Zea mays


Corn is the very essence of groundedness. Tall, stout, rugged stalks support alternating thick, deep green and graceful, sword-like leaves. Corn's male flower crowns the stalk in late summer with a fountain of brown spiky tassels. The luscious female flower, a fruitful presence, emerges from leaf axils tenderly wrapped in a layered sheath. Wispy yellow-green silk filaments flow from the top of these husks. This is cornsilk. Underneath, embedded in a pith called the cob, lie rows of sweet juicy seeds, the corn we consume as a delicious food. Now eaten all over the world, corn is highly nutritious and easily digested when cooked as cornbread, tortillas or hominy.

First Nations, the first to cultivate this sturdy grass, consider corn a sacred plant and honor it in ceremonies. In South America, the ancient goddess Pachamama, or Corn Mother, is still celebrated as sustainer of her children. Cheyenne and Sioux apply corn meal steeped in lye as a poultice to relieve muscle spasms. Zuni women eased their labor pains by eating corn smut, a fungus. Cherokee use corn leaves on skin eruptions, boils and cancer. They drink cornsilk tea to treat gravel.

For thousands of years before Europeans arrived, the region of Maine where we live was the territory of the Kinipekw, later known as the Kennebec, the Norridgewock tribe of the Abenaki. The Abenaki relied on agriculture, primarily growing corn, beans and squash, for a large part of their diet. These crops were supplemented with hunting, fishing and wildgathering an abundance of naturally occurring foods.

Corn is known as granoturco or simply mais in Southern Italia. The male inflorescence is used in decoction together with Bermuda grass root, sage leaves and barley grains, for its antilithiatic effect on the kidneys. An infusion of the stems has emollient and diuretic properties, and is mainly used for its hypotensive effect. In the past large quantities of maize flour were produced to prepare flat breads flavored with lard and wild fennel seeds cooked on the fireplace stones. Another long held custom in some small villages is to cook corn with cici beans (chickpeas) on the feast day of St. Lucia and then give this corn and beans treat to the children who go from door to door collecting it. Maize is fed to poultry to stimulate egg laying and to give a more intense color to the yolk.

Cornsilk is a soothing demulcent, and a tonic to the urinary tract and prostate gland. All types of genito-urinary tract infections, including cystitis, arthritis and prostatitis, respond to its antiseptic action. Cornsilk tea is gentle enough for children who want to stop wetting the bed, yet strong enough to eliminate urinary stones. When treating an active infection, trying to pass a stone or to alleviate bed wetting, wise women suggest drinking one cup of cornsilk tea, or taking 10-50 drops of tincture of fresh silk, three times daily.

Cornsilk is an excellent male tonic. Combined with saw palmetto, echinacea, or chickweed tinctures it can quickly relieve an enlarged prostate gland. Continued use of cornsilk tea keeps that area nourished and soothed, preventing any future problems. European herbalists use cornsilk to stimulate the flow of bile, and to help lower blood pressure.

Flower Essence Corn flower essence is helpful for maintaining self-awareness in the midst of crowds, and for overcoming disorientation in cities.

Magical Lore Both corn and cornmeal are offered during harvest rituals, and in ceremonies of all kinds. I was taught to offer cornmeal for nourishment to the plants when harvesting and to my sacred bundle to keep it active. Corn is also offered for luck, prosperity, fertility and abundance.

Culture Planting corn is great fun and such an ancient dance! Putting corn seeds into the ground means that summer has finally arrived. Corn is a heavy feeder that requires plenty of nitrogen, and appreciates a side-dressing or two of comfrey tea mid-season. Old Maine farmers plant corn seed when the oak leaves are as big as mouse's ears. So do we, although my local storekeeper's dad told him this was the sign to go fishing! When I shuck corn, I collect the cornsilk and tincture it while fresh and light yellow. I dry cornsilk and the husks on screens or in shallow baskets for later use. 

Return to Materia Medica