navajo blue cornmeal gruel

Collected by M.P. Wong

blue cornmeal.jpg


4 cups water

1 tablespoon juniper ashes

1 cup blue cornmeal


1. Prepare juniper ashes: light juniper leaves and branches with fire on a grate and collect ashes with a container under the fire.  Sift ashes to collect enough for cooking.

2. Bring water to a boil in a saucepan.

3. Gently add juniper ashes to boiling water.

4. Slowly stir in cornmeal to prevent clumping.

5. Continue stirring for 15 minutes in low heat until smooth.

6. Serve with dried or fresh fruits (apricots, peaches, blueberries)


Nutritionist’s comments

Contributor: Tiffany Xu

Nutritional Value and potential benefits

Though seemingly simple, this dish is full of various nutrients postpartum women need. Juniper ashes may seem a strange seasoning choice, but don’t rule them out yet. Here are some unique benefits listed below:

  1. Blue Corn- with 20% more protein than normal white corn, blue corn can help meet those elevated protein needs during breastfeeding. Blue corn also provides a steadier release of energy compared to conventional, white corn (1, 2).

  2. Juniper Ash- when mixed with corn and water, the corn is enriched with calcium by more than seven times the corn’s normal amounts and the vast majority can be taken up by the body. This increase in calcium helps meet the needs of lactating mothers (3, 4).

Mindful Modifications

  1. Pickling Lime or Limewater, a calcium hydroxide solution, is also a great and more accessible replacement for juniper ashes. This is not to be confused with lime juice from the citrus lime fruit. (5)







Dine' - The People

In a recent visit to the Four Corners region of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico, my family and I visited natural bridges, cliff dwellings and the Monument Valley.  This was Navajo Land, Dinetah to the indigenous American who called themselves Dine’ – The People.  They have inhabited this region for over 800 years.  Prior to their arrival from the north, other hunters-gatherers had occupied this land as early as 12,000-6,000 B.C.

The post 1492 history of the indigenous American was one of genocide at the hands of the advancing European armies, one of heroic resistance in the face of overwhelmingly lopsided destructive power, one of endless broken treaties, and one of forced migration to inhospitable resettlements and reservations.  It was estimated that there were seven million to ten million Native American in 1492.  (Source:"1600-1754: Native Americans: Overview." American Eras. . 9 Jul. 2018 <>.)  In the 2010 US Census, there were 2.6 million Native American and Alaska Native. (Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2010.)  Of which, 308,013 self-identified as Navajo.  More than 150,000 of them were able to retain and to speak their native language, Dine’. (Source

Most Indigenous American no longer lived on their ancestral land or roamed their old hunting grounds.  Consequently, much of their knowledge of the ancestral environment had been lost with the wholesale robbery of their homeland.

Fortunately, giving birth successfully was an experience that persisted, enabling the survival of the Dine' Nation.  However, what remained of its postpartum traditions? 

To gauge the level of common knowledge of Navajo postpartum traditions among the modern Dine' people, I asked at every opportunity upon meeting a local resident in Monument Valley.   Mr. Robert Parish was our guide to visit the backcountry in Monument Valley.  He worked as an electrical lineman for over twenty years in Arizona before deciding to return to tribal land to be closer to his 83 years-old mother who lived on the reservation.

He spoke Dine’ and conversed with ease with other lodging staff members.  When asked what he knew of his birth, he said that his was a home birth like most Navajo births before the 1980’s.  His father attended his birth along with his grandmother.

He was unsure if there were any specific food or herbs that was traditionally consumed during the postpartum period.   He did know that the new mother would have a sash with a pouch for herbs tied around her waist. 

He was knowledgeable about a postpartum tradition involving the disposal of the placenta.  The placenta was saved and was left outside on a tree away from the house.  The placenta was not retrieved when the family moved to a new home.  He did not believe there was a designated location to place the placenta.  (In several published papers, they reported that the placenta was buried away from the house.)

A middle-aged woman who worked as a clerk at the Goulding’s Gift Shop shared that there would be a ceremony when the baby gave his/her first smile.  Mutton would be served during the celebration.  She did not recall any specific postpartum food.

She also concurred that a new mother would wear a sash with herbs around her waist for about 40 days.  She recommended contacting the local Navajo college to obtain additional information on postpartum cultural traditions. Dine College in Tsaile (  was the first Navajo institution of higher education.

To give our reader a fuller understanding of the Navajo traditions, the following is excerpted from  Its content is consistent with several papers written about the prenatal, perinatal and postpartum periods in Navajo culture.

Native American Navajo Traditions Childbirth.jpg

Navajo prenatal, peri-natal and postpartum traditions

When Being With Child
• Talk with "corn pollen‟ sprinkled words
• Have ceremonies
• Keep thoughts good
• Say dawn prayers daily
• Keep the peace

Navajo Ceremonies for Births
• Blessing way

My feet are made of mirage,
My bridle of strings of the sun.
My mane is like the white lightning.
My tail is like long black rain.
My eyes are big, spreading stars.
My teeth are of the white shell.
My belly is white as dawnlight.
My heart is of everlasting garnet.
–From Blessing Way Chant

• Protection way
• Shielding prayers
• Daily rituals
• Native American Church

When the Baby Nudges you
• Eat foods good for baby
• Get up early and walk around
• Have a Blessing way ceremony for a safe delivery

• Drink milk, take too much salt or eat foods „taken away‟ by Navajo ceremonies
• Attend funerals or look at deceased person
• Be with sick people or go to crowded places
• Attend chant way rites for sick people
• Look at dead animals (taxidermy trophies)
• Lay around too much
• Tie knots, lift heavy things, weave rugs, make pottery, or kill living things (butcher)
• Prepare layette sets or plans for baby

When the Waters of Birth Come
• Think about a good delivery
• Have a medicine person do, “Singing out Baby”‟ Chant” or “Unraveling‟ song if necessary

• Let too many people observe labor (only the helpers)

When the Baby Emerges
• Drink corn meal gruel
• Wear juniper seed beads
• Burn cedar or sweetgrass
• Loosen your hair
• Drink herbal tea to relax
• Get in squatting position
• Apply gentle fundal pressure during pushing
• Hold onto sash belt when ready to push
• Drink herbal tea to make womb strong

When the Voice of Child is Heard
• Bury the placenta
• Drink juniper/ash tea to cleanse your insides
• Drink blue cornmeal gruel
• Breastfeed your baby
• Smear baby’s first stool on your face
• Wrap sash belt around waist for four days after delivery

• Drink cold liquids or be in cold draft
• Smell afterbirth blood for too long
• Show signs of displeasure if baby soils on you
• Burn placenta or afterbirth blood fluids
• Have sexual intercourse with your mate for three months after delivery

When the Beautiful One Comes Into Your Hands
• Bury umbilical cord in sheep corral, near rug loom or special place
• Massage baby soon after birth
• Give corn pollen and juniper/ash tea to baby for cleansing
• Shake hand with baby soon after birth and call baby by Navajo name
• Make cradle board; mark the direction of growth of tree
• Sponsor "First Laugh‟ ceremony
• Sponsor shielding way (blackening rite) for baby

• Cut hair until baby talks
• Cover soft spot with fingers
• Cover head with bowl or basket