Image of pineapple weed above from pnwflowers.com
Pineapple weed is commonly found in ‘weedy’ places in North America – in parking lots, well trod paths, and similar places. It is part of the Aster family & its scientific name is Matricaria disoidea although in some older sources it is identified in the Chamomile genus, Chamomilla. Pineapple weed gets its name because if you pick the plant and crush it, it smells rather like pineapple. Like its cousin chamomile, pineapple weed can be used to make tea. There are many sources online that describe how to gather and make tea from pineapple weed such as here, here and here. As usual, if collecting outside one’s garden make sure they are ‘clean’ plants – using plants from a heavily used parking lot is likely not a good idea! One could also probably make a planter of them or put them in the garden, but be aware they can be a bit ‘weedy’ and may start growing in places you would rather they did not. On the plus side, they will grow in places other plants might struggle and ‘fill in’ difficult places in a garden or yard.
I had always assumed that pineapple weed as an introduced plant. I was surprised to find it mentioned in a book on Lewis and Clark that they collected it two centuries ago somewhere in their travels in ID and MT. In trying to track down sources on this plant, I have found conflicting accounts – some, like Calflora.org list it as native, while the USFS site lists it nationwide as introduced. Eugene Kozloff’s “Plants of Western Oregon, Washington & British Columbia” list it as ‘probably native’. If it is an introduced plant, it seems to have arrived before European settlement in the Pacific Northwest.
Looking up the plant in Moerman’s “Native American Ethnobotany” there are numerous peoples from Alaska to Oklahoma who made teas from this plant, from tribes as diverse as Aleut, Costanoan, Cherokee and Chumash. Most cultures regarded the tea as medicinal – often as a medicine for various gastrointestinal tract upsets, some as a treatment for fevers. Some Native Alaskan peoples put the pleasant smelling plant in sweat baths. In Nancy Turner’s “Food Plants of Interior First Peoples” she notes that Okanagan children used to eat the flower tops. Ktunaxa and Stl’atl’imx people would hang the plants up as an air freshener, or put them in pillows.
To date, I haven’t found any documented traditional use of pineapple weed for western Oregon tribes. But given that it was well known in so many other places in the west, it seems likely at least some tribes did – as a tea, or possibly in sweat lodges. Certainly today there are people who still like to use it as a tea, by itself or in a blend with other herbal teas.
Earle, Scott A. and James Reveal. 2003. Lewis and Clark’s Green World: The Expedition and its Plants. Farcountry Press, Helena MT.
Kozloff, Eugene. Plants of Western Oregon, Washington & British Columbia. Timber Press, Portland OR. 2005.
Moerman, Daniel. 1998. Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press, Portland OR.
Turner, Nancy. 1997. Food Plants of Interior First Peoples. UBC PRess, Vancouver BC.