Skip to content

Beyond Thanksgiving: Indigenous-Inspired Ingredients

Plant-based, local, homegrown, raw, and sustainable. All food buzzwords, and all part of the ‘pre-colonial’ diet and indigenous-inspired ingredients.

Most of us are familiar with the classic “American” Thanksgiving table. Turkey, cranberries, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, and pumpkin pie. Many Americans like to think of this family-centric meal as a modern version of a wholesome feast hundreds of years ago.

beyond thanksgiving indigenous-inspired ingredients colorful corn

Unfortunately, history tells us an integrated harvest celebration was the exception, not the rule. Historic events that preceded and followed the first “thanksgiving” are far darker. Instead of collaborating and fusing local and foreign cuisine together, colonists separated Native Americans from their foods, families, and homes.

Historically, indigenous peoples sourced their food both sustainably and locally. This eating style resulted in diets that were largely plant-based and extraordinarily nutrient rich. While colonization has made returning to these roots largely impossible (through environmental destruction and relocation), learning how to “live off the land” once again is a movement in both native and non-native communities.

Now many Americans are struggling to interact with food as many Native Americans did before colonization, fry bread, and forced assimilation.

In the spirit of collaboration, here are a few nutritious, native ingredients to add to your diet.

Indigenous-Inspired Ingredients for Thanksgiving and Beyond

Pine needles:

White pine needles indigenous ingredient
  • Used by natives and pioneers alike in teas, as a seasoning, and a teeth cleaner
  • Extraordinarily high in vitamin C (3-5x as much as orange juice!)
  • Can easily be made into a tea if you’ve got Eastern white pine trees in your area
  • Basic instructions for making tea here

Duck eggs:

duck eggs indigenous ingredient
  • Have a stronger flavor and larger size than chicken eggs, but can be used similarly
  • Duck eggs have more protein and fat than chicken eggs
  • Look for them at co-ops or local farms


elderberries indigenous ingredient
  • Traditionally used as treatment for coughs, colds, and flu-like symptoms
  • Can be made into teas, syrups, or add a bit of intrigue to sweet or savory dishes
  • Can likely be found at your local health food store, co-op, or online

Wild rice:

wild rice indigenous ingredient
  • Lower calorie than white or brown rice (100 grams of white = 130 calories, brown = 112, wild = 101)
  • More nutritious than white or brown rice: more minerals and nutrients in general, including phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.
  • For a grain, it’s got high protein and fiber
  • High in antioxidants
  • Isn’t really rice at all! Actually consists of edible seeds produced by aquatic grasses.

Indigenous ingredients you are probably more familiar with include beans, squash, corn, fish, bison, and maple syrup.

Curious about the movement, or looking for a bit of inspiration?

Here are some additional resources:

Which of these indigenous ingredients do you plan to try?