Article and photos by Brandi N. Montrueil
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
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
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 www.wildfoodsandmedicines.com.
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; firstname.lastname@example.org