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Manoomin as Medicine

​The use of wild rice as a food by the Anishinaabek is well established. However, its use as a medicine was a unique distinction that isn't widely known.

For example, in some cases if a mother was unable to nurse her infant, she would give the baby wild rice broth taken from rice that was boiled with meat or fish as a milk substitute. This thin porridge could sustain the child and was a widely held Ojibwe health formula that would have reduced infant mortality and promoted infant health.

As a topical medicine, the fine broken rice (manzaan) was boiled and strained to render its “juice”. This juice was then mixed with certain herbs gathered in the spring or late fall to produce a poultice (or salve) that could be applied to relieve skin infections caused by poison ivy or other irritatants.

Urinary tract infections could also be treated using the root of the wild rice plant and goldenseal, brewed into a liquid that could be injected into the urethra with a syringe.

In terms of spiritual cures, it was noted by some that if a person accidentally tasted the blood of another human being that they should drink nothing but boiled rice broth for a period of time to ensure that they wouldn’t become a windigo. Girls in their puberty rites were also supposed to abstain from all foods except rice in order to ensure a good passage into womanhood.

On the flipside, it was believed that a pregnant woman should avoid eating popped rice while pregnant, as eating it would cause her baby to have difficulty breathing when it was born.


SOURCE: Vennum, Thomas. 1988. “Wild Rice And The Ojibway People.” St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.

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