near the Yellowstone and Big Horn Rivers, continuing on to the edge of the Rocky Mountain Range. It occupies an unusual landscape, where its environment contains both mountainous forest, as well as semi-desert plains. There are 3 vegetation types that make up the Crow Reservation: ponderosa pine woodlands, sagegrass-wheatgrass plains and northern wheatgrass-needlegrass plains.

crow tribe

The People

The Crow Tribe is one of the largest tribes in America, with a population of approximately 10,000 people. Previously a nomadic group of hunters and gatherers, they believe their land is the center of the universe, given to them by the Creator as the most ideal place to live. The Crow live by the belief that humans are equal to the natural world; animals are thought to be their siblings and plants the gifts to the earth. Tobacco, a sacred plant to the Crow, is grown annually for spiritual beliefs. Its regrowth is believed to ensure the survival of the tribe for another year.

The Plants

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia):

Purple coneflower

Purple Coneflower is an extensively harvested medicinal plant located in the prairie bioregion. The plant's roots can be chewed, boiled, made into tea, burnt, or powdered as a way to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, and snake bites. The roots can be used to make toothpaste.

Yucca (Yucca glauca):


Part of the lily family, Yucca is found in upland prairies, plains, and hillsides. The plant is used by either cooking and eating the flower stalks, or by boiling and making the roots into shampoo that was commonly used by the tribe.

Curlycup Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa):

Curly Cup gumweed

Curlycup gumweed is a sticky biennial herb commonly located in disturbed areas and pastures. Curlycup gumweed is both a medicinal and edible plant. The Crow use curlycup gumweed as a hot press and burn it to treat diseases, coughs, postpartum pain, and swelling. They boil the leaves and flowerheads to make an energizing tea.

Common Milkweed (Asclespias speciosa):

Common Milkweed Asclespias speciosa

Common milkweed is an herbaceous legume typically found in well-drained, sun-exposed areas such as forest clearings and meadows, and in more artificial habitats such as roadsides, croplands, ditches, and pastures. It is a perennial with large clusters of pink to purple flowers while in bloom, usually between the months of June and August. The seed pods, leaves, and juvenile shoots can be boiled for their cardiac glycosides, a chemical used in the treatment of heart disease. However, the Crow Tribe used its tough fibers predominantly for making cords and ropes, or in some cases, a coarse fabric.

Dotted Blazing Star (Liatris punctata):

Dotted Blazing Star Liatris punctata

A perennial herb, dotted blazing star is made up of several stems teeming with wand-like, lavender flower heads. Found on hillsides and in prairies, dotted blazing star proudly bears a lengthy taproot, making it quite drought-resistant. Interestingly a great snack for diabetics, their roots contain inulin, a starch known to insignificantly affect blood glucose levels when it is consumed. Plains tribes such as the Crow Tribe historically made it into a medicinal tea, a tea used to treat laryngitis, colic, sore throat, gonorrhea, as well as menstrual, bladder, and kidney issues. Occasionally, the Crow would, instead, burn their dried roots to help alleviate nosebleeds and headaches. 

Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa):

Rubber Rabbitbrush Ericameria nauseosa

With flexible, slender, and erect branches, the rubber rabbitbrush holds its small yellow flower heads in tight-knit groups at the ends of its stems. A perennial shrub, its seeds, flowers, and leaves provide meaningful forage for larger mammals like elk, antelope, and deer, while affording cover for smaller animals such as sage grouse and jack rabbits. Though used today for its effectiveness in erosional control in disturbed settings such as roadsides, historically, the Crow Tribe used rubber rabbitbrush to make chewing gum, yellow dye, cough syrup, and a tea for the treatment of chest pains. Its rubbery twigs can also be easily woven and fashioned into baskets. 

Fringed Sagebrush (Artemisa frigidia)

Fringed Sagebrush

 Fringed Sage is a perennial shrub of the Asteraceae family. Also commonly reffered to as Praire Sagewort, the shrub has deeply divided aromatic leaves, that are gray/green in color. The sagebrush is drought resistant and found in prairies, grasslands and other dry ecosystems in the region.  Montana tribes along with the Crow tribe used fringed sagebrush for many medicinal purpose including taking infusions of the leaves for colds or as a dermatological aid. Fringed Sagebrush is also an important food source for elk, deer and other herbivores during the winter. 

Plains Prickly Pear (Opuntia polycantha)

Plains Prickly Pear- Opuntia Polycantha

Plains Prickly Pear makes an appreance in the Crow circle. The drought tolerant cactus is low lying with flat, oval shaped pads that lie flat on the ground. Plains Prickly Pears can create colonies several feet across and are found in hot, dry environments. The Prickly Pear blooms bright yellow and magenta flowers in the late spring and early summer.  The berries and the pads of the prickly pear cactus were used as a food source, while the flesh of the cactus was often made into a poultice to act as a dermotological aid. 

Species List

  • Blue Grama (Boutelona gracilis)
  • Common Milkweed (Asclespia speciosa)
  • Curlycup Gumweed (Grindelia squarrosa)
  • Cushion Cactus (Coryphantha vivipara)
  • Dotted Blazing Star (Liatris punctata)
  • Plains Prickly Pear (Opuntia polyacantha)
  • Fringed Sage (Artemesia frigida)
  • Purple Coneflower (Echinacea augustifolia)
  • Rubber Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosus)
  • Sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata)
  • Scarlet Guara (Guara coccinea)
  • Thimble Cactus (Mammillaria gracilis)
  • Yucca (Yucca glauca)