Plant for homegrown coffee replacement, for its gorgeous crown, and to honor its sacred role in ceremony and its riparian partnership in resisting colonization!
Hardy from Zones 3-8. 50-90 feet tall, 30-45 feet wide.
Looking for a local coffee substitute? Most people aren’t, but if you are this might be a good one! Meskwaki (Fox), Pawnee, and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) tribes ate roasted beans or used them to make a hot drink. Roasting the beans neutralizes alkaloids that are present in the pods. Wealthy colonists apparently dismissed this free beverage as inferior to the real deal, but poor settlers couldn’t afford buying imported coffee, which is native to the tropics of Africa. The inner pulp of Kentucky Coffeetree’s seedpods were used as a sweetener and medicine to calm fevers and headaches. Coffeetree roots were powered and mixed with water to treat hemorrhaging, particularly for women in labor.
Coffeetree fixes nitrogen, though at lower rates than other legumes. It’s native from the upper Midwest to the Northeast, resilient in droughts, and commonly used as ornamentation on streets and parks. They prefer riparian areas such as floodplains and lowlands where they spread through root suckers to hold soil and prevent erosion. Great Lakes tribes such as the Omaha used Coffeetree beans for dice games that served ceremonial and recreational purposes. Ceremonial dice games provided healing from sickness by honoring spirits and encouraging important kinds of dreams. Colonials laws banned these games as part of state-sanctioned efforts to eradicate native cultures. But many of these cultures still live, and so does Kentucky Coffeetree, which spread with the help of indigenous people. Flooding is the only natural way seeds are scarified and dispersed, but Coffeetree stands often grow near former indigenous settlements. Carving the beans for ceremonial games effectively scarified the seeds, ready to germinate when scattered along streambanks.
We propagate our Coffeetree from seeds we collect from landscaped trees.