Huckleberry Harvesters

By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News 

The gate to swədaʔx̌ali huckleberry fields was opened from August 25 to September 10, allowing tribal members a two-week window to walk in the shadows of their ancestors and harvest the elusive mountain huckleberry. Traditionally, the end of summer meant an annual trek of berry picking parties into the high regions of the Cascade Mountains to harvest the rare and sought after dark maroon huckleberries.

Mountain huckleberries are larger than the lowland evergreen variety and are more delicately flavored. They are found on high sunny slopes at about 5,000 feet elevation, and ripen towered the latter part of August and into early September. Fortunately, the Tulalip Tribes and its Natural Resources team has invested countless man hours and resources into a co-stewardship area located within the Skykomish Watershed, a place where our ancestors once resided. This pristine co-stewardship area allows tribal members to learn and practice traditional teachings in an ancestral space called swədaʔx̌ali (Lushootseed for “place of mountain huckleberries”).

Over Labor Day weekend, a number of Tulalips used the holiday to undertake the 2-hour journey to swədaʔx̌ali and spend a day breathing the fresh mountainous air while berry picking under the summer sun. Among the harvesters was first-time berry picker and Lushootseed language teacher Maria Martin.

“It was a beautiful, uplifting experience. Once we hit the forest, where there were no buildings, no cars, no people, just trees…my soul soared. I couldn’t not smile,” reflects Maria on her time at swədaʔx̌ali. “I’ve read and heard stories of people out picking berries and I always wondered how that felt. I didn’t grow up doing traditional things. I’m lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak my language, but that is only a piece of my culture.

“Berry picking felt natural, like I’ve always done it. The smells were intoxicating. The sounds beautiful, from the buzzing bugs and chirping birds to the families sharing laughs and love. These are the meaningful experiences that we all need to share in. While I was picking I told myself the story of “Owl lady and Chipmunk”, and sang Martha Lamont’s berry picking song; connecting the pieces of my culture, my words with my actions I felt whole. When I returned home I gave away a batch of my berries to an elder, which was very meaningful to me. Those that can hunt and gather are responsible for gathering enough for those that cannot. We are all family and we all are responsible for taking care of one another.”

Several tribal members who recently returned from Canoe Journey also used Labor Day to pick mountain huckleberries, including George Lancaster, Shane McLean and Dean Pablo. George brought up his nephew Brutal and his aunt Lynette Jimicum so they could soak up the experience as well.

“It’s awesome having the opportunity to be up here,” says George. “Being up here, I remembered blackberry picking with my grandma as a kid and that made me happy. I look forward to using my harvested berries to make pie. I love pie!”

“I absolutely love being here,” adds Lynette. “Having my grandson Brutal here and being able to teach him that there’s more activities than just playing video games. It means a lot to me to show him the value of outdoor activities, like berry picking and hiking in the woods.”

For tribal member Shane McLean, his thoughts have been impacted by the ongoing natural disasters like the droughts plaguing the Pacific Northwest and raging forest fires throughout the region causing smoke and ash to cloud the skies.

“My short-term goal is to give some berries away, my long-term goal is to get a four year supply. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the prophecy telling us to be prepared for the future,” states Shane. “It’s said you should have four years of your traditional food stored away, just in case there’s something that might happen. We can see there’s natural disasters happening all over. I’m thankful the berries are even here to be harvested.”

Hibulb Cultural Center features author Elise Krohn

Article and photos by Brandi N. Montrueil

Participants included master gardeners, novice gardeners and natural resource professionals

TULALIP, Washington- Some grow along the edges of forests at low elevations, others grow in thick shrubs beneath the canopy of the forest, or can populate all over the Americas. They are known as nature’s remedy, they are native plants, and have been used for their medicinal properties by Coast Salish people for hundreds of generations.

On November 15th, the Hibulb Lecture Series featured Traditional Foods Educator and Herbalist, Elise Krohn, and the local stars of the night were the hawthorn, the rose hip, and the evergreen huckleberry.

Krohn develops curriculum for Northwest Indian College’s Traditional Plants and Foods Program, where students and tribal members are reconnecting with the medicine of their ancestors.

According to NWIC, in 2005 the Cooperative Extension Office responded to requests made by elders and tribal health care workers who wanted more knowledge of traditional foods and medicines. In response, the Traditional Plants and Foods Program was created, where not only was the importance of cultural foods highlighted, but where to gather them.

Since its creation, 15 tribes have hosted gatherings, and offered curriculum focusing on diabetes prevention through traditional plants, harvesting throughout the seasons, medicine making, youth activities, and creating community-healing gardens, such as the Northwest Indian Treatment Center Healing Gardens.

Through work with the Northwest Indian Treatment Center Healing Gardens, a drug and alcohol residential treatment program located in Elma, Wash. and funded by the Squaxin Island Tribe, Krohn has seen the success of reconnecting with culture through the use of native plants.

“It’s amazing to watch the plants teach the people,” said Krohn. “I am focusing on teaching what native foods can do for people. I am talking about foods that are

Hawthorn leaves and plants were on display during the lecture given by Elise Krohn

accessible, plants that we encounter everyday that are native to this area.”

“It you want people to heal, you have to treat them within their own culture, and a part of that culture is the use of native plants. If people can remember where they come from and what traditions are a part of their culture, that is where the healing begins,” she explained.

Elise discussed the many medicinal properties that huckleberry, rosehips, and hawthorn offer. Hawthorn – known as the heart healer, for example, can lower high blood pressure and raise low blood pressure and because of its hardy nature, can grow almost anywhere.

Rosehips help build the immune system through its high percentage of vitamin C and has been used by some tribes for compresses to treat skin wounds and scabs. Huckleberry is used to keep urine acidic, reducing the growth of bacteria, and when served as a tea, it helps modify blood sugar levels in Type 1 diabetes, and decreases allergy related inflammatory responses.

“Once you start to learn plants, you realize that all these plants have a body, mind and spirit. Often times the spiritual uses of a plant will mirror the physical

Hawthorn and Rosehip berries grow almost anywhere

uses. The layers of knowing each plant are so deep,” said Krohn.

Participants to the lecture were also able to learn tips for drying each plant, a variety of uses, the best time to gather and some tasty reciepes. Tips for storing included glass jars, such as canning jars, to be used after the plant has been harvested and well dried.

For more information on harvesting tips and descriptions of medicinal properties of local native plants that can be safely harvested, please visit Elise Krohn’s blog at

            Elise is the author of Wild Rose and Western Red Cedar: the Gifts of the Northwest Plants and co-author of Feeding the People, Feeding the Spirit: Revitalizing Northwest Coastal Indian Food Culture.  She contributed content to an exhibit about native foods at the University of Washington’s Burke Museum.


Brandi N. Montreuil: 360-716-4189;